Rally Report Card: Argentina 2015

Here is Jason Anthony’s Rally Argentina review, done in a Report Card format.

VW World Rally Team

Sebastien Ogier: B
From the very first stage, it was clear that Seb was on a mission to conquer Rally Argentina. His stage win in the opening super-special served as a warning shot to all of his competitors – he meant business. Unfortunately, due to a faulty component leading to a fuel supply failure, we never got to see if Ogier could bring home the victory that has so far eluded him. Despite his early exit from the rally, I have a lot of respect for how Seb carried himself over the rest of the stages. In the repeat run through El Condor, he blitzed the rest of the field to salvage 3 power-stage points towards his championship challenge. I think that it’s fair to say that if his car hadn’t let him down, Ogier would have been hard to beat this weekend. Despite the disappointment of retiring on day one, I give Seb a B for making the most of what he could and staying focused on the power stage.

Jari-Matti Latvala: B-
The finishing order won’t show it, but Jari-Matti drove an intelligent rally and he deserved far more than what he received coming out of Rally Argentina. With Ogier out of the picture as early as SS2, Latvala knew that he had a golden opportunity to get back into the championship fight. In the following stages, Jari-Matti was setting some great times and putting a ton of pressure on Meeke. However, on SS5 his transmission failed him and undid all of his hard work from the previous 3 stages. On day 2, he was wise enough to back off after a big scare on SS8, and this showed a great deal of maturity. He was on course for a podium finish and a nice handful of points, but his fuel pump failed him just as Ogier’s did on day 1. Despite his eventual retirement, I give Latvala a B- for having the patience to take what was given to him rather than trying to push and making a mess of things like he has in the past. Sadly, this mature performance was not rewarded with the finish he deserved.

Andreas Mikkelsen: C-
Like his VW teammates, Andreas was hampered by car troubles and his final result was not indicative of his speed. Day 1 was nothing short of a disaster with first a puncture, then suspension damage, and finally a power steering pump failure in transit to SS4. Returning under Rally 2, Mikkelsen made a huge push on the 2nd day and looked like he might have even had a chance at salvaging a few points. He climbed from 25th to 14th by the end of the day with 3 stage wins (including the later canceled SS9). However, we all saw what happened on the power stage when he pushed for those bonus points and backed it into a rocky outcrop. I can’t blame him for pushing in the final stage as he didn’t really have anything to lose at that point in the rally, however the crash capped off a pretty disappointing rally for Mikkelsen and VW. Andreas had some moments of brilliance this weekend, but in the end, Rally Argentina will be a rally he wishes to forget rather quickly.

Citroen WRT:

Mads Ostberg: A+
Once again, I’m giving Mads the highest grade possible even though he didn’t win the rally. Just as in Mexico, he experienced car troubles early but he did not let this get under his skin. Instead, he stayed focused and kept putting in competitive times while his rivals were undone by the unforgiving Argentinean roads. Making his performance even more impressive was the fact that he did all this while struggling with a case of the flu. In some of the finish interviews, he looked as white as a ghost after wrestling the car through those long bruising stages. Despite his health troubles, Mads put in a gutsy drive and was rewarded with another podium finish that promoted him to 2nd in the championship behind Ogier. In a rally designed to test the endurance and fortitude of the drivers, Mads proved himself to be the toughest out there.

Kris Meeke: A+
OK, there will be those who will discount Kris Meeke’s victory this weekend because of the mechanical troubles encountered by the VW’s. However, Kris put in the best drive of his career when he absolutely needed it most. All the pressure in the world was on Meeke’s shoulders this weekend, but this time he didn’t falter. It is clear that he learned from the painful lesson that he was taught in Germany last season. Throughout the rally, Kris insisted that he wasn’t worrying about the times; instead just concentrating on staying on the road. His only stage wins came on the first day, but with the troubles of his competitors, that was enough to carry him through until the end of the rally. What impressed me the most about Kris’ rally was that he drove within himself and managed the gap back to Ostberg through the entire weekend. We all knew that Kris had the pace to take stage wins, but we didn’t know if he could keep from beating himself. When you consider the incredible pressure that he was facing because of his past failures, I think Kris proved that he has found within himself what it takes to be a rally winner. Now that he has the first one under his belt, I anticipate we will see more victories to come in the very near future.

Hyundai – Shell WRT:

Thierry Neuville: D
I’m giving Thierry a rather poor grade for this weekend mostly because of his crash during the power stage. Up until that point, he had done a fantastic job of fighting his way back up the timetable after suffering a puncture on SS2. At the start of SS12, he was sitting in a very acceptable 4th place with an opportunity to score some solid points for Hyundai. However, with the prize of power-stage points dangling in front of him, Neuville pushed over the limit and crashed spectacularly in the same spot as Mikkelsen. Thierry has come a long way in his career, but he needed to recognize the opportunity to consolidate and ensure a safe finish. He had done all the hard work by recovering all the way from as low as 14th on day one. To throw all that away on the last stage shows that Thierry still has some maturing to do.

Dani Sordo: B+
Dani did exactly what his teammate wasn’t able to accomplish by recovering from a troublesome first day to gather a nice handful of points for his team. I was impressed with how Dani fought through his power steering problems in SS2 without chucking the car off the road. Like many others, he was let down by his machinery at the end of day one. However, he returned under Rally 2 and made a huge push on the second day to move back into a points scoring position. With the demise of Neuville and Latvala, he ended up finishing 5th which had to feel like a success after all the trouble he faced over the course of this rally. Sordo even collected an extra two points on the power stage and ended Rally Argentina only 5 points behind Neuville in the championship. Dani’s performance this weekend showed incredible maturity and resiliency in the face of all the adversity he encountered on day one. He put in a truly professional drive.

