Well, after whingeing on about what is wrong with the WRC, I have to admit Argentina 2016 was a classic.
As usual, championship leader Sebastian Ogier was hampered by clearing the road for the first two days.
Tough roads? You bet.
He has argued strongly against this ruling since it was introduced. The purist in me agrees with him. However the realist in me knows, that without it, the championship would be a joke. I think in time he will look back on it in a different light. One, from a commercial point of view, it means there is an actual contest. It also means that we have seen the very best from Ogier, fired up, angry, and ready for battle. I don’t remember seeing Loeb tested in this way on such a regular basis. The fact that he still wins regularly despite this enforced handicap, to me, shows his current superiority over the rest of the field.
However, at the moment, he is still very passionate about it.
So, to the rally.
Ogier and Sordo (driving as well as ever I think, much like Massa in F1), sharing the lead after the first superspecial stage. Then to the mountains proper, a three way battle between Ogier, Paddon and Latvala developed. Sordo in fifth, still in the fight behind Mikkelsen. Where was Hyundai’s ‘lead driver’? yeah he hit a rock. I feel Thierry needs a few stellar finishes, and soon...
The fastest times yo-yo’d between Latvala and Paddon over the first two days. So again benefiting from having a good road position and the fastest car. Jari-Matti looked good for the win. But a bit like Neuville, he seems to have a habit of picking the line with the ‘wrong’ rock on it. Strut mount through the bonnet never ends well...
So, the hard-charging Paddon finds himself in the unlikely position of leading Rally Argentina. Going into the last day with a 30 second gap over Ogier, who was now free to fight with no road clearing penalty.
Usual business seemed to be afoot, with the Frenchman taking huge chunks of time out of the Kiwi’s lead over the first two stages (albeit with Paddon’s car stalling on him for the tight turns). His 30 seconds trimmed to a mere 2.6 seconds heading into the last power stage, it seemed a foregone conclusion. The playing field leveled, no one in recent memory has resisted Ogier in these circumstances...
With the sort of drive that future champions are made of, the likeable New Zealander smashed Ogier by 11 seconds in that stage, beating him fair and square. Something that was acknowledged by Ogier afterwards, which is the most respect I have seen him give another driver, ever.
In the interview after the final stage, Hayden give thanks to ‘Ole’ in Norway who he has been working with on this particular stage for the past few weeks. It just shows at the top level the work never stops. No-one just shows up and drives anymore. Much respect.
So a true fair fight on the last day. It would seem Argentina is now a motorsport destination, with some 65,000 fans heading to the mountain to watch the battle, oh and they have another race there...