Argentina, saturday: Neuville in the clear
Ogier recovered to fourth after power steering problems
SS9-10: Tänak sends warning
Thierry Neuville retained his Xion Rally Argentina lead on Saturday morning but Ott Tänak fired a warning to the Belgian as he cut the deficit at the top of the leaderboard.
Neuville was quickest out of the blocks in his Hyundai i20, winning the opening speed test from Tanti to Mataderos by 0.4sec from the Estonian and stretching his advantage to 13.8sec.
Tänak struck back in the following Mataderos - Cuchilla Nevada special stage. He was quickest by 2.5sec in his Toyota Yaris from Neuville, trimming the deficit to 11.3sec having relegated Sébastien Ogier to third in the opening test.
Neuville shook his head as he studied the times at Cuchilla Nevada. “I tried. I’m on the maximum but we know these kind of fast stages are made for Toyota. They have more aero and carry more speed,” he said.
The water and mud of yesterday was gone, replaced by blue skies and bright sunshine. The roads were drier, but still far from easy. “Conditions are very inconsistent and I’m not really pushing to the limit yet,” explained Tänak.
Ogier was fifth in both stages to trail Tänak by 5.6sec. He had a scare in this morning’s service when his Citroën team noticed a split cooling pipe on the C3’s brakes. Repairs were made just in time to send the Frenchman out on time without penalty.
Kris Meeke was third in both tests in his Yaris to remain fourth, 12.4sec clear of Andreas Mikkelsen’s i20.
Elfyn Evans’ day came to an abrupt end when the Welshman rolled his Ford Fiesta heavily in the final third of Mataderos - Cuchilla Nevada. He and co-driver Scott Martin were unhurt but their car came to rest below the road with the sump guard ripped from the chassis.
His demise promoted Dani Sordo to sixth. The Spaniard dropped a handful of seconds in Tanti when his i20’s engine cut out several times but the problem cleared itself for the following test.
SS11-12: Neuville resists Tänak
Thierry Neuville fended off a hard-charging Ott Tänak to lead Xion Rally Argentina after Saturday morning’s four speed tests.
The FIA World Rally Championship leader returned to service in Villa Carlos Paz with his overnight advantage cut to 6.4sec by Tänak, who capitalised on his Toyota Yaris’ speed advantage over fast pampas roads in the Punilla Valley.
Tänak claimed a second straight fastest time with victory in the long Cuchilla Nevada - Characato special stage. He slashed 6.1sec off Neuville’s lead, before the Belgian regained 1.2sec in the theme park test in Carlos Paz at the wheel of his Hyundai i20.
“I was flat out, I gave it everything. There is no chance to fight with him when he starts pushing. He goes away and the stages are made for that car,” admitted Neuville, envious of the Toyota’s aero capabilities.
Third-placed Ogier’s hopes of staying in contact with the leading two ended in Cuchilla Nevada with a power steering problem in his Citroën C3.
“There was a junction that was not like the recce. I got confused, made a stupid mistake and hit a gate,” explained the Frenchman, who lost 30sec. Another 25sec disappeared in the park test and a disappointed Ogier entered service down in sixth.
Problems too for Kris Meeke. The Briton lost his brakes in Cuchilla Nevada, struggled to slow the Yaris entering a watersplash and swiped a bank on the outside.
The impact broke the rear right wheel, which he switched to the left for the park test, as the spare was also broken. The tyre deflated in the stage and the 20sec conceded meant Meeke stayed fourth, despite Ogier’s issues.
The beneficiary of their troubles was Andreas Mikkelsen. The Norwegian hit the same bank as Meeke but escaped unscathed and then won the park test to climb to third in his i20. He was 42.3sec adrift of Tänak and 11.6sec clear of Meeke.
Dani Sordo was fifth, the i20 pilot only nine-tenths behind Meeke and 9.3sec clear of Ogier. Jari-Matti Latvala was seventh in his Yaris, despite a slow puncture in Cuchilla Nevada, ahead of Teemu Suninen, who survived a big moment in the same test.
WRC 2 Pro leader Mads Østberg and WRC 2 leader Pedro Heller completed the leaderboard.
After SS15: Neuville in the clear
Thierry Neuville held a comfortable lead at the end of Saturday’s second leg of Xion Rally Argentina after a troubled day for closest rivals Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier.
He ended the longest leg of this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship with a 45.7sec advantage over Hyundai i20 team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen on a stellar day for the Korean manufacturer.
Neuville fended off a charging Tänak this morning after the Estonian made light work of demoting Ogier and climbing to second. His lead was slashed to less than seven seconds, but Tänak’s attack ended when his Toyota Yaris stopped with alternator problems.
Earlier Ogier broke his Citroën C3’s power steering after hitting a stone gate pillar when he became confused over which route to follow at a cattle grid. He dropped almost a minute and their demise left Neuville on course for a second straight WRC win.
“We can start using the word comfortable for the gap we have, but tomorrow’s stages are far from comfortable. They are rough, tricky and narrow so we need to keep our concentration and rhythm. We just need to keep it calm and in the middle of the road,” said Neuville.
The water and mud of yesterday was gone, replaced by blue skies and bright sunshine. The fast pampas roads in the Punilla Valley dried quickly, but grip was still inconsistent through the early morning speed tests until temperatures reached 23°C.
Mikkelsen enjoyed his best day for some time. He won two speed tests and capitalised on the problems of others, despite swiping a bank and having to stem a gearbox oil leak.
Kris Meeke headed a closely-packed trio in third, a further 17.5sec behind. He lost 20sec this morning after brake problems in his Yaris. He struggled to slow the car entering a watersplash and hit the same bank as Mikkelsen, limping through the next test with a broken rear wheel.
After plunging to sixth, a fired-up Ogier won two of the afternoon’s three stages to move up to fourth, 6.0sec clear of Dani Sordo in a third i20. Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top six in another Yaris, despite a slow puncture.
Teemu Suninen overcame intermittent intercom problems in his Ford Fiesta to hold seventh. WRC 2 Pro leader Mads Østberg, Tänak and WRC 2 leader Pedro Heller completed the leaderboard.
Elfyn Evans retired from sixth after rolling his Ford Fiesta heavily. He and co-driver Scott Martin were unhurt, but their car came to rest below the road with the sump guard ripped from the chassis.
Sunday’s finale heads into the rugged Traslasierra mountains for one of the WRC’s classic days. Two passes through the El Cóndor test, the second of which forms the Wolf Power Stage, sandwich the lunar-like landscapes of Mina Clavero. The three tests cover 53.16km.
add_circle Breaking news: Sordo secures Italian double
More on WRC