Juho Hanninen will start the final leg of the 30th Personal Rally Argentina with a lead of more than half a minute following a dominant performance at the wheel of his Skoda Motorsport Fabia Super 2000 today (20 March).
The 28-year-old Intercontinental Rally Challenge leader from Finland was fastest on six of Saturday’s seven special stages, despite insisting he was not going flat-out in his efforts to claim his first victory of the season alongside co-driver Mikko Markkula. Although Hanninen could lose time by running first on the road on Sunday, his pace during this afternoon might be enough to minimise any disadvantage he could face.
Guy Wilks, driving for the Skoda UK Motorsport team, moved into second place on the sixth stage of the event when he demoted fellow British driver Kris Meeke into third overall. Wilks claimed his first stage win of the campaign when he went fastest on the fourth test of the gravel rally. Apart from regretting his decision to raise the ride height of his Fabia and experiment with his suspension settings in the afternoon, the Englishman said he was satisfied with his performance.
Meeke, the defending IRC champion, rued his choice of the harder compound tyre for the afternoon’s loop of three stages, which he said was not suited to the conditions, which remained dry, albeit slightly colder than in the morning. The Peugeot UK ace, who was hindered by an electronic glitch on stages four and five, lost more ground when he picked up a front-right puncture two kilometres from the end of the day’s final stage.
Czech Republic’s Jan Kopecky, in the second factory Skoda, makes no secret of his lack of gravel prowess although a fourth-gear spin on stage three did little to help his confidence. He had hoped to find more speed by running with only one spare wheel to carry less weight during the morning loop of stages but that gamble made no difference to his outright pace. Nevertheless, he is on course for a healthy haul of points in fourth overall.
Fifth-placed Federico Villagra is the leading Argentine heading into day two in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta. The eight-time national champion was mystified that he wasn’t closer to the leading pace and suggested his car’s engine had lacked grunt on the sandy stages.
Gabriel Pozzo completes the top six in his Subaru Impreza WRX, despite being handed a 10-second time penalty for leaving morning service late while his mechanics worked to repair damaged rear suspension.
Bruno Magalhaes blamed his lowly starting position of 11th for his failure to run at the sharp end of the leaderboard. But the Peugeot Portugal driver has refused to be disheartened and battled his way to eighth overnight, behind leading Argentine Group N driver Nicolas Madero, in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Nasser Al-Attiyah has made a steady start to his IRC career at the wheel of a Rene Georges Rally Sport-run Fabia. Although the Qatari has extensive experience of competing in Argentina, he’s still lacking knowledge of his car, although his main cause of complaint, particularly in the morning, was running first on the road. Hopes of a reversal of fortune in the afternoon were shattered when he picked up two right-side punctures on stage six.
Daniel Oliveira was in the top 20 when an off on stage three left him stranded in thick mud for more than 10 minutes until spectators helped to haul his Peugeot 207 back onto the road. The delay dropped the young Brazilian into last position at one stage but he has fought back to within touching distance of the top 30 heading into Sunday’s final leg.
Despite heavy rain in the build-up to the rally, it remained dry throughout Saturday’s leg. Rain is expected tonight, however, while fog is expected to add to the challenge facing the crews on Sunday’s early stages.
Juho Hanninen (Finland), Skoda Fabia S2000, first overall: "It’s been a good day with no problems. I pushed a bit more this afternoon to keep my lead good for tomorrow even though there were some deep ruts. I plan to keep my gap tomorrow although I know the boys behind will still be pushing. I will just see what I can do."
Guy Wilks (United Kingdom), Skoda Fabia S2000, second overall: "The stages have been tricky today but we’ve got to keep the pressure on tomorrow because you never know what will happen. Juho has been flying today, particularly this afternoon."
Kris Meeke (United Kingdom), Peugeot 207 S2000, third overall: "The water splash on stage four seemed to affect the gear shifting systems, which cut the engine, but we got it fixed at service. It’s been impossible to live with Juho today but it’s not over yet."
TOP TEN IRC POSITIONS AFTER LEG ONE, SECTION TWO
1 Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula Skoda Fabia S2000 1h16m55.0s
2 Guy Wilks/Phil Pugh Skoda Fabia S2000 +32.2s
3 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle Peugeot 207 S2000 +51.0s
4 Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m26.2s
5 Federico Villagra/Jorge Perez Companc Ford Fiesta S2000 +2m57.7s
6 Gabriel Pozzo/Daniel Stillo Subaru Impreza STI +3m11.1s
7 Nicolas Madero/Guillermo Piazzano Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +3m34.6s
8 Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes Peugeot 207 S2000 +3m45.9s
9 Claudio Menzi/Diego Cagnotti Subaru Impreza STI +3m56.8s
10 Diego Dominguez/Edgardo Galindo Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +4m03.4s
LEG TWO ITINERARY (SUNDAY 21 MARCH)
Service D: Carlos Paz, 06:40hrs; SS9: La Cumbre-Agua de Oro (15.06kms), 08:13hrs; SS10: Ascochinga-La Cumbre (22.40kms), 09:13hrs; SS11: Valle Hermoso-Casa Grande 1 (11.34kms), 10:08hrs; SS12: Cosquin-Villa Allende 1 (19.18kms), 10:40hrs; Service E: Carlos Paz, 12:10hrs; SS13: Valle Hermoso-Casa Grande 2 (11.34kms), 14:08hrs; SS14: Cosquin-Villa Allende 2 (19.18kms), 14:40hrs; SS15: Super Special Stage Carlos Paz 2 (3.30kms), 16:23hrs; Service F: Carlos Paz, 16:33hrs; Finish: Carlos Paz, 16:53hrs.