Spanish veteran Carlos Sainz survived a battle of attrition in the Rally of Argentina to beat Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb to the finish and record the 26th victory of his career.

Spanish veteran Carlos Sainz survived a battle of attrition in the Rally of Argentina to beat Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb to the finish and record the 26th victory of his career.


The two-times WRC champion's 26 wins eclipses the 25-victory mark previously shared by Sainz and British veteran driver and 1995 World Champion Colin McRae, who retired from rallying at the end of the 2003 season.


"The record is important, but more important than that is the victory and the way it came," Sainz said after the finish. "On the last rally I didn't feel so well and after that rally I wasn't very happy. Before this rally I thought I had to make a good rally and I did that. I won here 13 years ago, two years ago and I am winning again here is more important than the number."


Forty of the 69 starters failed to finish the arduous rally - and in spite of their top-notch service facilities, the top factory teams were hit as hard as everyone else.


Markko Martin was the first of the front-runners to retire from the rally. The Estonian went off the road at over 160 km/h in the fifth stage of the rally and rolled his Ford Focus RS WRC 04.


"The notes in the recce are very important," Loeb said of the Martin crash. "He didn't have the stone in the notes. We drive at 70 km/h in the recce, but then we come at 180 in the race so it's important to concentrate as much in the recce as it is in the race."


The defending WRC champion and early rally leader, Subaru's Petter Solberg, had trouble with water splashes, first losing his lead to Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm on SS5, and then suffering a terminal failure in the second pass through the same stage.


Peugeot's second driver, Harri Rovanpera, then experienced a power steering failure on SS7, dropping him back by ten minutes. Loeb, who had to be the first car on course in the first leg by virtue of his championship lead, was 30 seconds behind then rally leader Marcus Gronholm at the end of the first day of the event.


Then, on the second day, Gronholm hit a rock with his Peugeot 307. The impact ripped off the front wheel of the 307 and the Finn tried to drive the car to the service point on three wheels. However, the Peugeot's timing belt failed and Gronhom's rally was over.


With most of the championship challengers out of the event, and Loeb more than a minute and a half behind Sainz, there was little question of racing for position. Instead, the biggest question mark left for the final day was whether Sainz would be able to complete the rally without a mishap or mechanical failure.


But the Spaniard beat Loeb by one minute 36 seconds. Ford's second driver Francois Duval was third, followed by Mikko Hirvonen, fourth in the second Subaru.


Rovanpera set three fastest stage times in the last leg's five stages and made up almost 40 seconds on Sainz - but not enough to catch Hirvonen for fourth place.


Argentine Luis Companc Perez drove his privateer Peugeot 206 to a creditable sixth-place finish, just ahead of the Mitsubishi works driver and tarmac specialist Gilles Panizzi.


Privateer Antony Warmbold pushed his 2003-spec Ford Focus hard in the final stages, but could not catch Argentine driver and 2001 Production WRC Champion Gabriel Pozzo for eighth place.


Citroën now has a 27-point lead in the manufacturers' championship and Loeb is 17 points ahead of Solberg in the drivers' standings.