WRC - MEEKE TOPS MUDDY RALLY ARGENTINA BATTLE AS NEUVILLE CLOSES IN | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile
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WRC - MEEKE TOPS MUDDY RALLY ARGENTINA BATTLE AS NEUVILLE CLOSES IN

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26.04.19

Rally Argentina - Friday morning

FIA WRC - Rally Argentina - K. Meeke / S. Marshall

Toyota’s Kris Meeke took an early 5.4s lead over FIA World Rally Championship rival Thierry Neuville on Rally Argentina, with reigning WRC champion Sébastien Ogier and Meeke’s team-mate Ott Tänak tied for third place after four stages.

Several drivers had suggested the heavy rain on the days leading up to the rally would make conditions as difficult as Rally Monte-Carlo. That rain had turned some sections of the stages to mud, causing a big difference between grippy gravel and turns with standing water which caused some aquaplaning.

Those tricky conditions led to some inconsistent stage times, with the leaderboard changing on every stage. Current rally leader Meeke was the first to make his mark, winning Las Bajadas – Villa del Dique and reducing the gap to overnight leader Tänak to 0.7s. Meeke then took the lead from his rival on Santa Rosa – San Augustin, though it was Neuville that scored a stage win.

Neuville’s Hyundai team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen won the last test of the morning loop Fernet Branca superspecial, but the championship points leader’s scored the second-fastest time on the same test, bringing his gap to Meeke from 13.4s after SS2 down to only 5.4s after SS5.

Tänak meanwhile was going backwards, suggesting afterwards that his Yaris WRC would need some work from the Toyota mechanics at service to get back up to full speed. He finished SS5 tied for third place with Ogier, who, just like Neuville, struggled as one of the first cars on the road on Las Bajadas – Villa del Dique.

Jari-Matti Latvala placed the third Toyota in Friday morning’s top five, ending the loop 8.8s adrift of Meeke. His position is under threat from Mikkelsen, however, who is only 2.9s behind in sixth place after his SS5 stage win. Mikkelsen was well placed to challenge Meeke for the lead but got slowed by a puncture picked up on SS4, which forced the Norwegian to drive his i20 WRC slowly along the stage to avoid his tyre coming off the rim.

Those behind Mikkelsen struggled with very challenging road conditions, though seventh-placed Dani Sordo is only 13.8s off the lead and one second ahead of M-Sport’s best-placed driver, Elfyn Evans, in eighth.

Esapekka Lappi is ninth, having run wide over a crest and hit a bank on SS4. The Finn sustained a right-rear puncture, which dropped him around 14 seconds. His Citroën team-mate Ogier nearly made the same mistake, taking an aggressive line over the crest that bounced him from one bank to the other but with less negative effect than Lappi.

Teemu Suninen completes the top 10 overall, ahead of FIA WRC 2 Pro leader Mads Østberg, driving for the Citroën Total factory team. Škoda Motorsport’s Marco Bulacia Wilkinson had been his nearest competitor until he was forced to stop and change a puncture, before stopping again when he realised he had changed the wrong wheel by mistake.

Early FIA WRC 2 leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz from Poland was forced to retire after SS4 when the right-rear suspension on his Volkswagen Polo GT R5 collapsed on landing after a jump, handing the class lead to Japan's Takamoto Katsuta, driving a Ford Fiesta R5.