The Turismo Carretera has many traditions and one of them was again present at the season opener round: Guillermo Ortelli, at the wheel of his Chevrolet, dominated at the Mar de Ajó speedway, taking the fifth victory at this track. The T.C. green light finally shown up.
The new adventure for the category started with some changes in the technical rule (maximum ballast, etc) and in the full weekend schedule. The important here is the friday activity is back after two years.
Omar Martínez (Ford No. 4) set the fastest time at the first qualifying session and retake his position on saturday with no major problems followed by Javier Balzano (Chevrolet No. 33), Walter Hernández (Ford No. 22), Particio Di Palma (Torino No. 8) and Matías Rossi (Chevrolet No. 48) in the top five places.
Sunday dawned sunny and the crowd quickly took every space around the 4695 mts. of the circuit.
The activity started as usual with the three short races early in the morning that define the positions for the main event. Ortelli won the fastest of the three which put him in the best place for the final race followed by Rossi, P. Di Palma, Hernández, Balzano, Daniel Cingolani (Ford No. 31), Marcelo Bugliotti (Chevrolet No. 78), Catalan Magni (Dodge No. 28), Fabián Acuña (Ford No. 7) and José Ciantini (Dodge No. 61) in the top ten places of the starting grid.
After two months waiting for speed, the green light gave the order for the 46 drivers to start another T.C. season.
However, already in the first corner a multi-car incident involved five cars. Included in the melee was Martínez`s Ford, who took the wrost part. His co-driver suffered several injures and was quickly taken to the circuit hospital and is now in good conditions after all.
The pace car left the track after four laps and Ortelli grabbed the lead and his rivals never saw him again until the podium ceremony; the rhythm imposed by the former four times champion was amazing in front of the rest of the field.
While Ortelli and Rossi were comfortable in their positions, the dispute in the other places was more than interesting.
Di Palma`s Torino was third until and engine problem put him in the pits in lap 12 leaving a good chance of podium to Hernández who was the best Ford, only at the moment.
Three laps later Hernández`s Ford broke ffith gear making him loose perfonmance . Balzano and Ciantini quickly left behind the 2003 TC 2000 sub-champion.
Ciantini took advantage of his Dodge and overtook Balzano for third position.
With 17 laps completed the top six places were: Ortelli, Rossi, Ciantini, Balzano, the champion Ernesto Bessone (Dodge No. 1) and Hernández, who never gave up.
The final sprint saw Norberto Fontana (Dodge No. 23) in a great level and leaving behind Hernández and A. Occhionero (Ford No. 14) with bump included for the last one.
Bessone used in this race the same strategy that last year gave him the championship: His experience in the series.
In a fantastic move the champion overtook Balzano taking the fourth place in lap 18th.
Three laps later was Fontana`s opportunity to pass Balzano, and so he did in fight for fifth place.
After 24 laps Ortelli crossed the chequered flag and took his 17 victory in T.C.
This result confirms the Chevrolet domination at Mar de Ajó, having taken nine of eleven races, and Ortelli as an specialist in this circuit: five victories in a same circuit, it`s sometghing in Turismo Carretera.
Ortelli started with the right foot the road in serch of his fifth championship in the category, and it`s ready maybe for the most difficult issue for the Chevrolet this year: the ballast.
The 19 years old driver Matías Rossi lived a dream all the weekend in a fantastic season opener result that was sourprising even for him.
The idea for Rossi was to be in the top ten at Mar de Ajó, however already on friday put his machine fourth as the best Chevrolet. On saturday definitive session ended fifth waiting for sunday opportunity to fight in the top of TC positions in his twelfth competition in the category.
Rossi proved what he can do taking the second early race of the morning which gave him a place in the front row for the main race.
The young Matías, 2002 Formula Super Renault champion, knew that Ortelli was the big candidate so he never lost concentration when the ¨Chevy¨ No. 3 quickly built an important gap, insteed he continued with his strategy like a driver with 100 races in TC and arrived to the end with a difference of 15 seconds over the thid finisher.
This third finisher was José Ciantini, another nice sourprise of weekend. Ciantini lived the podium in a very special way.
Native of Balcarce, Fangio`s land, Ciantini had two years and a half of absence from races due to the lack of sponsors in the middle of the Argentinian crisis.
Ciantini never gave up and continued looking for new opportunities. In 2003 he finally could return to activity in a couple of races as always driving a Chevrolet with no major results.
The 2004 project with a Dodge that he with a small team take care at Balcarce had an unexpected result finishing in the last step of the podium past sunday. Now the season looks more than interesting for him. Ciantini, a real fighter of the Turismo Carretera is back.
Other two Dodges completed the top five places. Bessone with the number one painted in his car arrived to a very important fourth place.
The champion qualified 31st. which made think he had no chance to be in the top ten at the end. However he took advantage from the situations lived in the first early short race that allowed him to start the main competition twelfth. Despite Bessone is waiting for the new car in some races, will try to make his best and keep the number one in a season that seemes to be more difficult for Dodge due to the technical changes in the engine and the ballast.
Fontana left very happy the circuit scoring fifth place in a hard weekend for him. Engine problems complicated his perfonmance during the qualifying session and put all his talent to take good points for the championship.
The Ford fans were surelly dissapointed. The best in the final classification was Rafael Verna who arrived only ninth.
It will be a lot of hard work thinking in the next round at Comodoro Rivadavia Speedway on February 29th., a new circuit for the category.
Thus was the season opener for the Turismo Carretera. Despite what we saw during the weekend, there`s still a couple of races to really have a vision of what might happen in this 2004 for the most popular series at Argentina.