Citroën's Sébastien Loeb mastered tricky, damp conditions to win a record-breaking sixth consecutive world championship rally in Argentina at the weekend and take a commanding lead in the title chase.
Citroën's Sébastien Loeb mastered tricky damp conditions to win a record-breaking sixth consecutive world championship rally in Argentina at the weekend and take a commanding lead in the title chase.
Loeb dominated the event by building a 30-second lead on the opening leg, and then defending his advantage during the rally's final two days. Following this seventh win of the year, which is another record for the WRC, Loeb leads his closest rival in the drivers' championship - Subaru's Petter Solberg - by 27 points with less than half of the season left to contest.
"Of all the victories of this year, this was probably the toughest," the defending champion said. "I went off the road many times. (Peugeot's) Marcus Gronholm was very strong on the faster stages, so he definitely pushed me hard. The incident with the cow (on leg two) could have damaged the car. Luckily it was okay, but it might not have been."
Loeb added that he was surprised to have notched up so many wins at the halfway point of the year. "I never thought at the start of the season that there would be the possibility of winning six rallies in a row," he said. "What has surprised me is that, from the start of the year, we haven't had any problems. It seems to be a cumulative thing - success breeds success."
In contrast to the recent run of hot gravel events, which Loeb and Citroën dominated, the weather in South America was cold and wet. However, the Frenchman proved equally comfortable on the rutted, muddy mountain stages, with the Michelin tyres on his Xsara WRC proving as capable in the wet as they did in the dry.
The Pirelli-shod runners seemed to fare better in the cold conditions, with Gronholm and Solberg both giving Loeb a run for his money in the early stages. Solberg's challenge fell victim to damaged rear brakes on Saturday's second leg, however, leaving the Norwegian to salvage third place, while Gronholm could only slightly dent Loeb's overnight lead from a dominant Friday with a string of fastest times. In the end, the Finn was forced to settle for a 30-second deficit at the finish and second place.
Ford's Toni Gardemeister came out best in a fierce scrap with Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanpera in the fight for fourth, while Peugeot and Citroën second drivers Markko Martin and Francois Duval struggled into the tail-end of the points positions to ensure their teams stay closely-matched in the manufacturers' championship. Citroën privateer Manfred Stohl once again rounded out the drivers' points finishers ahead of Subaru young gun Chris Atkinson, who had another solid rally as he gains experience. Xavier Pons was the final top-10 finisher in the second privateer Kronos Racing Citroën.
Skoda had another frustrating rally, with Jani Paasonen retiring on the opening leg and Armin Schwarz being slowed significantly by a broken damper mount. Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli once again showed some impressive pace, but was another to be hampered by mechanical problems on leg one, ultimately retiring with gearbox problems on Sunday's final leg.
Gardemeister has lost his third place in the championship standings to Gronholm, who has also moved past Peugeot team-mate Martin. Citroën has edged a further point clear of sister firm Peugeot in the manufacturers' title chase, while the gap between Ford and Subaru in the battle for third and fourth remains as before. Mitsubishi adds four more points to its tally to make 41 points, while Skoda leaves South America still with eight.
Original article from Car