Friday wrap: Loeb completes remarkable turnaround

WRC.com’s Friday wrap: Loeb completes remarkable turnaround

Fri, 27 Apr 2012 11:30:00 +0100

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Sebastien Loeb has reversed a deficit of more than half a minute to lead Philips Rally Argentina at the completion of day one as Petter Solberg’s bid for victory faltered when the Ford driver suffered a broken steering arm on stage four.

Loeb, who tops the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia drivers’ standings, suffered a succession of spins in the slippery conditions this morning at the wheel of the Citroen DS3 WRC he shares with co-driver Daniel Elena. However, set-up changes at midday service provided the handling and confidence that he craved and he was soon back on top form.

He moved into second place when Solberg stopped on stage four and snatched top spot by going faster than team-mate Mikko Hirvonen on the fifth test after Hirvonen struggled to find a good rhythm on the rutted roads. However, with Hirvonen fighting back on the final stage of the day, just 0.1s covers the Citroen drivers starting Saturday’s stages.

“We changed a bit the set-up and I was much more confident in the afternoon,” said Loeb. “I pushed really hard and there were no mistakes. It is very close with Mikko and there is a long way to go.”

Solberg was 5.4 kilometres from the end of stage four when he was forced out having begun the afternoon loop leading by more than 20s in his Fiesta RS WRC. The Norwegian will return under Rally 2 rules on Saturday.

While there was frustration for Solberg, stand-in team-mate Dani Sordo impressed on his debut for the Blue Oval by posting a succession of top five stage times. He is third overnight, 33.1s behind Loeb after losing ground running a hard compound tyre on the damp final stage.

Mads Ostberg is fourth after six stages despite a power issue on stage four and an intercom glitch on stage five. Thierry Neuville was fourth starting stage five but an off left his Citroen with extensive right-rear damage. The promising Belgian plans to restart on Saturday.

It was a frustrating day too for M-Sport Fiesta drivers Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tanak. Novikov retired with a broken wheel on stage three. Tanak suffered a puncture on stage two and then had to change a broken steering arm on stage three, before going off on stage four and getting stranded in a ditch.

Nasser Al-Attiyah is fifth overall despite suffering from neck pains and a costly spin and stall on stage two. Martin Prokop fought back from a puncture on stage two to complete day one in sixth overall.

Andreas Mikkelsen is an impressive seventh in his Super 2000-specifciation Skoda Fabia despite losing time with a broken front-right damper on stage five. He heads Volkswagen Motorsport team-mate Sebastien Ogier by 22.8s after the Frenchman was slowed by a puncture on stage four.

A turbo wastegate value failure hampered Armindo Araujo’s MINI John Cooper Works WRC during the afternoon. Fellow WRC Team MINI Portugal driver Paulo Nobre stopped on stage three.

Daniel Oliveira’s recovery from his stage-one retirement has brought him up to a strong 14th overall after the Brazil World Rally Team pilot drove without fault in his Fiesta. Ex-Formula One driver Eliseo Salazar is currently 16th on his world championship debut in a Prodrive-run MINI.

Saturday’s action gets underway with the 20.18-kilometre San Agustin-Santa Rosa run, which is due to go live at 08:30hrs local time.

Credit: WRC.com
Photo: D.Darrall

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