Sebastien Loeb claimed the 70th victory of his incredible World Rally Championship career, and stretched his points lead in the process, as he cruised home to win Rally Argentina.
The eight-time champion's weekend had got off to a messy start as he spun three times on Friday morning and fell to fourth place. But a set-up change at service transformed his pace, and within two stages he was back up to first – helped by Ford driver Petter Solberg breaking his steering while leading.
Loeb's Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen looked capable of pushing the Frenchman all the way to the finish, but with the team holding a big lead over the rest of the field, it decided to order its drivers to hold position, ensuring Loeb's win.
Dani Sordo appeared to be on course for a podium on his one-off appearance for Ford, standing in for the injured Jari-Matti Latvala, only to retire on the rally-closing power stage with apparent mechanical problems. The Spaniard had settled for a calm run to third once it became clear he could not match the Citroens, but was denied by his last-gasp drama.
That elevated Portugal winner Mads Ostberg to third for Adapta Ford. The Norwegian was the last of the frontrunners to avoid trouble as the switching to a more endurance-style format coincided with heavy attrition.
Five of the top 10 finishers relied on Rally 2 to get back into the points. After fourth-placed Martin Prokop (Czech Ford), fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth and 10th position men Thierry Neuville (Citroen Junior), Solberg, Evgeny Novikov (M-Sport Ford), Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar Citroen) and Ott Tanak (M-Sport) all had to rejoin with penalties after incidents. It was little consolation after missing out on a potential win, but Solberg managed to take the bonus points for being quickest on the power stage.
Volkswagen's two S2000 class Skodas were in the top 10 for most of the weekend, despite a few incidents and delays. Andreas Mikkelsen and Sebastien Ogier had a very tight intra-team battle that only ended when the Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion suffered late suspension damage. It looked like at least one Skoda would make it into the overall top six for a while, but ultimately Neuville and Solberg's recoveries pushed Ogier back to seventh.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 5h34m38.8s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 15.2s
3. Mads Ostberg Adapta Ford + 3m10.4s
4. Martin Prokop Czech Ford + 9m45.3s
5. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior + 11m17.6s
6. Petter Solberg Ford + 12m02.2s
7. Sebastien Ogier VW Skoda + 12m25.3s
8. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford + 21m10.2s
9. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar Citroen + 28m22.6s
10. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford + 37m19.5s
Other WRC finishers:
12. Eliseo Salazar Prodrive Mini + 41m15.9s
Dani Sordo Ford SS19
Armindo Araujo Portugal Mini SS17
Paolo Nobre Portugal Mini SS17
Daniel Oliveira Brazil Ford SS13
Leading power stage results:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Petter Solberg Ford 2m32.9s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 1.1s
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar Citroen + 1.5s
4. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 1.7s
5. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport + 3.3s