Aigner dances to debut P-WRC victory in Argentina
Austrian driver Andreas Aigner and co-driver Klaus Wicha (Mitsubishi) drove an outstanding rally to score their first PWRC victory on the second round of the 2008 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, Rally Argentina. Aigner also scored a WRC driver point for finishing eighth overall. Local driver Sebastián Beltrán (RA) drove his Mitsubishi to second, albeit 1min 05.6secs adrift, followed by P-WRC rookie Jari Ketomaa (FIN, Subaru) in third. Ketomaa’s podium place sees him move to the top of the P-WRC standings. The overall result of the rally also features eight J-WRC or PWRC graduates or current drivers finishing within the top 10.

Rally Argentina saw 25 P-WRC starters – a record entry in the P-WRC’s history. Torrential rains at the start of Rally Argentina made conditions a challenge to say the least, with gravel stages awash with mud and water. Many frontrunners were caught out and no less than nine P-WRC crews hit problems and resulted in restarting day two under SupeRally conditions.

Red Bull-backed driver Aigner made a brilliant start and even though Toshi Arai (J, Subaru) won the opening stage, the Japanese’s 2.2sec advantage wasn’t enough to stop the Austrian from flying past him and by the middle of the first day, Aigner had already built up a 27.3 second lead over nearest rival Marcos Ligato (RA, Mitsubishi). Despite Aigner only winning three stages throughout the event, while others became victims of the conditions he remained consistent and stayed out of trouble, which proved to be his key to success.

Ligato held on to second throughout the first day until a blown engine on SS10 saw him sidelined, allowing fellow Argentine Beltrán to adopt his spot. Beltrán, a local guest driver entered by the organisers for this event, drove strongly but not quite strong enough to keep Al-Attiyah behind him and the 2006 P-WRC champion started cautiously but he found his rhythm midway through day one driving the all-new Subaru N14. From being nearly three minutes off the lead, he set multiple fastest stage times passing Beltrán for second by the end of day two and closing the gap to Aigner to just 52 seconds. Final day heartache for Al-Attiyah, however, saw the Qatari sidelined with engine woes, allowing the Argentine driver to win the closely fought battle for eight points. Al-Attiyah was consoled by winning the most stages and leading the Sprinter Standings on this event.

The battle for third was quite fluid on day one going from Simone Campedelli (I, Mitsubishi) to Mirco Baldacci (RSM, Mitsubishi) and Fumio Nutahara (J, Mitsubishi). Nutahara even edged ahead of Beltrán in the latter part of day one, despite having to contend with a broken shock absorber on SS5, but the Japanese struggled to be as competitive on the second day. At the end of the rally it was Ketomaa who stole the final podium spot; running as low as 11th on day one the Finn powered his way up the leaderboard, a string of top five stage times helping him claim fourth by half way through the second day which he held onto until Al-Attiyah’s retirement on SS20, at which point he moved into third, on his first outing in Argentina. Despite all his problems, Nutahara finally finished a well-deserved fourth.

Martin Rauam (EE, Mitsubishi) hit a rock on SS7 which damaged his suspension but he managed to make repairs between stages. The Estonian struggled a little on the second day unable to find a consistent rhythm in the frequently changing road conditions and, like many, suffered with suspension problems. The final day saw him suffer with an overheating engine so he drove the event’s final stages in safe mode. But clearly happy, he described his best WRC finish for fifth as ‘magical’.

Amjad Farrah (HKJ, Mitsubishi) had a relatively trouble-free rally only contending with a cracked windscreen on the first day. He familiarised himself with the conditions by day two and the Jordanian focused on keeping his Lancer in one piece and reached the finish in sixth, despite driving with a damaged steering arm on the final day.

Martin Prokop (CZ, Mitsubishi) set enough top five stage times during the morning of day one to reach fifth at best, but he lost a wheel on SS7 which saw him incur penalties for the rest of the day. The second day started better but having been ill for the early group of stages during the reconnaissance, his notes weren’t up to scratch, making competitive progress tricky. The afternoon improved and the Czech driver managed to reduce a five-minute deficit at the mid-point on day two to just four seconds by the time he and Farrah reached the final superspecial stage. A small off, however, cost him those vital seconds and he had to be content with seventh.

On only his third WRC event, Bernardo Sousa (P, Mitsubishi) had a good first day but unfortunately he stopped in the water splash on day two’s SS11. Remarkably he set the third fastest time on SS12 but ensuing gearbox damage ended his day’s rallying, seeing him adopt 30 minutes of penalties for not completing the rest of the day. The young Portuguese team-mate of Aigner survived the challenging stages of the final day to take home the last available point for eighth and, along with Ketomaa, he is now one of only two drivers to score points on both rounds of the P-WRC this season.

Simone Campedelli (I, Mitsubishi) also had a bad start as he went off the road on SS3 forcing him to use SupeRally rules to continue and incurring penalties for the rest of the day’s stages not completed. On day two’s SS11 he stopped for three minutes after the deep watersplash and by the end of the day he had a water temperature problem but he battled through the final day to finish ninth.

Gabor Mayer (H, Subaru) found the first day tricky and very rough but he had no problems. On day two, however, a broken steering arm in the morning made progress difficult as he felt he was fighting with the car and then a broken rear axle on SS20 cost him 15 minutes, but the Hungarian still finished 10th on his P-WRC debut.

