The Rally Argentina has long been regarded as one of the toughest in the calendar, with its extremely long stages and punishing terrain making it a real test for the drivers and their cars. This year’s event featured drama from the first stage of the rally and the team to beat this season, Volkswagen, had a miserable weekend, with only one driver making the finish albeit way down the order. This allowed the other teams to take advantage and Kris Meeke drove an almost faultless rally to lead home his team-mate Mads Ostberg and become the first Brit to win a WRC round since the late Colin McRae at the 2002 Safari Rally.
The opening stage of the rally was a short spectator stage which was won by Championship leader Sebastien Ogier in his Volkswagen, a sight which fans had become used to seeing this season. However on the 52km Agua de Oro stage, the first proper stage of the rally, Ogier suffered a fuel supply problem, meaning that the car dropped down to three cylinders. He was forced to retire towards the end of the stage and wasn’t the only one to hit problems; Thierry Neuville, third in the Championship, lost over four minutes with a puncture whilst the same problem hit Andreas Mikkelsen’s Volkswagen which lost him 90 seconds. Meeke meanwhile stormed into the lead after setting a time more than half a minute quicker than anyone else and extended it to over a minute at the close of the day. Jari-Matti Latvala, hoping to finally get his season going, was the closest challenger to the Brit but gearbox problems dropped him to third behind Ostberg, who was reasonably happy despite having to restart his engine on the opening stage. Dani Sordo was the leading Hyundai in fourth despite gearbox problems, just ahead of Elfyn Evans’ Ford Fiesta. His M-Sport team-mate Ott Tanak was another first day casualty after he clouted a rock submerged in a watersplash and broke the suspension.
Meeke may have had a big lead after the opening day but he wasn’t invincible; a spin on stage 7 lost him around 15 seconds to Ostberg but due to the much shorter nature of the day, he was able to preserve his lead over his team-mate and it stood at 38.6 seconds at the close. With two short stages making up the final day, it looked as though Meeke was odds on to take his maiden WRC victory. Ostberg was consistently faster than the Brit over the day but felt as though he couldn’t push too hard on the rough Argentinian roads. Latvala remained in the final podium position but nearly threw it away when he hit a bank and briefly went off the road. Sordo meanwhile was not as fortunate; the high number of watersplashes on his rally took its toll on his Hyundai i20 when he was forced to retire on the final stage of the day after water found his car’s spark plugs. Evans meanwhile was also being cautious and was paying off after finding himself in a comfortable fourth position ahead of the recovering Neuville. The Championship leader Ogier was once again in the wars though when he lost a further four minutes on the final stage of the day with broken power steering, which left him down in 23rd overall.
Just one stage repeated twice stood between Kris Meeke and his debut victory but that stage was El Condor, one of the roughest and most iconic stages on the whole calendar, with a surface that more resembled the Moon. There would be one final twist in the outcome of this rally and it regarded Latvala’s Volkswagen, who held third overall. His car suffered fuel supply problems, the same problem that plagued team-mate Ogier on Day 1, and led to yet another non-finish for the Finn, his Championship hopes already look to be in dire trouble. Neuville therefore moved up to fourth but he retired on the Power Stage after clouting a rock, with an identical fate falling to Mikkelsen in another Volkswagen. All of this benefitted Elfyn Evans, who was able to take his first podium finish with a consistent drive in his Fiesta. Ahead of him, the battle for the win wasn’t over yet as Ostberg charged through the final two stages but Meeke held on by 18 seconds to take his first ever WRC victory, in doing so he became the first Brit to win a round since the late Colin McRae, who mentored Meeke in the early stages of his career. With Evans’ third place, this became the first time since New Zealand 2001 that two Brits finished on the podium together; on that occasion it was Richard Burns and McRae. Martin Prokop drove another clean rally in his privately-run Fiesta to match his personal best of fourth overall with Dani Sordo recovering to fifth. Khalid Al-Qassimi, driving in his first rally since Spain last year, lost out to the Hyundai in the end but still finished a credible sixth. Ogier’s run of wins was broken as the Frenchman limped home to 17th but did take the maximum 3 points for winning the Power Stage ahead of Sordo and Ostberg.
