The second leg of Rally Argentina, the sixth round of the 2000 FIA World Rally Championship, has been filled with drama for many of the contenders, however the Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Tommi Makinen/Risto Mannisenmaki escaped...
The second leg of Rally Argentina, the sixth round of the 2000 FIA World Rally Championship, has been filled with drama for many of the contenders, however the Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Tommi Makinen/Risto Mannisenmaki escaped unscathed to return to Cordoba fifth overnight behind rally leader, Subaru’s Richard Burns. Team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets currently hold a point-scoring sixth overall with a comfortable lead over their nearest rival. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions continue to set the pace in the Group N production class and the battle for supremacy between South Americans Gabriel Pozzo and Gustavo Trelles has become one of the highlights of the rally.
In contrast to the fine weather earlier in the week, crews were greeted with similar 14-18 degree temperatures, but also rain and wet roads as they left Cordoba to head south for today’s seven special stages and 131 competitive kilometres. The Argentinean fans remained undeterred, even as the rain got heavier this afternoon, and headed to the picturesque Lake District region and the small town of Santa Rosa de Calamuchita to watch their heroes power the world’s most spectacular rally cars through the fast and flowing gravel stages.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution crew of Makinen and Mannisenmaki have been locked in a furious battle with fellow countryman Juha Kankkunen, the two rivals trading times and positions in stages littered with potentially hazardous water splashes. However, as the crews returned to Cordoba for the overnight halt, Tommi retains his overnight fifth position and will be on an all-out assault to move up the leaderboard during tomorrow’s final and toughest leg.
Mitsubishi Carisma GT
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart
F. Loix / S. Smeets
"We made a wrong tyre choice first thing this morning and suffered", said Tommi. "We went for the hardest compound and it was the wrong one when it started raining. The car has been mechanically fine all day, but in stage 12 it kept jumping out of gear because the conditions were so rough. But, the rest went well and I hope tomorrow that the sun is shining because generally we could not find the best tyre choice in today’s conditions".
Team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets hold a comfortable sixth position back in Cordoba this evening. Like Makinen, the Mitsubishi Carisma GT crew lost time this morning with the wrong tyre choice but have also been hampered with a lack of competitive knowledge of the Argentinean stages. "Some of these roads I have never driven before in a rally car because of our accident last year and, in places, the notes are too slow", commented Freddy. "We have had a couple of small problems today, like the engine cutting out and me going off one or two times, but other than that the car has run well and I will try and go quicker tomorrow, but it is not always so easy".
In Group N, local hero Gabriel Pozzo has marked himself as a potential star of the future by overhauling the vastly experienced Gustavo Trelles and claiming the lead in his Lancer Evolution. The 21-year-old is under intense pressure, but has yet to put a wheel wrong in a thrilling duel.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Gr.N G. Pozzo / R. Ortiz
"It’s fantastic to be leading Group N on a World Championship rally. I wasn’t sure if it would be possible with so much opposition, but the car has been very good and I hope we can stay in front tomorrow", Pozzo said.
Uruguay’s four-times World Champion Gustavo Trelles, co-driven by Argentina’s Jorge Del Buono, is just a handful of seconds behind Pozzo in his Lancer Evolution and is keen to repeat last year’s victory.
"Now Manfred Stohl is out, it is important to finish, but I would like to win too. We will try on the first three stages and then we see", said Trelles.
Another local star Marcos Ligato held third in Group N in a Lancer Evolution before the final stage when he dropped to seventh, paving the way for Roberto Sanchez in the Subaru. Mitsubishi drivers nevertheless hold six of the top seven places in the group, a remarkable demonstration of the showroom car’s speed and reliability. Manfred Stohl, victor in Monte Carlo and current series leader, was forced into an early retirement with an uncharacteristic engine problem in stage 13.
Former leader Carlos Sainz added his name to the list of retirements today when he hit a barrier and damaged the Ford’s radiator beyond repair. While only three of the leading Championship contenders have been forced onto the sidelines, tomorrow’s final leg will undoubtedly be filled with drama, the predicted rain adding to the challenge. Six of the roughest and rockiest stages await the crews in the Traslasierra mountain range near Mina Clavero to the west of Cordoba. Add to the equation that the final El Condor stage takes competitors to an altitude of more than 2,000 metres, and the closing 126 competitive kilometres are set to provide a classic and exciting finale to the 20th running of Rally Argentina.