Jari-Matti Latvala made a determined start in his quest for back-to-back FIA World Rally Championship wins
Latvala, victorious at the previous round in Mexico, won four of today’s eight speed tests to head Volkswagen Polo R team-mate Sébastien Ogier by 7.9sec.
Hayden Paddon was 3.5sec further behind in a Hyundai i20 after an intriguing day covering 150.08km, primarily on fast and sandy gravel roads in the Calamuchita Valley, south of Villa Carlos Paz.
Ogier, who tied for the lead in last night’s curtain-raiser through Cordoba’s streets, topped the order after today’s first two tests. Latvala made a cautious opening but moved ahead before mid-leg service and extended his advantage this afternoon.
“It’s been a very good day with no really big mistakes,” said Latvala. “A couple of small ones, but that’s part of the game when you’re fighting hard. It was my plan to take this morning’s first stage steadily because it was the roughest. It isn’t one of my favourites and second time through there were many impacts in the ruts, so I was careful not to push too much again.
He enjoyed the best of the conditions in contrast to road opener Ogier. As temperatures climbed to 22˚C, the surface dried and the Frenchman had to sweep the loose gravel. As Latvala edged clear, Ogier fought with Paddon and the pair exchanged places four times.
Paddon admitted to a few small mistakes initially. However, the Kiwi cleaned up his driving on the repeat run through the stages and was only hindered by a minor damper problem.
Andreas Mikkelsen was fourth in another Polo R, the Norwegian overhauling Dani Sordo this morning when the Spaniard lost time with a sticking throttle in his i20. The gap is 23.3sec.
Mads Østberg kept clear of trouble in sixth in a Ford Fiesta RS ahead of the similar cars of Henning Solberg and an ultra-cautious Eric Camilli, who is targeting a clean run after an incident-filled start to his rookie season.
Local hero Marcos Ligato was ninth, despite losing three minutes when he skidded into a bank and stopped to release the damaged bumper blocking his DS 3’s radiator inlet.
Thierry Neuville completed the leaderboard, the Belgian fighting back after losing almost six minutes when his i20 stopped several times with a loose connection in the fuel system.
Ott Tänak and Lorenzo Bertelli were the two major retirements. Estonian Tänak was sixth until a jammed alternator stopped his Fiesta RS, while Bertelli lost all engine power in his similar car.
Tomorrow drivers face two identical loops of three stages north-west of Villa Carlos Paz. Covering 158.82km, it is the longest leg of the event.