The Latin influence will be to the fore for the third FIA World Rally Championship round in a row next week when Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya tackle the Rally Argentina. The event...
The Latin influence will be to the fore for the third FIA World Rally Championship round in a row next week when Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya tackle the Rally Argentina. The event (11 - 14 May) marks the only occasion during the 13-round series when their Ford Focus World Rally Cars will be seen in action in the Americas and follows previous rallies in Portugal and Spain.
In a country famous for the tango, the Ford Martini team hopes to lead its rivals a merry dance during the four-day event to follow McRae and Grist's superb win on Spain's Catalunya Rally last month. That victory and third place for Sainz and Moya lifted the Ford Martini team into second position in the manufacturer's championship, and the drivers are keen to maintain an impressive record of scoring points on each of the five rounds to date.
The Rally Argentina sees the championship revert to gravel special stages after the smooth asphalt of Spain and McRae can identify no reason why a change in surface should lead to a change in the team's fortunes.
"Obviously the Focus is set-up differently for loose surface roads but having driven competitively on gravel and asphalt this year I would say it is currently best suited to gravel," said the 31-year-old Scot, whose triumph in Spain was his 19th world championship rally success - placing him fifth on the all-time list.
"That win was a great confidence boost for everyone in the team and it would be nice to repeat that result in Argentina. It's a rally of extremes. On one hand there are nice fast stages and on the other roads that are quite rough with a lot of loose rocks so you must adapt your driving accordingly. Tyre wear can be a problem on a couple of stages depending on weather conditions but nothing too serious and it's really performance that we look for, not preservation," he added.
Sainz and Moya are assured of the backing of the fanatical Spanish-speaking Argentines and the 38-year-old Madrid-based driver has a good record on the rally. Winner in 1991, he has finished second five times and, unsurprisingly, the event is a favourite. "I like the ambience and as the people speak Spanish, it makes me feel at home. It's a lot of fun," said Sainz.
Heavy rain in Europe has twice curtailed gravel testing in the past month but both Sainz and McRae will test in Argentina before the recce. "It's important to take every opportunity to test and although our testing was not specifically for the Rally Argentina, it was disappointing to lose time because of the weather," said Sainz. "Our win on asphalt surprised many but we must prove our consistency by doing the same on gravel. It won't be easy but that's our challenge."
Petter Solberg and Phil Mills will drive a third Ford Focus World Rally Car, the young Norwegian driver competing in Argentina for the first time. "I've heard much about the rally but having never competed there before I'm keen to see the stages for myself. We must write pace notes from new and it's unrealistic to expect the kind of pace we produced in Portugal. We'll drive to learn and we'll see what happens from there," said Solberg.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson approaches the rally in confident mood. "The Focus' performance on gravel has always been better than on other surfaces. Colin's early pace in Portugal, when he led before problems intervened, and Petter's pace throughout, showed that clearly so the cars will be of a similar specification. The final day could be decisive. The stages are rough and tough and at least one of the top drivers always hits problems on those roads. There's many large rocks, so big they don't move if you hit them, and it's easy to clip one and break the suspension," he said.
Road surfaces in Argentina are broadly similar to Portugal and in that context offer few problems for the Ford Martini team's tyre partner, Michelin. However, with the rally held in the Argentine autumn, a wide variety of weather conditions must be catered for. That requires a comprehensive selection of compounds, if only because of the broad temperature range than can be encountered in a single day.
When skies are clear, it can be as low as zero in the morning while the thermometer can climb to 25°C in the afternoon. The possibility of extreme weather, such as heavy rain, which produces a thin layer of mud or, more rarely, snow, further complicates the picture.
In such conditions optimising the tread pattern by adapting a tyre's 'sea-to-land' ratio to the conditions of each stage is crucial. Obviously in wetter conditions, the Ford Martini drivers need a pattern that allows the rubber to slice through the mud in search of a more stable base underneath. As such, more grooves will be cut into the tyres and the 'sea-to-land' ratio will increase. This technique, not only depends greatly on the individual characteristics of the Focus rally cars and the experience of McRae and Sainz, but also relies heavily on the expertise of Ford Martini tyre engineer George Black and Michelin's technicians.
Although the rally is based in Cordoba, the holiday town of Villa Carlos Paz 35km west provides the teams' base and, for the first time, the start. The route is a familiar one, providing drivers with hard gravel stages across vast open plains around La Cumbre, north of Cordoba, during the opening leg. Faster and more flowing tests follow to the south near Santa Rosa de Calamuchita on leg two and rougher tests in the rocky and arid Traslasierra mountain range near Mina Clavero, to the west, comprise the final leg. The El Condor and Giulio Cesare stages on the last day could provide a sting in the tail. The roads are rocky and take competitors to an altitude of 2,215m, unmatched on any event other than Kenya's Safari Rally. In all drivers face 391km of stages in a route of 1559km before the finish in front of thousands of fans at Cordoba's soccer stadium, host to the 1978 World Cup. Two stages in darkness at a new motorsport complex near Villa Carlos Paz will begin the rally.
<pre> RALLY ARGENTINA
ROUND 6 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
11 - 14 MAY 2000
Thursday 11 May: Leg 1 Super Special - Villa Carlos Paz
Start Villa Carlos Paz 17.30 SS1 Lane A 3.44km 19.00 SS2 Lane B 3.44km Finish Villa Carlos Paz 19.45 Total 6.88km
Friday 12 May: Leg 1 (cont.) Villa Carlos Paz - Córdoba
Start Villa Carlos Paz 07.30 SS3 Capilla del Monte - San Marcos Sierra 23.02km 09.09 SS4 San Marcos Sierra - Charbonier 9.61km 09.40 SS5 Tanti - Cosquin 16.07km 11.42 SS6 Villa Giardino - La Falda 22.53km 12.35 SS7 La Cumbre - Agua de Oro 23.46km 14.13 SS8 Super Special Colonia Caroya 3.40km 15.16 SS9 Ascochinga - La Cumbre 28.83km 16.04 Finish Córdoba 19.03 Total 126.92km
Saturday 13 May: Leg 2 Córdoba - Córdoba
Start Córdoba 07.15 SS10 Santa Rosa de Calamuchita - San Agustin 26.10km 09.16 SS11 San Agustin - Villa General Belgrano 12.65km 09.59 SS12 Amboy - Santa Rosa de Calamuchita 21.48km 11.23 SS13 Santa Rosa de Calamuchita - San Agustin 26.10km 12.44 SS14 Las Bajadas - Villa del Dique 18.67km 13.27 SS15 Amboy - Santa Rosa de Calamuchita 21.48km 14.48 SS16 Camping General San Martin 5.05km 16.46 Finish Córdoba 17.46 Total 131.53km
Sunday 14 May: Leg 3 Córdoba - Córdoba
Start Córdoba 06.15 SS17 Chamico - Ambul 24.60km 09.09 SS18 El Mirador - San Lorenzo 20.65km 09.51 SS19 Cura Brochero - Nono 19.31km 10.50 SS20 La Posta - Mina Clavero 24.09km 11.59 SS21 El Mirador - San Lorenzo 20.65km 13.41 SS22 El Cóndor - Copina 16.77km 15.01 Finish Córdoba 16.50 Total 126.07km
Rally Total 391.40km