WRC Preview: Philips Rally Argentina
Expect the unexpected is the message for the fifth round of the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship, Philips Rally Argentina, this weekend (27-29 April) after the stages of Portugal four weeks ago led to one of the most bizarre and unpredictable events in WRC history.
Rally de Portugal truly had to be seen to be believed – not only did Sebastien Loeb, Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg all crash out (although Solberg did recover), Mads Ostberg came through the rain-affected chaos to inherit his first WRC win after a surprising exclusion for Mikko Hirvonen.
Hirvonen, for whom the success would have been his first for the Citroen World Rally Team, was removed from the result after post-event scrutineering revealed a compliance issue with the clutch on his DS3. Norwegian youngster Ostberg, therefore, made history with his maiden victory.
Loeb was the first of the big casualties, leaving the road on the second full-length stage on the opening evening after a decision by Citroen to run first on the road back-fired. Even with the non-finish though, taking into account Hirvonen’s exclusion Loeb holds a slender four point lead in the driver standings going into Rally Argentina.
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver Latvala led into day two but he was the next major player to come to grief, the Finn going off the road in horrendous conditions caused by substantial overnight rain on the Tavira stages.
So, Latvala’s team-mate Solberg assumed the lead with a healthy 25 second advantage. It only lasted a single stage though when the Ford driver ended his rally in a ditch, gifting Hirvonen a half-minute cushion at the head of the field. Delight followed with the victory for the Finn, but it was short-lived as Ostberg was promoted to the top step of the podium after scrutineering.
In terms of the championship, while Loeb still leads he is under increasing pressure from consistent finisher Solberg who managed to recover into the top four in Portugal following his costly excursion – this then became third at the expense of Hirvonen.
Latvala’s hopes, meanwhile, took a further significant knock post-rally when a skiing accident ruled him out of this weekend’s visit to Argentina. The Ford driver is replaced by MINI’s Dani Sordo.
Philips Rally Argentina...the stages
Not since the Safari Rally in 2002 has there been a longer event on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar than this weekend’s event. Just over 500 kilometres in total length, the rally is set to be one of the hardest of the season for both man and machine.
Based in Villa Carlos Paz, north of Buenos Aires and close to the city of Cordoba, the fifth round of the 2012 season is famous for the lunar-style landscape of the high-altitude El Condor stage and also for the demanding jumps and water splashes which feature strongly throughout.
Ruts on the sandy, gravel stages can pose a big problem and with rocks prevalent throughout the course, potential punctures are always a concern. Michelin has taken two compounds of its Latitude Cross tyres to Argentina – the hard H1 tyre and the softer S1. In total, a massive 1,300 tyres will be provided for the crews to use over the course of the three-day event.
FIA World Rally Championship Standings:
1 – Sebastien Loeb, 66pts
2 – Petter Solberg, 62pts
3 – Mads Ostberg, 53pts
4 – Mikko Hirvonen, 50pts
5 – Evgeny Novikov, 39pts
6 – Jari-Matti Latvala, 28pts