Richard Burns' second place on the last round of the FIA World Rally Championship in New Zealand was enough for him to maintain his status as the leader of the driver's title race. Burns has yet to win his first event for the Peugeot team, but the...
Richard Burns' second place on the last round of the FIA World Rally Championship in New Zealand was enough for him to maintain his status as the leader of the driver's title race. Burns has yet to win his first event for the Peugeot team, but the Englishman has succeeded in Argentina previously - taking maximum points in 2000. His team-mate Marcus Gronholm's New Zealand win promoted him to second in the standings. The combined efforts of the two 206 WRC drivers was enough for Peugeot to ease into the lead of the manufacturer's championship, five points clear of Citroen.
Rally Argentina has changed from last year. The stages around Mina Clavero - south-west of the event's base in Villa Carlos Paz - have been removed, allowing the organisers to use the town of La Cumbre as a single service park. The other change for this year is the rallies complete absence from the Cordoba area. Last year the finish was in the Olympic Stadium, this time around it is alongside the lake in Villa Carlos Paz. The stages, however, remain as tough as ever - with leg one providing a particularly tough challenge with 11 stages and 175km of competitive driving.
Citroen will be enjoying these stages for the first time, not having competed with the Xsara WRC previously. Sebastien Loeb and Colin McRae currently hold third and fourth, with equal points, in the standings, with Carlos Sainz one point further back.
Marlboro Peugeot Total (1st - 49 points)
Technical: The Peugeots arrive here in the same specification that they tackled Rally of New Zealand.
Sporting: The Peugeot 206 WRC has yet to win this event, although the French team came close last season, before Gronholm and Burns were both excluded for technical infringements after the finish of the 2002 rally. The last event in New Zealand was Peugeot's most successful outing of 2003, marking the team's first one-two finish of the season. Harri Rovanpera has struggled this season, he did not compete in Monte Carlo and has failed to finish any of the last three rallies. Gilles Panizzi completed the recce for this event, but as he is not taking part in Rally Argentina he went home on Wednesday.
Marcus Gronholm said: "I am not thinking about last year at all, that's history. I am quite happy with the car, we didn't make any significant changes at shakedown. We are definitely here to try and win this rally."
Richard Burns said: "I like this event, but I preferred it when we used the stages further south. The car feels good, there's nothing new on it since the last round - we're running a similar set-up to New Zealand, with the suspension a little bit higher to cope with some of the rougher stages."
Harri Rovanpera said: "I don't feel that I am under any pressure because of what's happened at the start of this season. If the result comes for me on this rally, then it comes for me."
Citroen Total (2nd - 44 points)
Technical: The three Xsara WRCs, which were new for the last round, remain unchanged in specification from New Zealand.
Sporting: Both Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have won this event before, but Sebastien Loeb has never competed here - but did carry out the recce last season. Citroen has won two of the four rallies so far this season - Loeb in Monte Carlo and Sainz in Turkey - but the drivers felt the car needed work on the engine after being outgunned on the faster stages in New Zealand.
Colin McRae said: "This is an event I enjoy, but it looks like the stages are going to get quite badly cut up. New Zealand was obviously a disappointment for us, we're looking to make up for that here."
Sebastien Loeb said: "It's hard to know what I can do here, obviously it's a disadvantage not having competed on this rally before. I'm going to be looking at the set-up that Colin and Carlos take because we're not allowed to test on rallies outside of Europe."
Carlos Sainz said: "Argentina is always a good event. I won here last year, okay it's not the way you always want to win - but I have been on the other end of decisions like that in my career before. I like this country and the people, it's nice to come somewhere where all of the locals speak Spanish."
Ford Motor Company (3rd - 26 points)
Technical: Markko Martin has a new Focus RS WRC03 for this event, while Francois Duval drive's Martin's New Zealand car. Mikko Hirvonen remains in a 2002-specification Focus.
Sporting: Martin is the only one of the three drivers to have competed on this event previously, the Estonian finishing fourth here last season. The pace of both Martin and the new Focus in New Zealand was one of the talking points of the fourth round. He set a string of fastest times through leg two before a broken cam belt forced him out of second overall. Duval finished the event and scored a point for Ford in the sister car, although he had been slowed early on by hydraulic trouble.
