After two consecutive asphalt events the FIA World Rally Championship returns to gravel for round six of the series, Rally Argentina. The WRC's only visit to South America takes place around the city of Cordoba from 27 - 30 April. The rally is...
After two consecutive asphalt events the FIA World Rally Championship returns to gravel for round six of the series, Rally Argentina. The WRC's only visit to South America takes place around the city of Cordoba from 27 - 30 April.
The rally is run through dramatic scenery on the edge of the flat, grassy Pampas and in the Sierras Chicas hills close to Cordoba. The varied landscape produces numerous changes of road surface and character as narrow, loose gravel stages high in the mountains combine with flat-out harder-packed sprints in the valleys. Although Mexico has superseded Argentina as the rally with the highest average altitude, many of the Argentine stages are more than 1,000 metres above sea level, with Leg three's El Condor stage peaking at 2,195 metres. Such high altitude produces its own challenges as power output is reduced as a direct consequence of the air being thinner.
If the reduced power, high speeds and bumpy terrain weren't enough of a test, there's always the famous watersplashes. Getting the right line and speed on approach is crucial, and with 17 watersplashes in total, there are many potential hazards.
The weather may throw another tough element into the mix. Rain, wind and fog could be the daily forecast as this year the rally takes place in the South American autumn, almost three months earlier than last year. The predicted rain and mud should not however deter the hoards of fans who line the rally's route, even high up in the mountains. Over one million spectators watched the event last year, despite the snow and freezing temperatures.
This year the service park moves from Villa Carlos Paz to Cordoba, just opposite the football stadium built for the 1978 World Cup Finals. On Thursday and Sunday nights the stadium will host a new Superspecial where crews will run side-by-side through a specially-built 2.2km stage. After two loops through the circuit on Thursday, the true rallying starts on Friday at 0833hrs. Leg one is run to the north of Cordoba and features the longest stage of the event between the towns of Ascochinga and La Cumbre. The finish is scheduled for 1330hrs in the Cordoba stadium.
This year the Subaru World Rally Team will enter two Impreza WRC2006 cars in Rally Argentina. Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) will drive one Impreza and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall) the second.
Petter Solberg enters his seventh Rally Argentina in 2006. Last year, Petter had a trouble-free run to third overall. Chris Atkinson contests Rally Argentina for the second time. In 2005 the Australian enjoyed a successful debut to finish ninth.
The Subaru World Rally Team has won Rally Argentina twice; in 1999 with Juha Kankkunen and again the following year with Richard Burns.
Petter Solberg: "There will not be any excuses in Argentina. There won't be any sitting back for anyone and I'm going to go for maximum attack from the start. There's no strategy for this event other than this - we know what our goal is and we're going to go flat out to get there."
Chris Atkinson: "We had a good Rally Argentina last year. Behind Japan and Australia, it was probably our best gravel event. We started well and then built up speed throughout the three days. We've had a good couple of rallies in Spain and Corsica where we were consistent, but now we want to fight for position. We're aiming to be competitive and get in the top five. If we can hit this target, there's no reason why we should stop there."
THE CAR / THE CHALLENGE
Subaru World Rally Team sporting director, Luis Moya: "First and foremost we are looking forward to getting back to gravel after two asphalt events. We believe we'll be competitive against Sebastien and Marcus. We demonstrated in Mexico that we're right on the pace and are more than capable of fighting for the lead.
Leg one will probably be one of the toughest starts to any rally this year, but we're going to Argentina looking for the win for Petter and a high finish for Chris. The next three events will be key to the 2006 championship and we'll go to each of them with every intention of winning."
Subaru World Rally Team director of engineering, Steve Farrell: "Argentina is a real challenge for both drivers and teams. The unpredictable late autumn weather means a driver has to be able to adapt his driving style very quickly, but have a set-up that can compensate for the changes in conditions. Even in stable weather there's a large contrast between stages, so in changeable weather the differences can be vast.
Our experience in Argentina has told us that the stages become rutted very quickly so we'll run a set-up that takes this into account. The car will be higher from the road with a much stiffer suspension than on regular gravel events. This should help us optimise performance in the afternoon repeats of the stages. We ran this set-up extensively in the Sardinia test before Corsica and were pretty pleased with the results.
We're back onto gravel now, which has historically been our better surface. In the last three rallies we've demonstrated very good reliability and we'll continue to focus on this in Argentina. Our objective now has got to be to score results at every rally."
BETWEEN THE RALLIES
Petter Solberg took some time over Easter to return home to wife Pernilla and son Oliver to do some skiing together. Petter also did some fitness training to make sure he was fully fit for the high-altitude challenges of Argentina. Chris Atkinson returned to his family's home on the Gold Coast to the east of Australia over Easter. He was pleased to finally catch up with friends after almost four months away. Ever active, Chris also took advantage of the warm, sunny Australian climate to go jet-skiing. After a two-week break Chris then flew directly from Australia to Argentina for the rally.