Spyros Pavlides (CY, Subaru) damaged his rear right wheel and suspension during the morning of the first day and on SS7 his power steering broke. Things didn’t get much better the next day as he bent his steering early on and then lost the power steering again but he steered clear of mechanical problems on the final day to finish 11th.

Evgeny Aksakov (RUS, Mitsubishi) had a smooth run on the first day but a damaged gearbox on SS12 after the deep water splash stopped him for the rest of day two. Day three he continued trouble-free to finish 12th.

Giorgio Bacco (I, Subaru) made a good start to his first outing in Argentina but on day two he stopped before SS13 with a broken radiator caused by a bad landing on the nose of his Impreza after a jump on SS11. SS12 went without a hitch but after refuel, the car would not start. He fixed two cables back to the battery which had disconnected but found that the radiator had also been dislodged, forcing him to stop for the remainder of the day. But with an aim to simply finish the rally, he was very happy to reach the end in 13th.

Like others, Andrej Jereb (SLO, Subaru) also took on board seven stage’s worth of penalties after a broken steering arm stopped him on SS3. Things improved thereafter; the Slovenian stayed out of trouble and was very happy to reach the end in 14th.

Indonesian driver Subhan Aksa (IDN, Mitsubishi) only drove three kilometres of competition before he went off the road on the first stage, seeing him adopt 45 minutes of penalties for stages not completed. Day two proved to be better, although his Lancer struggled after taking on board too much water through the watersplash leaving him with a power steering problem, but he survived the final day to finally finish in 15th.

Uwe Nittel’s (D) Mitsubishi sadly didn’t see past the first special stage as a broken intercooler put an end to his rally. San Marino driver Mirco Baldacci (Mitsubishi) bent a steering arm on SS2 which completely broke in the next stage. He went off the road and hit a wall but the car was too damaged to restart day two. Former P-WRC driver Marcos Ligato (RA, Mitsubishi) who was entered into the event by the organisers as a Guest Driver has a suspension problem after SS7 on day one. But a broken oil cooler resulted in a terminally damaged engine, forcing his retirement. Gianluca Linari (I, Subaru) had an accident on the first stage of the rally, sidelining him for the day but eventually a broken wheel on day two saw his rally come to an end.

Toshi Arai (J, Subaru) limped through SS2 with a bent steering arm and then had to stop and change it in the next stage after it broke completely, costing him 16 minutes and pulling him down the order from second to 22nd and a broken suspension on SS6 eventually saw him sidelined for the day. Day two started better but broken dampers towards the end of the day denied him any possibility of working his way up the leaderboard and the Japanese preferred to retire from the rally to spend time looking into the cause of the problems instead of restarting.

On his first P-WRC event, Evgeny Novikov (RUS, Subaru) broke a front shock absorber and the two front anti-roll bar supports on SS1, claiming the car to be un-driveable, and after a tricky day he opted not to drive the superspecial stage to make repairs, adopting the 10’ penalty. A fuel pressure problem early on day two also saw the P-WRC’s youngest ever driver (DOB 19.09.90) sidelined for the day and electrical problems saw him unable to restart for day three.

Not unlike his outing in his Junior car in Mexico, Patrik Sandell’s (S, Peugeot) story in Argentina was one of fighting back in the wake of a string of problems. He lost the use of his handbrake SS1, by SS2 the clutch had stopped working as well and by SS3 he also had no power steering but two stage wins in the afternoon helped him power his way up the leaderboard, as did a couple more stage victories on day two. Bit disaster struck on SS19 when an overheating engine marked the end of his rally.

Stefano Marrini (I, Mitsubishi) took a cautious approach from the start but a broken radiator after a water splash on day two saw the water temperature go dangerously high, sidelining him for the day. He restarted the final day but engine woes forced him to retire in SS20.

Travis Pastrana (USA, Subaru) had a bad start to his rally as he rolled his Impreza on SS1, although still managing to continue; he had no brakes through SS2 and SS3, managing to make some repairs for SS4. But with so much damage to the front of the car after the accident, he incurred a minute in penalties leaving the midday service late. Then on SS7 he hit a rock 1.5 kilometres in and broke the front suspension. From day two things improved and he set a string of top five stage times, until a broken steering arm only a kilometre before the end of SS16 stopped him short, adding 15 minutes of time penalties to his tally. The final day wasn’t any better as a broken rear axle truncated his rally on the penultimate stage.

1st – Andreas Aigner, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
“This win feels really good and I’m happy now we’ve finished. The last long stage was so difficult with lots of fog, so slippery and muddy – just like Turkey ’06. And we hit a big rock with the front right tyre and my hand was really hurting for the superspecial stage. But this is great for our P-WRC campaign this year as I was a bit negative after going off in Sweden. We’ve made mistakes in the past so this is a good chance and I have to really thanks all our sponsors. Greece and Turkey are really good rallies for us so I hope we can do well there too.”

2nd – Sebastián Beltrán, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
“I am really happy with this result. We drove a fast and intelligent rally and it’s especially good on our home event. It’s great.”

3rd – Jari Ketomaa, Subaru Impreza:
“I was hoping for a podium finish and now we’ve got one! It was a bit of a shock on Friday morning when we started after the rain as the car’s set-up wasn’t right for the slow corners so we made changes over the first few days. We were more confident on Saturday but then today was totally different again. But now we are leading the P-WRC which is great and we will have the new car for the next rallies so hopefully we can get some good testing in it before them.”

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