After a ten-second penalty was handed to their direct rivals for the final podium place by the rally organisers late last night for failing to follow the racing route on one of Saturday’s stages, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia went into today’s final leg in third position. They held a slim 6.0s lead as they prepared to tackle the very rough stages of El Condor and Giulio Cesare. Displaying their famous neversay-die attitude, the six-time world champions put up a determined fight in the C3 WRC, whilst not forgetting the importance of ensuring they secured big points for the championship. Their efforts were rewarded in the end: victory on the Power Stage, their third stage win of the weekend, saw them hang onto the final podium spot by just 1.4s!
Sébastien and Julien’s third position, combined with the five bonus points earned on the Power Stage, means they consolidated their hold on second place in the world championship, ten points behind the leaders. This is their fourth podium this year, after winning in Monte-Carlo and Mexico, and finishing as runners-up in Corsica. It is also the fifth time in as many events this season that Citroën Total World Rally Team has finished in the top three.
Despite the difficult, changeable grip conditions, particularly on the opening day after the heavy rain that fell prior to the event, the French crew made an excellent start, consistently among the frontrunners to end the leg second overall, just 11.9s behind the leaders. Day two proved to be trickier. Confused about which route to take on the morning loop (SS11) by a gate left open – whereas the roadbook indicated it was meant to be closed – Sébastien and Julien hesitated and ended up damaging the power steering of their C3 WRC when they hit the gate. They therefore dropped back to sixth position, 21.8s adrift of the podium. They then fought back like the champions they are on the second loop, claiming two stage wins on their way to fourth overall, keeping them in with a good chance of finishing on the podium going into the final day.
After making a decent start with a fifth fastest time on the rally’s first proper stage (SS2), Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm were unfortunately then held up by a puncture immediately afterwards (SS4) when they hit a bank following a crest. The Finnish pair were gradually upping their pace on what was only their second appearance in Argentina – as could be seen in their promising split times – when a tyre came loose following a puncture, rolling the car (SS8) and forcing them to retire from the rally on the opening leg.
Competing in the WRC2 Pro class in a C3 R5, Mads Østberg and Torstein Eriksen claimed their second consecutive category win after Rally Sweden, whilst also amassing a handsome tally of ten stage wins from the overall total of seventeen contested. Yet further evidence of the competitiveness of Citroën Racing’s flagship customer racing product on the very demanding Argentinian roads, where the C3 R5 was competing for the first time.
Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver “It’s a pretty good result in terms of points, but we can’t be pleased with our out-and-out performance level. There are some conditions, like those we saw in Mexico or here on the second runs, where we are fairly competitive. But we have to improve when there is less grip or when the road is more technical. I’m pleased to see our persistence rewarded, because once again this weekend we pushed as hard as possible right to the end.”
Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver “Despite not knowing the roads here particularly well, I was obviously hoping for a better outcome from this round. But after we had picked up a puncture, I was caught out when the tyre suddenly came loose. Thiscaused the car to understeer, we hit a bank at the side of the road and rolled the car. Obviously, I’m sorry for the team, but after a few days’ rest with my family, Janne and I will back raring to go and have the best Rally Chile possible, where we’ll all be on an equal footing in terms of experience.”
How do you assess your performance in Argentina?
It was clearly a tough weekend, one that we can’t be satisfied with. The points for third place and from the Power Stage are fairly positive as regards the championship, but we lacked pace on these roads. The result is down in large part to Sébastien and Julien’s relentless commitment and persistence. Meanwhile, Esapekka and Janne deserved at least to make it to the end of the rally, in order to keep adding to their experience. Perhaps in future they will need to manage a puncture differently, but we are still 200% behind them so that they can finally get back on the right track in Chile.
How are you intending to tackle the transition to Rally Chile?
First of all, we’ll be shipping the backup C3 WRC out to Chile for Esapekka and Janne, so that they will have a completely new car for the event. Although we have relatively little time, we are also going to get to work on improving the C3 WRC as much as possible in clearly identified conditions, and define the best set-up for the rally. It’s a new event for everyone, and will also be fairly different to what we experienced this weekend. In any case, we are all fired up to keep fighting as hard as possible for the championship.
Jean-Luc Gaucher, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia’s Chief mechanic, was the man in charge of coordinating Saturday’s mid-leg service, during which the Citroën mechanics repaired the stricken number 1 C3 WRC. He told us about how they took just forty minutes to repair the car’s power steering, broken by the French crew in a minor impact.
“Actually, we had a whole load of parts to replace. The entire power steering, of course, but also the gearbox, the hydraulic unit and the clutch. Generally speaking, these sorts of repairs need careful planning beforehand, so that everyone knows precisely what order to do things in and so that everything goes smoothly once you get started. Given that we only had one car left in the race at that point, we could have all eight of our mechanics involved, but on the other hand, we were limited by the physical space to four people working on the front on the car, in the critical area. Although we train for this kind of situation, it’s always satisfying to see things work out when it’s for real. It was important to get the car working again as quickly as possible, because when you work on the hydraulics, the start-up procedure takes quite a bit of time, but that’s precisely what we managed to do. After a long, difficult service like this, there’s always a niggling fear that you might have missed something, so it was nice – and reassuring – for all of us to see Sébastien and Julien grab two consecutive stage wins straight afterwards!”
1. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 3:20:54.6
2. Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +48.4
3. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:04.8
4. Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:06.2
5. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:21.1
6. Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:26.7
7. Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4:57.3
8. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +14:24.8
9. Østberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) +14:28.5
1. Thierry Neuville – 110 points
2. Sébastien Ogier – 100 points
3. Ott Tänak – 82 points 4. Kris Meeke – 54 points
5. Elfyn Evans – 43 points
6. Andreas Mikkelsen – 30 points
7. Jari-Matti Latvala – 28 points
8. Esapekka Lappi – 26 points
9. Dani Sordo – 26 points
10. Sébastien Loeb – 22 points
1. Hyundai WRT – 157 points
2. Toyota Gazoo Racing – 120 points
3. Citroën Total WRT – 117 points
4. M-Sport Ford WRT – 78 points