Argentina: Hyundai leg one summary

Schwarz delivers solid start for Hyundai in Argentina. Hyundai World Rally Team crew Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer made a confident start to Rally Argentina, the fifth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, bringing their Accent WRC"...

Schwarz delivers solid start for Hyundai in Argentina.

Hyundai World Rally Team crew Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer made a confident start to Rally Argentina, the fifth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, bringing their Accent WRC" to overnight parc ferme in ninth position overall. Unfortunately team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets retired on the fourth stage of the day.

Argentina is always a challenge and this year is no exception. It's often rough and tight, twisty and fast, and even though the event has been replaced by Turkey as the highest in the Championship, it still reaches altitudes of 1625m above sea level and even the best engine can struggle as the atmosphere thins.

Leg one was the longest of the event and arguably one of the longest of the Championship. Following a double run of the Pro-Racing Complex superspecial stage yesterday evening, today crews covered almost 170 kilometres of competition over 11 special stages in a tightly-packed schedule. The opening four stages were repeated at the end of the day and were much rougher than on the first run. The stages sandwiched in between were those that ventured highest in altitude and are home to many of the infamous water splashes.

The German Hyundai crew drove solidly all day spending much of the leg in a battle with Didier Auriol but Schwarz took control in the latter group of stages to end the leg 3.8 seconds ahead of his French rival.

Schwarz suffered with difficult handling in the earlier stages of the leg but his Accent WRC" ran trouble-free nonetheless. The shock absorbers had their work cut out for them on the middle group of stages as the rough roads took their toll but Schwarz and Hiemer were lucky that this was their only issue as special stages eight and nine alone, situated in the foothills of the Sierra Chica mountain range, forced no less than 12 crews into retirement.

Overall Armin and co-driver Manfred were happy with their day. "We had a much better run in the afternoon. The group of four stages were quite sandy and loose but not as rough and with the adjustments we made to the suspension meant we were able to put the pressure on and keep ahead of Didier (Auriol) and Toni (Gardemeister)," explained the 38-year-old German. "The water splashes were also much deeper the second time through but they didn't cause us any problems."

"We had a huge moment in the penultimate stage of the day. There was a big jump over a crest that wasn't in our notes and we didn't remember it from the morning so I think the road conditions must have changed but we went very high and were in the air for a long time," he continued.

"I am pleased with our position and I don't think it will be an issue tomorrow as again, the stages should not be quite so rough. It would perhaps be better to be a couple of cars later on the road for tomorrow but today we have achieved our target of being ahead of the Skodas."

Argentina is often described as one of the rougher events of the Championship. Armin explained why he considers this true. "Because there is so much sand and loose surface on these stages you don't automatically think of it as being rough and is quite fast. But when everyone brakes at the same point and then lifts off the brakes at the same point it can either reveal rocks or create a sort of step. If you don't predict that you could knock a wheel off at those points. This makes it rough even though it's not as bad as Turkey of Greece - and it requires a technical approach in all the places of possible rougher conditions."

Team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets were struck by misfortune when the boost pressure sensor on their Accent WRC"'s turbo charger failed, causing the engine to run lean on fuel and overheat.

Freddy's co-driver Sven Smeets explained what happened: "At about the middle of SS6 we had a loss of power and about 2km before the end of the stage the engine stopped completely. We talked with our engineer and after about 27 minutes we found the problem and were able to make repairs to get going again. The problem was we could only run with about five per cent throttle otherwise the car stopped so we had to do about 60-70kph to exit the stage. We made it back to service but if we had gone out again we would have run the risk of causing more damage to the engine. It's not normal that this pressure sensor breaks so its now important that we learn something about why it happened before we go to Greece."

News from our rivals

The opening leg saw 30 retirements - more than a third of the original number of starters, highlighting the demands the Argentine roads are putting on the cars. The most spectacular retirement was Colin McRae (Citroën) whose Xsara caught fire in SS9 and burnt out. But many competitors had problems that caused a large drop of time. Petter Solberg (Subaru) rolled in stage five losing two minutes; a turbo problem for Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) in SS7 forced the young Finn to disconnect the oil supply and run for stages eight and nine with no turbo boost; Tommi Makinen (Subaru) had a gear selection problem that also lasted through stages eight and nine; Markko Martin's (Ford) gearbox also gave him problems during SS8 and SS9 but the Estonian recovered well and a fastest stage time on the last stage of the day ensured he held onto second position. Reigning World Champion Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) experienced differential problems on stage nine and dropped one and a half minutes dropping him five places to sixth where he ended the day.

Carlos Sainz took the lead in special stage seven and remains at the head of the field overnight. Markko Martin (Ford) lies 22 seconds adrift in second and Richard Burns (Peugeot) in third. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) and Sebastien Loeb are fourth and fifth respectively.

The Rally

Leg two covers 154 kilometres of competition over nine stages - the middle three are the only stages of the rally that are not repeated. Crews reach overnight parc ferme in Villa Carlos Paz at 20:22hrs.


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Harri Rovanpera , Didier Auriol , Sébastien Loeb , Armin Schwarz , Mikko Hirvonen , Sven Smeets , Markko Martin
Teams Citroën World Rally Team