There were a great many impressive things to take away from Ott Tanak’s win on the YPF Rally Argentina 2018 last month, but by far the most striking one was just how straightforward he made it seem. Clearly every bit as comfortable in his new (ish) team as he was at M-Sport, Tanak crushed the South American ambitions of his competitors with unguarded relish, and from Friday morning he could be found comfortably leading the field, a position he would hold, largely untroubled, until the very end.
The foundations for Tanak’s victory were set early on in the rally, when the Toyota man overcame a costly, rock-induced spin on Las Bajadas to end the opening loop of stages a mere second down on the Hyundai i20WRC of Andreas Mikkelsen. This was a more impressive feat than it looked; the Estonian’s Yaris has been left with damaged steering in its argument when the Argentine bedrock and he was forced to fight back up the order from ninth, overcoming his less than precise steering inputs in the process.
The inevitable happened on the early afternoon Carlos Paz super special stage, Tanak unburdened and into the lead, one he’d increase to over 22 seconds by the end of Friday by dint of fastest stage times on all three of the afternoon’s tests. Tanak defied the fog which cloaked the Saturday morning stages (he won all three) and had extended his margin to just of 46 seconds by the end of the leg, one he’d manage until the conclusion of the rally. It was nothing less than the drive of a WRC champion in waiting, easily Tanak’s most complete performance in the championship to date, and one he will hope to repeat next time out in Portugal.
Friday morning spin aside, Tanak’s Toyota team mates seemingly inherited the lion’s share of Yaris drama and ill fortune. Esapekka Lappi’s car seemed at times to be magnetically drawn to sharp ruts and bedrock escarpments, and a litany of punctures was the result. Lappi would end was the event a frustrated eighth, though he was nowhere near as fed up as his team mate Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn’s attempt to extract some joy from what has been a cruel season to date came to nothing, a shattered front suspension upright forcing the third Yaris out of the rally before the end of Friday and officially putting Latvala’s title ambitions on ice for another season.
Hyundai’s trip to South America might not have delivered quite the same levels of gilt, glory and champagne as Toyota’s, but the Korean concern managed to grind out a greater haul of all-important Manufacturers’ points, all thanks to the efforts of Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo. (N forgetting a brilliant supporting performance from Mikkelsen.) Second and third place ultimately went to Neuville (with the maximum haul of Power Stage bonus points) and Sordo respectively, the Spaniard forced to give second best to his championship-chasing team mate after an entertaining tussle on Friday morning.
Mikkelsen found his attempt to snag a maiden Hyundai win frustrated by punctures at inopportune moments, most notably on the second running of Las Bajadas. The Norwegian has just been usurped from first and was clearly keen to begin a fightback, yet a costly front-right puncture saw him tumble down the order to eighth. He’d rally to fifth by the end of Sunday and might have overhauled Ogier for fourth given more time and stage mileage, but as it was Argentina proved less than satisfactory for Hyundai’s latest signing.
M-Sport Ford’s Rally Argentina must have provided something of a return to reality after the joy of Corsica less than a month ago. The squad’s Fiestas were off the pace of the leading pack for most of the weekend (though no one had an answer to Tanak’s speed), Sébastien Ogier hampered by running first on the road on Friday, then the need to bring home as many championship points as possible, as evidenced by his cautious drive through Saturday’s foggy tests.
Elfyn Evans struggled to find the form which brought him agonisingly close to victory here last year, though the high rate of attrition enabled the Welshman to climb to sixth by the end of the rally, three places ahead of his similarly subdued team mate, Teemu Suninen.
Argentina had shades of the lowest points of last year for Citroen, with both its lead cars struggling to overcome the brutally rough stages, despite the adjustments made to the C3’s rear suspension in the lead up to the event. t wasn’t for lack of trying, mind; Kris Meeke blasted to the head of the field on Friday, and while the Northern Irishman freely admitted that he had no answer for Tanak’s performance, he did at least look to be in line for a solid podium and a useful haul of championship points. This changed on Saturday afternoon though, when Meeke’s C3 WRC suffered, you guessed it, a puncture on SS15 Cuchilla Nevada and dropped to eighth. (This later became seventh thanks to Lappi’s poor fortune on Sunday)
Back in the car for the first time since Sweden, Craig Breen was seeking to re-establish his position within the Citroen team with a solid drive to the points, and at first things seemed to be going to plan; he was secure in sixth and with the Fiesta of Ogier within striking distance. It all went wrong in fairly spectacular fashion on Saturday afternoon, the C3 pitched into a violent roll on SS11. Breen quipped that the damage didn’t look too bad and that he should’ve tried harder, but a more thorough inspection revealed a damaged roll-cage and he was therefore forced to retire.
Not to be outdone, the WRC’s feeder category served up an event of high drama and a number of frightening incidents, Kalle Rovenpera’s being the most dramatic. The Finn had been deeply impressive on his first trip to Argentina, taking the fight to team mate Pontus Tidemand and emerging victorious, at least for a time. He had a nine second lead going into the penultimate stage of the rally and had been told to hold station, Skoda only too aware of the risks associated with having a pair of hungry team mates competing for the same place.
It didn’t matter. Rovenpera, clearly in no mood to back off or risk his lead, barreled into a tightening right hand, carried too much speed and clipped a rut. The Fabia R5 was flung into a series of heart-stopping somersaults, went over a hedge and came to rest on a parked Fiat Uno, mere feet from a (thankfully unoccupied) tent. The youngster was taken to hospital for an MRI scan and was later released, but it could all have been so much worse.
Rovenpera’s demise bumped everyone in WRC2 up the order, promoting Tidemand to an easy lead and an even easier victory. He was followed home by the Fiestas of Gus Greensmith and Pedro Heller.
1 – Ott Tanak – Toyota Yaris WRC – 3:43:28.9
2 – Thierry Neuville – Hyundai i20 WRC – 3:44:06.6
3 – Dani Sordo – Hyundai i20 WRC – 3:44:44.6
4 – Sébastien Ogier – Ford Fiesta WRC – 3:45:27.5
5 – Andreas Mikkelsen – Hyundai i20 WRC – 3:45:31.5
6 – Elfyn Evans – Ford Fiesta WRC – 3:46:35.2
7 – Kris Meeke – Citroen C3 WRC – 3:47:54.6
8 – Esapekka Lappi – Toyota Yaris WRC – 3:48:01.5
9 – Teemu Suninen – Ford Fiesta WRC – 3:49:07.5
(14) – Khalid Al Qassimi – Citroen C3 WRC – 4:04:47.2
1 – Pontus Tidemand – Skoda Fabia R5 – 3:55:44.7
2 – Gus Greensmith – Ford Fiesta R5 – 4:03:23.8
3 – Pedro Heller – Ford Fiesta R5 – 4:04:47.6
4 – Diego Sr. Dominguez – Hyundai i20 R5 – 4:11:34.3 (0:50)
5 – Nil Solans – Ford Fiesta R5 – 4:33:28.6