Argentina, friday: Neuville grabs late lead
Ott Tänak lost the lead in the final speed test
SS2: Meeke claims Friday’s opener
Kris Meeke won Friday morning’s opening speed test at Xion Rally Argentina to give his Toyota Gazoo Racing team a 1-2 in the overall standings.
The Briton stopped the clocks 1.0sec faster than Yaris team-mate Ott Tänak though the treacherously slippery stage from Las Bajadas to Villa del Dique, but the Estonian preserved his overnight advantage by seven-tenths of a second.
Heavy rain over the last few days has transformed the soft and sandy roads and drivers fought against standing water and mud – conditions that were not present when they practised the test on Tuesday.
“I wasn’t the driver there, I was a passenger sometimes!” said a wide-eyed Meeke at the finish. “Some parts were OK but it was full mud in others and that was tricky.”
Andreas Mikkelsen finished the test 1.0sec adrift of Tänak to hold third. The Norwegian breathed a big sigh of relief as he steered his Hyundai i20 into the finish.
“It was very tricky at the end. There was a lot of negative camber and if you are too fast into a corner then then you just lose the grip and slide into something,” he said.
Team-mate Dani Sordo was fourth fastest, the Spaniard admitting he took no risks in the inconsistent grip. He headed Finnish duo Esapekka Lappi and Jari-Matti Latvala, the latter competing in his 200th world rally.
Early starters Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier found conditions no easier. Championship leader Neuville was ninth in his i20, 13.0sec adrift of Meeke and one place behind Ogier.
The following Amboy - Yacanto stage has been cancelled due to the weather. Organisers said bad conditions on the liaison sections before and after the test meant the required safety and medical vehicles could not be deployed.
SS3-4-5: Meeke ahead in Argentina
Kris Meeke led Xion Rally Argentina on Friday lunchtime as battle-scarred crews returned to the respite of service in Villa Carlos Paz following a gruelling morning.
He headed championship leader Thierry Neuville by 5.4sec after the opening loop of country road speed tests in the Calamuchita Valley, which were covered by mud and standing water following 48 hours of rain.
After winning the opening test to reduce the deficit to overnight leader and team-mate Ott Tänak, Meeke slid his Toyota Yaris to second fastest through the Santa Rosa - San Agustin stage, before safely negotiating more rain in Carlos Paz’s theme park super special.
“This morning was a big challenge, and not so much about ultimate pace. It was more about reading the road. The stages here are quite sandy and 70 per cent was what you would expect. But there are places where it was thick mud for 200 metres and I had to drop a couple of gears,” he explained.
Neuville won the Santa Rosa test to climb from ninth, the road-opening Belgian happier in slightly drier conditions than the opening stage.
“We struggled in the first stage because there was so much water on the road. We had to make a line for those behind and the road became progressively quicker. In the next one we improved the settings, took a few risks and we’re back in the fight for the lead,” he said.
Tänak and Sébastien Ogier were tied in third, 1.2sec behind their title rival. Tänak struggled with the inconsistent grip in his Toyota Yaris and the Estonian admitted he had ‘work to do’ in service before the afternoon loop.
Ogier flirted with a Santa Rosa bank but escaped damage to his Citroën C3, the tying duo 2.2sec clear of the third Yaris of Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn, starting his 200th world rally, was as high as third but yielded a couple of places with set-up issues.
Andreas Mikkelsen drove most of Santa Rosa with a front left puncture, but bounced back to win the park test. The Norwegian was 2.9sec behind Latvala and 2.1sec clear of team-mate Dani Sordo.
Elfyn Evans was eighth, but less than 15sec off the lead, in his Ford Fiesta. Esapekka Lappi held ninth after a scary moment at the same place as team-mate Ogier. He swiped a bank, almost rolled and struggled to the finish with a right rear puncture.
Teemu Suninen completed the leaderboard, the Finn losing time after his Fiesta ingested water at a Santa Rosa river crossing.
After SS8: Neuville grabs late lead
Thierry Neuville seized a last-gasp lead in Friday’s captivating opening leg of Xion Rally Argentina.
The FIA World Rally Championship leader snatched the initiative from Ott Tänak when a broken driveshaft on the Estonian’s Toyota Yaris sent him into a time-consuming spin near the finish of the final speed test.
Tanak’s lead was wiped out and fastest time for Neuville promoted the Hyundai i20 driver into a 11.9sec advantage over Sébastien Ogier’s Citroën C3. Tänak was a further 1.5sec behind in third.
Persistent rain over the previous 48 hours meant the Calamuchita Valley tests were treacherous. Standing water and huge mud patches provided inconsistent grip and Neuville was shocked to top the leaderboard after languishing in ninth this morning.
“Consistency paid off. I felt I had a good drive in the opening stage and was really surprised when I saw others were faster. Things improved and I drove a good last stage when the road was very rough. We only have a small advantage so nothing is done yet,” he said.
Tänak started the last stage aware of the mechanical problem but limited his time loss until spinning 2km from the finish. Having lost his overnight lead, he had regained top spot in the afternoon, despite regularly losing his brakes in the many water splashes.
Ogier felt his C3 lacked performance and the Frenchman was fortunate to survive a one-wheel landing after clipping a bank on the inside of a tight bend.
Kris Meeke was fourth, 28.1sec off the front, and the third leader of the day. The Yaris driver led for three of the six tests (one was cancelled for safety reasons due to the weather) but could not maintain his pace on rougher afternoon roads. Losing third gear further hampered his efforts.
Andreas Mikkelsen was 1.3sec behind in fifth, despite a morning puncture in his Hyundai i20, with Elfyn Evans rounding off the top six in spite of balance issues in his Ford Fiesta.
Dani Sordo and Jari-Matti Latvala were next up. Latvala was as high as third but a final stage puncture relegated the Finn, starting his 200th world rally.
Teemu Suninen was ninth after losing time when water in his Fiesta’s engine created a misfire and WRC 2 Pro leader Mads Østberg completed the leaderboard.
Esapekka Lappi was the day’s main casualty, crashing his C3 4km from the finish of the last stage after a frustrating day which had left him in ninth.
Saturday’s leg is the longest of the rally. Competitors head into the vast pampas plains and hills of the Punilla Valley for two identical blocks of three stages. The loops are split by a repeat of Friday’s theme park test in host town Carlos Paz. It adds up to 146.62km of action.
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