Sebastien Loeb has made the perfect start to this year's Rally Argentina by setting the fastest time at today's shakedown stage – and conditions look likely to play into his hands as he seeks to continue his dominance of this year's World Rally Championship.
Courtesy of his status as championship leader, Loeb and his Citroen C4 WRC will run first on the road tomorrow. Ordinarily, this would cause him problems with prolonged hot and dry weather baking the Argentine roads hard and leaving him to sweep the gravely surface clean for those running behind him.
The ideal scenario for Loeb would heavy rain – which is precisely what is forecast for the foothills of the Andes tonight.
"The roads are quite tough at the moment, the condition is not easy," said Loeb. "It's very sandy, a little bit like driving on the beach. If rain comes, then it would make it much more interesting to drive on. If the rain doesn't come then, for sure, it will be cleaning for the drivers behind me."
Second at shakedown was Ford's Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn hit the front of this event with a stunning time through a foggy first stage in 2008, and this time around, he says does not care about the weather conditions.
"It doesn't matter if dry or wet," said Hirvonen. "We know if it's dry the road will clean, but for me, I have to go flat out. All I can do is go flat out and see what I can do."
Loeb's teammate Dani Sordo was third quickest, while Hirvonen's fellow factory Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala was a more sedate sixth over the four-mile test. Latvala is returning to the Focus RS WRC 08 for his first competitive mileage since crashing heavily on the Rally of Portugal earlier this month.
Despite his countryman crashing on three of the first four rallies, Hirvonen backed his teammate, saying: "Jari-Matti is definitely fast enough, no doubt about it. He'll be winning rallies soon."