Hayden Paddon: D-
There isn’t much to say about Hayden’s rally this weekend. It’s fair to say that he seems to have lost his way a bit after the strong performance in Sweden. Rally Argentina will unfortunately be remembered for his crash on SS9 that injured 6 spectators and led to the cancellation of the stage. Paddon has definitely gone from the mountain-top to the valley in the span of just two rallies. It will be interesting to see if he has the mental toughness to turn things around next time out in Portugal. Hayden is still very new to the top level of rallying, so we’ll have to give him time, but how he responds in the next few rallies could be one of the defining moments of his career.

M-Sport WRT:

Elfyn Evans: A
Once again as he did in Mexico, Elfyn kept a steady pace and was rewarded with a fantastic finish. He wasn’t winning stages, but on a rally as rough and difficult as Argentina, this didn’t matter. If you look at the standings over the three days of the rally, you will see how consistent Evans’ performance was. He ended day one in 5th, day two in 4th, and day three in 3rd. In only his second WRC season, Elfyn’s maturity and concentration levels continue to amaze me. It almost seems like he is driving with blinders on as he is able to ignore all the carnage going on around him and maintain his own pace. I still wonder a little bit if Evans’ finishes will drop off when the WRC moves towards rallies with less attrition later this season, but at the moment, his approach is paying huge dividends.

Ott Tanak: C-
Argentina was another tough weekend for Ott. His retirement on day one was just plain bad luck as you can’t really blame him for the suspension damage he suffered in the water-splash on SS4. However, even after he restarted under Rally 2, Tanak didn’t show too much speed. His best stage finish was 4th on the power stage, but other than this bright spot, his rally was pretty underwhelming. So far this season, Tanak has been vastly outperformed by his less-experienced teammate. This is Ott’s second chance in a WRC car, and if you ask me, he needs to be doing more to justify his place in the team. There are plenty of hungry guys driving R5 Fiestas in the WRC2 who would love to take his spot at M-Sport next season. Tanak needs to start putting up some strong results, and soon.

Team Kubica WRT:

Robert Kubica: No Score
I’m still left wondering what Robert means when he says that he is “restructuring” his team, but in light of all the damage that was suffered by his competitors in Argentina, sitting out of the rally might not have been a bad idea. It all seemed a bit last-minute though, as the car and most of the team’s equipment had already been shipped when Robert announced his decision to pull out of the rally. Let’s hope that this brief sabbatical will pay dividends for Robert in Portugal.

Czech National WRT:

Martin Prokop: A-
OK, so Martin did exactly the same thing he did in Mexico and was once again rewarded with a great finish. I just still don’t know, is he actually fast? Is his 4th place indicative of real pace, or just the result of a tough rally with many retirements? I was willing to label his 6th place in Mexico as a fluke, but now that Prokop has done it two times in a row, I think that he deserves some credit. I am thrilled to see a semi-private team doing so well at the top level, and with his safe style of driving, Martin may be the perfect driver for such a team. Prokop’s finish highlights one the the major benefits of the endurance rally format. It gives smaller teams who might lack outright pace the chance to achieve a good finish through consistency. Who would have thought that by this point in the season Martin Prokop would have more championship points than Jari-Matti Latvala in the factory VW??? That statistic alone deserves a huge round of applause!

F.W.R.T

Lorenzo Bertelli: D
I’m sorry, I don’t have a thing to say about Lorenzo Bertelli. I am sure that he is trying hard and gaining valuable experience, but his rally was essentially invisible. I don’t think that his team has the budget to deliver the pace he needs to be noticed by the factory teams, so we don’t really know what he is capable of achieving. I wonder if making the jump to the WRC was really the best thing for Lorenzo at this point in his career. It may have been better for him to stay put in the lower-budget WRC2 where we could gain a better understanding of his ability.

The Rally Itself: C-
I wasn’t terribly impressed by Rally Argentina and the thing that brought me the most distress was the placement of the spectators. According to Becs Williams on WRC radio, it seemed like the organizers had done a good job of recruiting an army of police officers to monitor the stages, but there were just too many spectators standing too close to the road. Here is a video of Hayden Paddon’s crash exhibiting just how dangerous the conditions were:

However, even after the 6 spectators were injured in that crash on day two, what disturbed me the most was how perilously close we came to watching spectators get run over on live TV. If Andreas Mikkelsen’s VW had begun to roll after clipping the outcrop on the power stage, he would have ended up on top of several people. Even more upsetting is that Thierry Neuville suffered a carbon-copy crash to that of Mikkelsen’s, and the spectators were allowed to remain in the same vulnerable position. I don’t want to see a knee-jerk reaction by the FIA and the WRC because getting to watch the cars close-up is one of the unique qualities of rally. However, I think that they need to make some crowd control changes for this rally next year.

Star of the Rally:

Yuriy Protasov
Without a doubt, the enduring image of Rally Argentina 2015 will be Yuriy Protasov running back to collect his wheel and suspension after having it ripped off on the final corner of SS3. As I listened to the drama unfold on WRC radio, I was full of admiration for his quick thinking and determination. Like M-Sport’s Malcom Wilson, I am left completely disillusioned by the penalty that was given to him for driving only a few hundred meters down the road to a safe location to repair his car. Yuriy knew that he couldn’t go back to service without the wheel, and he did everything he could to obey the regulations. To slap him with a 15 minute penalty is absolutely ridiculous. I guess next time, drivers will now know to just remain parked right in the middle of the stage finish and block traffic since they are unable to move to a safe location without a penalty. Protasov showed the true spirit of rallying and to penalize him for his actions only serves to undermine the competitiveness and resiliency that the WRC so desperately needs to encourage. Well done Yuriy, and thank you for giving us such a memorable moment!

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