WRC 2 and local drivers made up the rest of the points-paying places, with Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari winning that category en route to seventh overall, ahead of Diego Dominguez, Gustavo Saba and Federico Villagra though, due to the latter not being eligible for points, Tanak was awarded the final point. Al-Kuwari may have won the category but somewhat strangely he wasn’t the fastest driver on the stages. That was Yuriy Protasov in a Ford Fiesta RRC, however 18 minutes worth of penalties dropped him down to fourth in the classifications, with Dominguez and Jari Ketomaa taking advantage to finish on the podium.
The drama in Argentina meant that Ogier’s lead was trimmed ever so slightly but was still a commanding 33 points. Ostberg though was now the Frenchman’s closest challenger after Neuville and Mikkelsen failed to finish, with Evans and Meeke moving up to fourth and fifth in the Championship respectively. The action now moves to Portugal, though it will be a journey into the unknown for all of the drivers as the location has moved to Northern Portugal, which hasn’t seen WRC action since 2001. The rally starts on the 21st of May and it promises to be highly interesting.
Final Classifications – Rally Argentina 2015
|Pos.||Driver Name||Co-Driver Name||Car||Time/Diff|
|1||K. Meeke||P. Nagle||Citroen DS3 WRC||3:41:44.9|
|2||M. Ostberg||J. Andersson||Citroen DS3 WRC||+18.1|
|3||E. Evans||D. Barritt||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+3:27.4|
|4||M. Prokop||J. Tomanek||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+6:26.1|
|5||D. Sordo||M. Marti||Hyundai i20 WRC||+10:46.7|
|6||K. Al-Qassimi||C. Patterson||Citroen DS3 WRC||+11:19.9|
|7||A. Al-Kuwari||M. Clarke||Ford Fiesta RRC||+16:02.6|
|8||D. Dominguez||E. Galindo||Ford Fiesta R5||+18:48.2|
|9||G. Saba||D. Cagnotti||Skoda Fabia S2000||+21:20.6|
|10||F. Villagra||D. Curletto||Ford Fiesta MR||+25:19.6|
Final Classifications – WRC 2
|Pos.||Driver Name||Co-Driver Name||Car||Time/Diff|
|1||A. Al-Kuwari||M. Clarke||Ford Fiesta RRC||3:57:47.5|
|2||D. Dominguez||E. Galindo||Ford Fiesta R5||+2:45.6|
|3||J. Ketomaa||K. Lindstrom||Ford Fiesta R5||+12:03.2|
|4||Y. Protasov||P. Cherepin||Ford Fiesta RRC||+13:22.8|
|5||D. Arias||H. Nunes||Ford Fiesta R5||+16:48.8|
|6||S. Tempestini||M. Chiarcossi||Subaru Impreza STi N14||+27:40.4|
|7||G. Linari||N. Arena||Subaru Impreza STi N15||+38:17.4|
WRC Drivers’ Championship After Round 4
|Pos.||Driver Name||MC||SWE||MEX||ARG||Total Points|
|1||S. Ogier||25||25 + 3||25 + 3||0 + 3||84|
|2||M. Ostberg||12||1 + 1||18||18 + 1||51|
|3||A. Mikkelsen||15||15||15 + 2||–||47|
|5||K. Meeke||1 + 3||6||–||25||35|
|6||T. Neuville||10||18 + 2||4 + 1||–||35|
|7||D. Sordo||8||–||10||10 + 2||30|
|9||J. Latvala||18 + 1||–||–||–||19|
WRC Manufacturers’ Championship After Round 4
|1||Volkswagen||25 + 18||25 + 0||25 + 6||4 + 0||103|
|2||Citroen||8 + 4||6 + 2||18 + 4||25 + 18||85|
|3||Hyundai||15 + 12||18 + 10||12 + 8||10 + 0||85|
|4||M-Sport||10 + 2||12 + 8||15 + 1||15 + 8||71|