The first full day of competition in Rally Argentina has been one of carnage with no fewer than five of the leading contenders retiring. At the head of the field however, Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier – first and second respectively – have had a trouble-free run and hold a commanding advantage over third-placed Kris Meeke.
South America’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship was set to be one of the roughest and toughest of the season after recent heavy rains and the conditions delivered early disappointments for M-Sport, Citroën, Hyundai and Volkswagen. Today’s two identical loops of two stages to the north of Cordoba totaled 157.94 competitive kilometres and have seen five of the 11 world rally car contenders hit the sidelines.
The event kicked off yesterday afternoon with the opening super special stage in which Ogier claimed honours. Today, however, the crews headed into the hills where conditions in the opening stage, in particular, were billed to be the worst of the rally. The Frenchman maintained his pace, winning SS2, but team-mate Latvala hit back in the following section to snatch the lead. Again the battling duo traded times in the repeated stages this afternoon with Latvala blitzing the field in the final stage to take a 17.7 second advantage over Ogier. Third place is held by Kris Meeke, who has previously only competed here in 2010 in the IRC, but the Northern Irish driver is over a minute off the lead after adopting a cautious approach. Elfyn Evans is fourth, nearly three minutes further adrift, but with specific instructions to get through the stages the Welshman is now reaping the rewards with fourth position overnight. Robert Kubica too is taking a steady approach and is satisfied with today’s performance. He is fifth. Martin Prokop rounds off the top six.
The list of retirees grew throughout the day and kicked off in the opening stage when Mikko Hirvonen hit a low stone wall. In the same stage Mads Østberg hit a rock and ripped a wheel off, and Dani Sordo had to limp through the first two stages down on power. This afternoon, in the final stage, the Spaniard stopped with an engine issue and was swiftly joined by team-mate Thierry Neuville who parked up before damaging the power unit when he began to suffer a similar engine problem. Andreas Mikkelsen was the last of the WRC retirees, the Norwegian out with an unconfirmed technical issue. All remain classified with their Rally 2 penalties for missed stages.