The vast, rolling expanses of the Pampas, an abundance of water splashes and wildly unpredictable weather all mean one thing -- the Subaru World Rally Team is heading to Argentina for round six of the World Rally Championship! The rally is based...
The vast, rolling expanses of the Pampas, an abundance of water splashes and wildly unpredictable weather all mean one thing -- the Subaru World Rally Team is heading to Argentina for round six of the World Rally Championship!
The rally is based close to sprawling city of Cordoba, which nestles in the foothills of the Sierra Chicas mountain range, about 700km north-west of Buenos Aires. It is one of the hardest events to prepare for: the 22 special stages feature some dramatic changes in altitude and include some narrow, loose gravel tests high in the mountains combined with flat-out harder-packed sprints in the valleys.
Conditions can vary dramatically from stage to stage. It is autumn in South America, and that could mean the drivers have to contend with rain, wind and fog as they charge through the mountain passes. As with Rally Mexico in March, the high altitude of some tests means the air is thinner, and that can starve the rally car engines of power.
Many of the special stages will be familiar to the crews, because they have been included in the event in previous years. The tests run through Cordoba's three valleys: Punilla, Calamuchita and Traslasierra. One major change, however, is the inclusion of a Superspecial inside the imposing River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, an event that will mark the start of the rally on Thursday 3 May. Up to 55,000 passionate rally fans are expected to create a festival atmosphere inside the legendary football venue, which is known by locals as 'The Monumental'
On Friday the crews will head out into the countryside to contest seven gravel stages, before the day ends with a Superspecial in Cordoba football stadium. There are nine more tests on Saturday, and then three more on Sunday before the competitive action ends with another Superspecial in Cordoba Stadium at 1305hrs (local time). The total distance to be covered during the event is 1383.14km, which includes 346.55km of competitive stages and 1036.59km of liaison.
The Subaru World Rally Team has entered two Impreza WRC2007s for Rally Argentina. As usual, Petter Solberg/Phil Mills will drive car number seven, while Chris Atkinson will drive car number eight, but will have Stephane Prevot navigating for the first time. This is a significant milestone for Petter and Phil, because it marks their 100th WRC event with the Subaru World Rally Team. Rally Argentina has been productive for them in the past -- they have finished in the points there six times in the last seven years. Their best result is second, which they achieved in 2002 and 2006. Chris has only contested the event twice and was sixth last season. Subaru has won the event twice, with Juha Kankkunen claiming victory in 1999 and Richard Burns triumphing in 2000.
Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: "This is traditionally a very tough event and includes some fast stages, particularly on the second leg on Saturday. Those roads are quite rocky in places with a hard base. Leg one's stages have a more sandy base and tyre choice will be particularly crucial there. Stages two and three on Friday morning are very technical -- a lot happens on those tests. On leg two, particularly stages ten and eleven, you tend to get fog up in the hills and it can also get very wet. A driver can lose a lot of time if conditions are horrible. Also on leg two, the stages to the south of Cordoba are very fast. The stages on leg three, meanwhile, wouldn't look out of place on the moon, the terrain is unique in that area. We're aiming to push forward and keep improving the performance of the car. This is a rally that the drivers like, particularly Petter, because the speeds are very high. We got second place in Portugal, but that was gifted to us due to penalties levied on other cars, so in Argentina we need to get a podium result through pure pace on the stages."
Steve Farrell, Subaru World Rally Team director of engineering: "We all look forward to Rally Argentina because it presents its own unique challenges. Unpredictable weather means we have to be on the ball and find a tyre choice and car set-up that can best cope with the different conditions. Frankly, even when the weather is stable, the contrast between stages is as much as any rally, and the fastest cars will be ones that are consistent and balanced on a wide range of surfaces. We go into this rally off the back of five days of testing in Sardinia. I am happy that the development of the current Impreza is on schedule: each test is giving us improvements in several areas. Some of these are immediately available and will be introduced in Argentina, but some need more time before they are ready. For this rally, it is suspension and engine mapping modifications that are the differences from the previous event in Portugal. We are confident that at each rally we will continue to bridge the gap to the front. In Argentina last year we fought hard and long but had to be content with second place. It's very tough at the head of the WRC field at the moment, but we are excited by the challenge."
Petter Solberg: "I'm sure Argentina will be a very exciting rally, especially with the changing weather and the Superspecial in Buenos Aires. I think our trip to River Plate Stadium is very important for the sport because it will give many people an idea of what is going to happen up in Cordoba. Some of them might not have seen rallying before. It's hard to make a prediction for this rally, but I hope for the best. The team is fully motivated and we are ready for a good fight."
Chris Atkinson: "Rally Argentina was a mixed event for me last year, with some promising moments. I finished sixth, but didn't have a clean run, so could have potentially taken more points. I quite enjoy the stages, there's a real mixture of roads and there are some tests where you get a bit of everything thrown at you. On this event I'll have Stephane [Prevot] co-driving for me for the first time in a competitive situation. I'm looking forward to working with him and we're aiming to be competitive and bring the car home in the top five."
Between the rallies
All the drivers took part in a five-day gravel test with the team in Sardinia. Petter and Phil drove for two days, before Chris and Stephane took over for three days, which gave them time to get used to working together ahead of this weekend's rally. Away from the stages, Petter caught up with friends and family in Norway. "I spent time with my family because we are going to be very busy now, with three rallies in the next five weeks, so I will not get many chances to see them," Petter explained. In mid-April he visited the Motorfestivalen, a car show in Hellerudsletta, not far from Oslo. At the show he met members of the Petter Solberg Supporters Club and went head-to-head with his brother Henning on a rally simulator. Opinions are divided as to who won! Meanwhile Chris has spent most of his time fitness training and relaxing at home in Monaco.
Warning: technicians in action!
Seconds count in rallying -- and this is especially true during service halts, which usually take place after every group of stages on WRC events. During these breaks in the action, the drivers get time for a quick rest, while the Subaru World Rally Team's technicians spring into life. The Subaru World Rally Team technicians are responsible for keeping the Impreza WRC2007s of Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson in tip-top condition during a rally.