Loeb clinches fifth Argentina win
27th Apr 2009 7:00 am
Loeb wins in Argentina 2009
Sebastien Loeb has clinched his fifth consecutive Rally Argentina win, and his fifth victory in the five rounds of the 2009 World Rally Championship held so far.
With his main rival Mikko Hirvonen retiring with an engine problem yesterday afternoon, Loeb now enjoys a commanding 20-point lead in the standings as the series approaches its halfway point.
Not for the first time in recent history, a thrilling and extremely close-fought opening day preceded a weekend of crushing Loeb domination, as the world champion upped his pace and his rivals wilted while trying to respond.
Loeb had been quickest on Thursday night's superspecial, but lost the lead to Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala on the first proper stage.
Latvala's lead was somewhat inadvertent, however, for the Finn had been ordered to drive cautiously after his recent crashes. He soon eased his pace, allowing his team-mate Hirvonen and Loeb's number two Dani Sordo to battle for the lead for the rest of Friday - swapping the top spot repeatedly.
Some small errors on the second loop meant Loeb was only third, 16 seconds behind leader Sordo, at the end of leg one. But he was absolutely unstoppable on Saturday, taking a string of stage wins and soon moving into the lead.
Hirvonen's car then overheated and had to drop out of second, while Sordo could not live with his team leader's speed and settled for second, leaving Loeb to continue his dominant run.
"We had a good fight with Mikko until Saturday midday but then he had to retire and it was a bit less exciting," said Loeb. "But I enjoyed this rally a lot."
Sordo was satisfied with second despite having initially looked like he could fight for victory.
"It's a very good result and for the team and Sebastien's championship," he said. "I'm really happy with this weekend."
Despite a puncture on Saturday, Latvala was still on course for third until an electrical problem halted him for eight minutes this morning. That briefly handed third to Petter Solberg, who had also been slowed by a day two puncture, but the Solberg Citroen ground to a halt with a lack of fuel pressure on the next stage.
Third therefore went to Henning Solberg in the best of the Stobart Fords, as the Norwegian took his first podium since 2007.
The highlight for the massive local crowd was Federico Villagra's excellent fourth place at home, as the Munchi's Ford driver overcame Stobart's Matthew Wilson to take his best ever result.
"We are very happy," said Villagra. "It's been a difficult and interesting rally, and we had a great fight with Matthew. It's better than winning the national championship - to get a good result in front of your home crowd is very good."
The low WRC entry and high attrition allowed Latvala to finish sixth, with Sebastien Ogier using superally to take seventh after suspension problems on day two. His Citroen Junior team-mate Conrad Rautenbach retired after hitting a rock.
Nasser Al-Attiyah overcame an early steering breakage to win the Production class and finish eighth overall, benefiting when Gabriel Pozzo had electrical problems while leading his home event on Saturday morning.
The Junior battle became a little farcical when all three entrants lost several minutes with various problems on Friday. Alessandro Bettega led much of the distant, but it was Michal Kosciuszko who survived long enough to actually take the win.
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h57m40.3s
2. Dani Sordo Citroen + 1m13.1s
3. Henning Solberg Ford + 4m04.1s
4. Federico Villagra Ford + 5m59.7s
5. Matthew Wilson Ford + 6m10.9s
6. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 9m50.0s
7. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 20m55.1s
8. Nasser Al-Attiyah Subaru + 23m11.6s
9. Juan Marchetto Mitsubishi + 23m34.3s
10. Marcos Ligato Mitsubishi + 25m24.5s