Hyundai heads to the Americas. As the fifth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship approaches, Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer prepare to head to South America for the only round of...
Hyundai heads to the Americas.
As the fifth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship approaches, Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer prepare to head to South America for the only round of the world series based in the Americas, Rally Argentina running from 8-11 May.
Hyundai scored its first world championship points in Argentina in 2000, and since then the Hyundai World Rally Team has enjoyed contesting the Latin event. In keeping with the evolving style of world championship rallies however, the event organisers have reduced the amount of ground covered to facilitate a single service park, now based in La Cumbre. In doing this, the challenging stages high in the mountains around Mina Clavero, south of the Villa Carlos Paz rally HQ base, will not feature this year.
While previous Argentina special stages reached around 2000m above sea level -- some of the highest in the championship - this year the stages around La Cumbre will reach a comparatively conservative 1600m, and with the Safari Rally out of the championship for 2003, Turkey takes Argentina's slot as the highest event the WRC crews tackle for the season.
Freddy Loix enjoys the roads the country has to offer: "The style is a little bit like Greece but the roads are not quite as bad -- a mix of rough and very quick. But some stages are a bit sandy which means it is slippery if it's wet and the repeated stages will be rough as they're going to get quite cut up. Team-mate Armin Schwarz added: "You find the rough roads on the second time through end up causing a lot of broken wheel rims on the deep ruts."
The stages may not venture as high this year but it's still high enough for the world rally machines' engines to suffer a reduction in power. "We know from the past that every 100m higher you go you lose a percentage of your power, making it a little bit more difficult," said Freddy. "The fog can also be an issue at altitude but last year we went well and managed to set a fastest time in the fog so it can work to your advantage. And hopefully the engine modifications we made for New Zealand will assist us in Argentina. My last two finishes scored points so I think we can do it again this year."
"The fog can be a problem," added Armin, "but it can also make things a bit easier for the engine as the more water there is in the atmosphere the more oxygen it will hold. This will only be my third time to Argentina but I have never finished the event. My aim will be to finish it this year to get more experience," concluded the 38-year-old German.
Sven Smeets, co-driver to Freddy Loix, explains some of the key issues that need to be considered for Rally Argentina. "As both Freddy and Armin mentioned, the altitude is a bit lower than we have previously experienced in Argentina but you do still lose power as the air gets thinner. If we can keep our power for three days then we will be able to take points.
"One of the biggest things is the number of new stages. As the organisers had to re-route the rally to nearer La Cumbre for the central service area, more stages have been added. If I understand correctly we have two stages on leg one that are new to everyone as they have never been used before, which are both repeated. Then there are also a few stages on the same day which have some kilometres that were used in 1994 but are otherwise new. We don't usually have so many new stages so that will make things interesting for us all.
There are now a lot of repeated stages -- in fact only three stages out of the total 25 are only run once and the second pass through the rest will be rough. The sandy stages wear away quickly and become very rutted for the second time through with big stones that come out. You also need a good suspension the second time through to be able to set a good time. We learnt a lot in new Zealand with our new shock absorbers -- they were definitely an improvement so it will be interesting to see how they go on this much rougher rally.
"Argentina is well-known for its water splashes and last year there were certainly a few. On the Accent WRC" we have to close a flap to the air filter to prevent the water from coming in. It's very important to find out how deep the water splashes are from the gravel crew before we go into these stages as you can really have problems if you don't know. Going into the splash is ok but if the air filter gets wet and then blocked there is less air coming in so the engine can struggle - if you're unlucky you can lose anything up to about 3 seconds a kilometre.
"Last year we had quite a lot of fog and you end up seeing quite big time gaps if the weather is bad. You can start a stage in nice weather and you only need to climb a few kilometres and you can hit a curtain of fog.
"In my opinion it's a pity that El Condor and the very high stages have been deleted as it will change the character of the rally. Those stages gave absolutely no room for error. But there are other challenges this year -- leg one is a very long day. We start at 6.30am and don't get back to parc ferme until 8.45pm and in that time we cover 11 stages and 175 competitive kilometres which is quite a bit longer than usual for the first day. With the new stages as well it's going to be difficult so I think we'll see a few retirements that day."
The modified rally route is based around a single service at La Cumbre. Leg one is the longest of the rally covering 11 special stages. The first two of those are superspecial stages run on the evening of Thursday 8 May at the Pro-Racing Circuit just outside Villa Carlos Paz. The remaining nine stages of leg one are the furthest north of the Rally HQ base -- four stages opening the day are repeated at the end of the leg and sandwich three stages east of La Cumbre, featuring many of the famous water splashes. SS9 Ascochinga-La Cumbre climbs to the highest altitude of the event at 1625m above sea level. Leg two covers 154 kilometres of competition over nine stages - the three in the middle are the only three of the rally that are only run once. Leg three features only three stages, repeats of those on leg one which revisit 1625m and the waterplashes. Crews return to Carlos Paz finish ramp at 14:30. Argentina is GMT-3hrs.