The Event This week the 555 Subaru World Rally Team will travel to South America in readiness for round five of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Argentina. Starting next week, less than a month after the conclusion of Rally New...
This week the 555 Subaru World Rally Team will travel to South America in readiness for round five of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Argentina. Starting next week, less than a month after the conclusion of Rally New Zealand based 10,000km away, Argentina will see crews embark on their second long-haul challenge of the season. The event will commence on Thursday 8 May, when 92 competitors are expected to participate in the Rally's ceremonial start.
Run on the edge of the Pampas and in the hills around the host town of Carlos Paz, Rally Argentina is often cited as one of the most beautiful of the year. The only WRC event in the Americas, this year's Rally will see a much more compact route than previous years, run around the central service area at Le Cumbre. The high altitude loop of stages traditionally held around El Condor has been removed, but with nine new stages for the competitors to contest, none of the event's traditional character will be lost.
Comprising three legs and 389 competitive kilometres, Rally Argentina includes a mammoth 25 stages. Each leg offers a mixture of fast stages to the north of Le Cumbre and twisty stages to the south. The character of the road surface varies enormously, including fast smooth gravel, mud, sand and rocks, as well as some infamous water splashes. With some of the stages as high as 1,000 metres above sea level, weather conditions can often change rapidly, making grip levels and speeds alter quickly, sometimes without warning.
The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp at the lakeside in Villa Carlos Paz at 1430hrs on Sunday 11 May.
555 SWRT regulars Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg will each drive a Subaru Impreza WRC2003 for the 2003 Rally Argentina. Both will be eligible to score manufacturers points for the team.
No stranger to the Argentinean terrain, Tommi will be looking to continue his successful history on the event. From seven starts, the Finn has won three times consecutively, in 1996, 1997 and 1998, in addition to achieving a further three finishes in the points. Competing in a Subaru for the first time last year, Tommi was fighting for victory when he suffered a dramatic crash on the penultimate stage. Petter has competed in Argentina three times and has scored points on each occasion. He finished in second place last year.
Tommi Mäkinen: "We've just completed some testing in Spain with some new dampers, which went very well. The car felt very good, very nice to drive so I'm feeling positive. I'm looking forward to Argentina - it's one of my favourite events of the year. Obviously, I have memories from last year's event when I suffered one of the biggest crashes of my career. It won't stop me pushing hard though. I feel really ready for the event and will be looking to achieve the best possible result that I can."
Petter Solberg: "I completed four days of testing in Spain this week with the new dampers and there were no problems at all. It should be an interesting event in Argentina. I was very happy with my result in New Zealand, it was great to be on the podium again, but we still have some work to do. Argentina should be good - I have quite a lot of experience there now and I'm feeling very relaxed and confident. It's a difficult rally, not like any other due to the mixture of water splashes and rough surfaces, but I'm hoping to finish on the podium again and get some more points." The Car / The Challenge
555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth: "Argentina is a very tricky rally and is hard to describe technically. It should be slightly easier on the car this year as we have lost the high altitude stages and the route is more concentrated so the extreme aspect is gone. The terrain is quite soft and sandy and can be dusty.
"Large rocks that often line the stages make the event very unforgiving - even small mistakes here can spell retirement. Worse still is that sometimes the rocks get dragged into the centre of the road by the cars ahead and drivers can be confronted by obstacles not present on the recce.
"The first three events of this year were always going to be real wildcards. Each of them had very specialist and individual characteristics which don't represent the majority of the championship. From our point of view New Zealand was the first real traditional rally of the year but Argentina is even more representative of the kinds of conditions we expect to do well in. The Impreza is well suited to the conditions and we have a good history here, the Pirelli tyres have won here for the last four years and it's a favourite with the team and drivers. We expect to be competitive and realistically will be disappointed if we are not on the podium."
Between the Rallies
The 555 SWRT test team have been in action again since New Zealand, carrying out two separate gravel development tests in France and Spain. The test in France took place from 8-10 April using two stages near Chateau Lastours. Test driver Paolo Andreucci took the wheel of an Impreza WRC2003 and notched up 430 kilometres of loose surface testing, evaluating modifications to the engine, suspension systems and revised data logging software, consolidating braking and drivetrain set-ups for rough gravel and looking at changes to the engine cooling system.
The Spanish test took place from 24-30 April and team regulars Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg completed 898 kilometres of testing in preparation for the forthcoming gravel events. During the test, work was concentrated on endurance evaluation and the set-up of a new suspension system, which will be introduced on the Argentina Rally. Work was also done on further refinements to the 2003 specification Subaru engine and transmission systems as well as evaluating brake set-ups for gravel rallies. In addition, Tommi used the opportunity to test some of Pirelli's new gravel tyre constructions.
Meanwhile, Tommi's been looking for some new books to read on the plane, as with all the travelling that he does he's finding that he's read most of them! In between the New Zealand rally and testing, the Finn also managed to squeeze in some holiday with his family at home in Jyvaskyla and a bit of skiing in Finland, where temperatures apparently reached +20ºC.
Petter also spent some time skiing in Norway with 30 of his friends and family. As the weather conditions in the resort were the best for 30 years, the group were able to go skiing in t-shirts.