Rally Argentina, the sixth round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship gets underway on Thursday next week when 82 cars are expected to cross the start ramp in the town of Carlos Paz. The event is the first long-haul challenge of the year and...
Rally Argentina, the sixth round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship gets underway on Thursday next week when 82 cars are expected to cross the start ramp in the town of Carlos Paz. The event is the first long-haul challenge of the year and the only event of the series held in the Americas.
The Argentinean gravel stages are a real mixture of fast, flat sections on the edge of the Pampas, combined with twisty and rocky mountain tests that take the crews to altitudes of up to 5000 feet above sea level.
The altitude keeps weather conditions changeable, and it's not unusual for the stage surface to alter dramatically during the course of each leg. There is a constant threat of rain, and even a possibility of snow in the highest locations. The temperature fluctuates too, and although it is expected to reach 25°C during the day, it is a lot colder in the mornings and evenings. Information from gravel crews on the latest conditions is of vital importance here.
The event will comprise three legs with a total of 22 stages and 380 competitive kilometres, with leg two being a identical repeat of the first leg. There will be two service points - La Cumbre for days one and two and Mina Clavero, to the south of Carlos Paz, for the final day of competition.
In addition to the WRC entries, Argentina is also the fourth round of the 2002 FIA Production Cup Series.
Argentina will see two entries from the 555 Subaru World Rally Team, with Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg each driving an Impreza WRC2002. Both drivers are eligible to score manufacturers' points for the team.
The 555 SWRT duo of Makinen and Solberg have a good record in Argentina. Tommi has taken part in the rally six times, winning the event on three occasions and picking up points on the others. Petter has participated just twice before, but scored drivers' and manufacturers' points both times.
Japan's leading rally driver Toshihiro Arai will also be in Argentina. He'll be contesting the Production Cup Series with the Spike Subaru Team and will be driving the latest Group N specification Subaru Impreza WRX.
Tommi Makinen: "So far it is looking very good for Argentina. We learnt a lot in Cyprus and now know exactly where we are on gravel conditions, although of course the surface is quite different. I like the stages very much in Argentina and I am used to running well there. I have won it three times before and have a very good feeling about the car now so hopefully my chances should be good. We're just going to try our best and see what we can do."
Petter Solberg: "It's a very good rally and I like it very much. Some of the stages are technically difficult, and you have to watch the speed in places but it's an event that could be good for me. I've had three fifth-places in a row now and I'm a bit fed-up with that, I think it's about time to get on the podium so that will be my objective."
555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth:
"On the whole, the stages in Argentina are not too rough, they've generally got a smooth, flowing character and this makes them quite fast. The road surface can be quite sandy in places, and on repeated stages this can cut up to reveal rocks underneath, but compared to somewhere like Cyprus it shouldn't pose too much of a problem.
Mechanically, the event should not be too hard on the cars. It's not a particularly rough rally, and if you look at retirements in Argentina, most of them are caused when drivers make mistakes. Often the stages are little more than a path that's been cleared of the biggest rocks. As the drivers get more confident, and get faster and faster, mistakes can happen, and the chances are if you run off the road there'll be a big rock or something else waiting for you. It's not unusual for drivers to slide off the road now and then, and most of the time it's not really a problem, but in Argentina it's all about keeping a cool head and not getting carried away - there's very little margin for error.
In Argentina, the cars will be running at high altitudes, which means the atmospheric pressure is lower and the turbo produces less boost at low revs. But by changing the engine mapping to suit the lower air pressure we're able to counteract any power loss. The cars have also been re-prepped to take into consideration the amount of watersplashes that are expected on the stages."
Between the Rallies
In the three weeks since Cyprus Rally the 555 Subaru World Rally Team drivers have kept busy with personal appearances and testing activities.
Team tyre partners Pirelli gave Tommi and Petter a tour around their factory in Turin on 29 April. The pair went on to give high-speed passenger rides to staff and VIP's in an Impreza WRC2002 at the Pirelli test track in Milan.
After that, it was time for testing. Tommi, Petter and Toshi Arai took part in a four day test in the French Alps near Sospel to prepare for the remaining two asphalt rounds of the season - Germany and Sanremo. The trio worked mainly on evaluating the latest tyre developments from Pirelli as well as engine, transmission, and damper set-ups.
Hollywood beckoned for Petter who flew out to California on Thursday last week to attend the SCCA Rim of the World Rally as a special guest of Subaru America. More than 800 Subaru Impreza owners travelled to the rally to watch the action and Petter was mobbed by fans at autograph sessions. He also did a couple of demonstration rides at the event's Super-special stag. Before taking a couple of days holiday in Santa Monica, there was time for sightseeing including the Hollywood sign, Hollywood Boulevard, Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive and a spot of Rollerblading around Venice Beach.