Markko Martin said: "I'm not sure what I think of this rally. When we were recceing some of the stages, I liked some of the stages, but then there were some which weren't so good. It's not such a fast rally as New Zealand. The last rally was good for me and the team, it would be nice to do the same times here."
Francois Duval said: "Coming to this rally for the first time is not going to be so difficult as going to New Zealand for the first time: the stages here are not so specialised. I did the recce here last year, but the notes I made weren't so good, so I've made new ones for this season. Some of the stages here look a little rough, but we tested in Portugal before coming here and the car worked well over rough roads."
"Mikko Hirvonen said: "My aim here is to get through the rally without any mistakes and get some experience for next season. It would be nice to get into the top ten."
555 Subaru World Rally Team (4th - 22 points)
Technical: The Subaru Impreza WRC2003 features new dampers for this event and both Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg will have new cars at their disposal. The team completed two gravel tests in preparation for this event, one in Spain and one at the notoriously rough Chateau Lastours test venue in France.
Sporting: Solberg scored his best finish of the season in New Zealand, taking third overall after what he admitted had been a sensible drive. The Norwegian driver failed to finish in Monte Carlo and Turkey earlier this season, but his efforts on the Auckland-based fourth round have moved him up to eighth in the table, just two points behind Makinen. Makinen is a previous winner of Rally Argentina.
Petter Solberg said: "Some of the new stages which have been included for this year are very fast and - in some places really rough. The first test of the new dampers went well before this event. It was nice to be on the podium again in New Zealand, it would be good to get there again on this rally."
Tommi Makinen said: "I'm not thinking about last year's rally (where he crashed heavily). You put those things out of your mind, forget them. I like this event, it's one of my favourites of the season. The car felt very good in the test, very nice to drive. I'm feeling positive about this rally."
Skoda Motorsport (5th - 12 points)
Technical: The Skoda Octavia WRC remains in the same specification it has been in throughout the 2003 season. Development work is now being directed towards the team's all-new Fabia WRC which is set to make its debut towards the end of the season.
Sporting: Toni Gardemeister arrives in Villa Carlos Paz on the back of his best result of the year: fifth overall in New Zealand. The Finn was backed up by team-mate Didier Auriol who also managed his best showing in the team which he joined for this season when he brought his Octavia home in eighth place. The Frenchman found the handling of his car troublesome for the first two legs of the last round, but Argentina is a rally he has won twice previously and he's looking forward to it. Gardemeister starts the rally with a 60-second penalty for breach of regulation 13.1.5.
Didier Auriol said: "I have a good feeling for this rally. I want to push hard from the start of the event, but realistically we don't stand a chance of winning. The priority for me is to get some more points for the team and to be as close as possible to the front of the field."
Toni Gardemeister said: "I like this rally, I finished fifth here last year. The thing I don't really like about the event is the fog and the rain - although we do seem to go quite well under those sort of conditions. So far we have had a good year, I hope the weather stays dry and we can go flat out from the start."
Hyundai World Rally Team (6th - 3 points)
Technical: Hyundai has continued to refine the developments it made to the Accent WRC's engine and suspension for the last round in New Zealand. As both Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz crashed their cars heavily on round four, the team has been working flat out to get a brace of 2002 cars up to the new specification.
Sporting: Rally Argentina has happy memories for the British-based team, it scored its first points in the FIA World Rally Championship on this event in 2000. This season so far, however, hasn't provided much success for the team. Hyundai has gathered three points from the four rallies which have gone before this one, but there is plenty of optimism for this week's rally - especially as Freddy Loix wents fastest on one of t last year's stages.
Armin Schwarz said: "This is only my third attempt at this event, and I haven't finished one of them - so I want to get to the end to get more experience."
Freddy Loix said: "The stages are quite rough in places - a little bit like those in Greece - but a bit faster. I've scored points here on my last two visits to the rally, so I think we can do it again. Hopefully the engine modifications we made for New Zealand will assist us here."
This event is the third round of the FIA Production Car Championship and of the top three drivers of the standings, only reigning champion Karamjit Singh will start this event. Six drivers have decided to miss Rally Argentina - as the crews can only score points on six from the seven rallies included in the calendar for production category cars.
German driver Antony Warmbold leads the charge of the non-works World Rally Cars in his Ford Focus RS WRC, with Gabriel Pozzo driving a Skoda Octavia WRC and top local driver Gabriel Raies (Toyota Corolla WRC) following him.