(WRC.com release, 3/5/2013) VOLKSWAGEN driver Sebastien Ogier, the front-runner to succeed Sebastien Loeb as FIA World Rally Champion, has kept the lead in the French arch-rivals’ highly anticipated duel after day two of Rally Argentina.
Ogier returned his Polo R WRC to the service park in the lake resort town of Carlos Paz after Thursday’s four stages with a 16.3sec advantage over Loeb in a Citroen DS3.
Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen, also in a Citroen DS3, was third, just 1.8sec behind Loeb.
Following Wednesday night’s opening Super Special Stage, Thursday’s action was focused on two long gravel stages in the Sierras Chicas mountains and the Punilla Valley north of Cordoba.
The battle between Ogier and Loeb is the headline of the rally.
Ogier leads the drivers’ championship after three wins and one second place over the first four rounds. Nine-time champion Loeb is bidding to win his eighth straight Rally Argentina, but is running only a partial WRC campaign this year and has not contested a gravel event since Spain 2012.
After winning the Super Special, Ogier was fastest on Thursday’s opener to pull 8.8sec clear of the chasing pack, led by his Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
He lost half of that advantage on stage three, however, when he got stuck behind the Citroen DS3 of Dani Sordo, who had rolled earlier, and forfeited the stage to Hirvonen.
But from then on Ogier was in dominant form, extending his lead with wins on the two repeated stages in the afternoon.
Returning to the WRC after nearly three months away, Loeb took time to get back up to speed. He was 8.5sec slower than Ogier on the opening test but seemed to have rediscovered his mojo on the next after making damper adjustments.
But Loeb’s efforts to catch Ogier on the two afternoon stages were thwarted by a poor tyre choice. Gambling on a repeat of the morning’s dry and warm conditions, Loeb and his Citroen team-mates elected to fit Michelin’s hard-compound option tyre.
However, the skies clouded over, fog closed in and light rain on stages four and five favoured Ogier and Latvala, who had stuck with the soft-compound.
Ogier latest admitted that the conditions almost destroyed the rubber, but the Citroen crews, who struggled for grip, felt theirs was the worse option.
Latvala was fourth overnight, 22sec behind Hirvonen. The Finn had a day of mixed fortunes; from the highs of two second-fastest stage times, to the lows of a technical problem that left him without a handbrake on two stages.
Almost a minute behind the Finn was Evgeny Novikov. The young Russian became the leading Ford driver after Mads Ostberg hit a rock on stage four and retired with a broken steering arm and driveshaft.
The rally finishes on Saturday.