Carlos robbed of overall wins record

From Citroen Press [ 11/05/2003 ].
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Citroen's Carlos Sainz narrowly missed victory in the Argentinian round (May 8 - 11) of the World Rally Championship, a win that would have restored to him the crown as most successful rally driver of all time, not because of a failure on the stages or in his Citroen Xsara WRC, but because of a 60 second penalty because he checked into a service area one minute early. The mistake put the Spanish Citroen driver into second place in rally of Argentina, moving him into third place in the World Rally Driver's Championship and strengthening Citroen's hold on second place in the manufacturer's title race.

"Everybody can make a mistake and I am far from being angry at the crews," explained Guy Fréquelin, the Citroën Sport Team Manager "Before the rally we wanted to have two cars in the top five, including one on the podium and even with Colin's retirement on stage nine, on Saturday afternoon this target was achievable when Sébastien was fifth and Carlos was leading."

The situation dramatically changed within less than an hour. Carlos and Marc were given a one minute penalty as a result of checking into the penultimate service one minute early, and Sébastien went off the road in the dust on stage 20.

"Everybody can make a mistake," said Guy Fréquelin, "and what I would like to remember from this rally is that the Citroen Xsara was equalling our best competitors' cars on this terrain. This is good for future events. Carlos has showed what a motivated and determined performer he is. Sébastien has also surprised all of us with his skills and his talent. It is heartbreaking that he is not at the finish, because to keep contact with the front-runners of the Championship, it's very clear that it's crucial to have two cars in the points all the time."

Carlos Sainz was so close to winning the event for his 170th rally and he saw all his chances disappear in a few fatal seconds. He could have been the most successful rally driver with a 26th win. He reacted as the champion he is and fought until the last metre to finish second in the end.

Standing on the 86th podium of his career he said: "The Xsara was taking part in Rally Argentina for the first time with only one test undergone last year. The car performed well and was reliable. I attacked 100 per cent from the start until the finish. I think we had a good rally but this mistake is cost us the victory. I am sincerely sorry for the team, but we have proved that the Xsara is more than capable of winning and this is very encouraging for the future events."