April 25th to 28th saw the World Rally Championship roar into life once again, this time for the high altitude challenge of Rally Argentina in South America.
Day 1 of the rally only contained one stage, the Thursday evening super special stage with packed out grandstands as the Argentine fans were treated to a furious display of power from the WRC cars. Ott Tanak took the spoils going quickest, giving him the lead for the first day of proper running on the Friday.
Day 2 dawned for the first full day of proper running. The morning was paced by the Toyota’s of Ott Tanak & Kris Meeke who battled with one another for the lead, Meeke revelling on the gravel stages. Leading the charge against the Toyota’s was Thierry Neuville in his Hyundai with team mates Andreas Mikkelsen & Dani Sordo in tow, Sebastien Ogier hung onto the coat tails of the trio of Hyundai’s in his Citroen C3.
Toyota’s morning glory was disrupted later in the day as Kris Meeke dropped 20 seconds in stage 7, not due to mechanical dramas but simply due to his road position being far less favourable than his rivals. The net result was a stage surface that was bereft of grip and no matter how well Meeke drove he was fighting a losing battle. Toyota’s woes did not end there. Stage 8 saw Ott Tanak dropping small amounts of time throughout the stage until a spin lost him a large chunk of time, the cause of which was believed to have been a broken driveshaft giving the Toyota the unwanted gift of wayward handing. They say bad things come in three’s and Jari Matti Latvala in his Toyota found himself having to go slowly through stage 8; Espapekka Lappi crashed his Citroen C3 in the stage which brought out a red flag, forcing Latvala to go through the stage slowly, dropping over a minute in the process.
At the end of day 2 Thierry Neuville was the leader and Seb Ogier took advantage of Toyota’s misfortune to elevate himself into second place and Tanak finished up in third.
Day 3 on Saturday was locked and loaded for battle royale between the three championship protganoists, Neuville, Tanak & Ogier. The morning got off to a controversial start as a open gate caused Ogier to take a longer than necessary route and to clip a gatepost, damaging his power steering. Citroen immediately challenged this as they believed other cars would have gained an advantage due to the altered route.
Tanak leapfrogged Ogier and began pushing Neuville very hard indeed. Both Neuville & Tanak traded blows throughout the day and Kris Meeke was setting a good pace and kept Tanak & Neuville in his sights, waiting for his moment to pounce. The Rally however would show its teeth as the day was coming to a close.
Jari Matti Latvala struggled in the second half of the day with a misfire, the Turbocharged Toyota mill wasn’t losing huge amounts of power, but it was enough to blunt any sort of charge Latvala had in mind. Teemu Sunninen in his Ford had not featured towards the sharp end of the field but was losing time due to intercom issues which meant he couldn’t hear his pace notes, not an issue you want to have. Ott Tanak meanwhile dropped out of the day on the final stage, the Toyota Yaris ground to an halt towards the end of Stage 14 with mechanical issues. A bitter blow for Tanak’s title challenge.
The penultimate day ended with Thierry Neuville leading with team mate Andreas Mikkelsen in second. Seb Ogier jumped into third place after Kris Meeke was handed a 10 second penalty for taking a shortcut on the gate affected morning stage, Dani Sordo meanwhile rounded out the top 5, a very good day for Hyundai indeed.
The final day of the rally was looking exceedingly good for Thierry Neuville. He started with a 45 second lead over teammate Mikkelsen. Neuville ran consistently and quickly coming into the final stage he dropped just 5 seconds to a hard charging Mikkelsen. Behind, Seb Ogier and Kris Meeke duked it out. Meeke’s Toyota certainly had a speed advantage over the Citroen of Ogier, the final stage saw Meeke back out in front of Ogier who couldn’t match the searing pace of the Toyota.
The final powerstage was likely to see a victory for Neuville but for the chasing pack behind it was all to play for. Mikkelsen ran a good time to consolidate his second place finish, which made it a 1-2 for Hyundai. Behind, Kris Meeke set a torrid pace, until bad luck struck the Irishman and the Toyota picked up a puncture dropping Meeke down to fourth place. This allowed Seb Ogier to leapfrog Meeke into third place. Dani Sordo continued his stead form throughout the powerstage and finished up in fifth place.
Thierry Neuville took his second victory of 2019 and took the lead in the points. The results are thus:
- Thierry Neuville
- Andreas Mikkelsen
- Sebastien Ogier
- Kris Meeke
- Jari Matti Latvala
The championship standing at the end of play are as follows:
- Thierry Neuville – 110 points
- Sebastien Ogier – 100 points
- Ott Tanak – 82 points
- Kris Meeke – 54 points
- Elfyn Evans – 43 points
There is still everything to play for as the championship rapidly approached the halfway point.
The next event will be the first running of Rally Chile on the weekend of May 10th-12th, it will be a big event for sure and a big unknown for the teams, drivers & organisers, certainly one to watch.