July 17, 2005 Sebastien Loeb and Citroen broke a number of rallying's world records with a dominant performance in the Argentinean round of the World Rally Championship at the weekend (15-17 July 2005) giving them the record for the most consecutive wins in a season (six) and, adding their win in the Monte Carlo season-opener, the most wins in one season … with seven more rounds to come. Loeb, who just a short few years ago was dismissed as a tarmac-only expert, has set the records on six out of seven gravel events so we can expect more wins and more records as the season unfolds.
As with the six previous events Loeb took control of the event on day one and never relinquished the lead. But that does not mean it was a walk in the park for Loeb has he headed towards the record books in front of the 1.5 million spectators who turned out to watch the event.
"It wasn't easy," said Seb between autographs at the finish. "You only have to look at the gaps to see that. I can tell you, I pushed very hard right up to two stages from home. That forced me into a couple of mistakes, notably my spin in yesterday's loop to the south. Once again though, I was able to count on the Xsara's impeccable reliability and the team didn't put a foot wrong again. Also, the 'eight' compound Michelin BTO tyre lived every bit up to our expectations. This may be our seventh win of the year, but it only strengthens our resolve to win more. We want to do even better."
Nor was Loeb alone in the Citroën celebrations with no less than four Citroën Xsaras in the top ten finishers. Loeb's team mate, François Duval finished 7th overall to earn two valuable, extra Manufacturers' points for the team. The performances of Manfred Stohl and Xavi Pons who finished as the best placed privateers with their Team Kronos Racing Xsaras, both inside the top-ten in 8th and 10th places were further reasons for a big fiesta in the Citroën camp tonight.
With world records 24 hours away, Guy Fréquelin and Sébastien Loeb were very reserved on Saturday evening. With such classics as Giulio Césare and El Cóndor to come on the final day, Seb's overnight cushion of 30 seconds by no means guaranteed success and the following morning's weather report provided further reason to be cautious: the temperature at 2,200 metres the highest altitude visited by the rally was well below zero, while snow lined these two legendary, rocky stages. The frozen conditions prompted Seb to opt for the softest compound '8 minus' version of the BTO, while François chose the slightly harder '8' compound.
The classic El Cóndor test was always going to be a highlight of the 2005 Rally Argentina and, if he proved able to stem Marcus Grönholm's bid on this one, it would put Seb all but clear of a last-minute charge from the Finn. And Seb played the situation perfectly by posting his ninth fastest time of the weekend. After that, the Citroën driver was able to control from in front over the last two 'true' stages and the two runs at the Complejo Pro Racing super special were more like laps of honour for the Frenchman. Rally Argentina is obviously not indifferent to Guy Fréquelin following his win here in the eighties.
"This is a result I want to savour," said the Citroën Sport Team Director. "I can't get enough of this, but this result has a special taste. Not only because it was a difficult rally and establishes a new record, but also because we got four Citroëns inside the top-ten and because all this happened in a country that loves its rallying as much as we do."
Marcus Gronholm, Marlboro Peugeot team, second: "This has been a good rally for us and second place is always a satisfactory result, but I think that I should have been closer to Sebastien Loeb. The car was very good over the fast and wide stages, but not so good over the slow and bumpy sections, where we still have a lot of work to do. Our tyre choice was exactly right for most of the time, and I think we did the best job that we could under the circumstances."
Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Marlboro Peugeot team: "As expected there were no big surprises at the end of the rally, with the gaps too big for our drivers to expect to make up places. Marcus drove an excellent rally, with no mechanical problems, and set six fastest stage times which were incredibly encouraging for the whole team. Markko Martin was quick in the fast sections, but lost confidence in his car whenever the route became narrower and twistier. He decided just to bring the car home, but he could have fought with Harri Rovanpera and Toni Gardemeister for fourth place. We now lose one point to Citroen, who are currently six points ahead of us. The next rally, in Finland, is a whole new ball game, and it should suit our drivers very well."
Petter Solberg, Subaru World Rally Team, third: “Today we made a couple of changes and they seemed to work well. While it's a good result, it was the couple of problems we had that made the difference. Overall I'm happy, it's been a hard weekend and the team did a very good job. I'll be fighting for the win in Finland and, as since it is so close to Norway, a lot of fans will be watching. It will be a tough fight, but I'm looking forward to it and I've every confidence that we'll come back again no problem!
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth: “Petter finished the event with a bit of a flourish giving us some encouragement for the next couple of gravel events. For Petter it has been a tough event of ups and downs. He set some impressive times, but unfortunately when the battle is so close, the couple of incidents that cost him time were decisive. Chris has put in a really good and solid performance. He's driven exceptionally well on were some of the trickiest conditions of the season and regularly traded times with the established stars. He's made good progress and should be looking forward to pushing them even harder in Finland.
Ford’s Toni Gardemeister extended his consistent run which has seen his Castrol Focus RS finish in the points in all nine rounds this season and he now lies fourth in the points standings. Toni Gardemeister, Castrol Ford, fourth: "It was a difficult day, in fact it was a very difficult rally. The roads this morning were icy but I had no choice other than to drive flat out to try to keep Harri behind me. The road surface changed from dry to wet to icy and it's hard to drive in constantly changing conditions. I set fastest time in the longest stage but we had a few lucky escapes in there. The weekend has been good, although I would have liked to be on the podium. If conditions had remained as dry as they were during the recce period then I think that would have been possible. But fourth is a good, solid result and that's my ninth consecutive points finish with the Focus RS this season which is good, reliable form."
Harri Rovanperä, Mitsubishi, fifth: “It’s been good to be fighting with top teams and the car has been so good all weekend. Friday was good for us but we lost too much time on Saturday morning when the set-up wasn’t right for the conditions. Yesterday afternoon it all came together very well though and the feeling returned and today has obviously been good too, fighting with Toni all the way to the finish. I think we probably lost the fight in the second stage, where there was ice and mud and we had very little grip. If the conditions had been drier throughout, it could have been a different story.”
Roger Estrada, Mitsubishi Principal Rally Engineer: “Harri drove very well and was, overall, fastest over today three mountain stages; it was good to be fighting hard. It’s a shame about Gigi’s problems on Friday and today, but in general we have had good pace.”
Markko Martin Marlboro Peugeot team, sixth: "We still struggled to find confidence over the whole three days of this rally, and eventually decided that it was better to not take any risks and try for a solid points finish, rather than pushing too hard and going off. The conditions were sometimes extremely rough, but I felt happy with my tyre choices and I learnt a lot about the set-up in slippery conditions."
François Duval, Citroen, seventh: "I reached the finish of this difficult rally in a position which I can't say fully satisfies me. But I finished and that's the most important thing. It was a phase I had to go through in order to build up my confidence again. That's done now and I'm pleased to see that Sven and I worked well together."
Chris Atkinson, Subaru World Rally Team, ninth: “The pace all weekend has been good and I'm pleased that, since there have been so few retirements, I can set good times against the top guys while still driving comfortably. You need experience in Argentina to go fast, so the weekend has been all about getting confidence. I've had no problems with the car all weekend and the tyre choices have been pretty good. I'm now going to Finland understanding the car a lot more and, since I've done that event before, I'm hopeful of building upon what we learnt here.”
The Next Event
It's back to Europe for round ten of the 2005 World Rally Championship as teams prepare for the specialist challenge of Rally Finland, which starts on Thursday 4 August. Known to many as the 1000 lakes rally, the event is one of the classics of the WRC season, and is based on the smooth, flowing gravel roads around the host town of Jyvaskyla. Like Argentina, the event is a favourite for drivers and features some of the highest speeds and biggest jumps of the year.
2005 Rally Argentina
1. S. Loeb/D. Elena (Citroën Xsara) 2. M. Grönholm/T. Rautiainen (Peugeot 307) 3. P. Solberg/Ph. Mills (Subaru Impreza) 4. T. Gardemeister/J. Honkanen (Ford Focus) 5. H. Rovanperä/R. Pietiläinen (Mitsubishi Lancer) 6. M. Märtin/M. Park (Peugeot 307) 7. F. Duval/S. Smeets (Citroën Xsara) 8. M. Stohl/I. Minor (Citroën Xsara) 9. Ch. Atkinson/G. Macneall (Subaru Impreza) 10. X. Pons/C. del Barrio (Citroën Xsara)
Manufacturers FIA World Rally Championship (after round 9)
1. Citroën 96 pts 2. Peugeot 90 points 3. Ford 62 pts 4. Subaru 54 pts 5. Mitsubishi 41 pts 6. Skoda 8 pts
Drivers FIA World Rally Championship (after round 9)
1. S. Loeb 75 pts 2. P. Solberg 48 points 3. M. Grönholm 45 pts 4. T. Gardemeister 44 pts 5. M. Märtin 42 pts 6. H. Rovanperä 20 pts 7. M. Stohl 12 pts 8. C. Sainz 11 pts 9. R. Kresta 10 pts 10. H. Solberg 9 pts 11. G. Panizzi 7 pts 12. F. Duval 7 pts 13. G. Galli 6 pts 14. M. Hirvonen 4 pts 15. D. Carlsson 4 pts 16. A. Warmbold 4 pts 17. Ch. Atkinson 2 pts 18. J. Pykälistö 1 pt.