The FIA World Rally Championship makes its sole visit to the American continent for its sixth round, the Rally Argentina, which starts in earnest tomorrow morning. After a ceremonial start in Villa Carlos Paz this evening, the sport's top drivers...
The FIA World Rally Championship makes its sole visit to the American continent for its sixth round, the Rally Argentina, which starts in earnest tomorrow morning. After a ceremonial start in Villa Carlos Paz this evening, the sport's top drivers will start fight for victory in the daunting mountain roads to the north and west of Cordoba.
Most teams will simply be aiming to break Peugeot's current run of form. The French manufacturer has posted one-two finishes on the last four rounds of the championship, with Marcus Grönholm and Gilles Panizzi claiming two victories apiece to hold first and second in the drivers' championship. Reigning title-holder Richard Burns also holds third for Peugeot but the 206 WRC has never won in Argentina. That alone should give rivals Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz (both in Fords) and Subaru's Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg extra hope on the Argentine stages, which blend fast, smooth and sandy roads with narrow, rock-strewn tracks.
PEUGEOT (1st - 68 points)
Technical: Peugeot has made no major revisions to the 206 WRC, although this will be the last event for the 2001-specification model before the new version appears in Greece next month. The team has entered four cars, with Gilles Panizzi using the test car. All four are fitted with three 'active' differentials, but none will use the hydraulic anti-roll bar system.
Sporting: Peugeot sends four 206 WRCs to Argentina, with Marcus Grönholm, Richard Burns and Harri Rovanperä nominated for manufacturers' points. French asphalt specialist Gilles Panizzi will thus be eligible for drivers' points only, although the Catalunya and Corsica winner will primarily be aiming to gain experience of the stages. Rovanperä has tasted recent success in South America - the Finn triumphed on a knowledge-gaining exercise on the Corona Rally Mexico, held shortly after the last world championship round in Cyprus.
Quotes: Richard Burns said: "We're feeling pretty good about things. I've found a few more improvements to my set-up since Cyprus. Immediately after that rally I went to Greece for two days' testing, and when I came here I did another day's work and that confirmed everything that we'd discovered beforehand. I've been very impressed with how the 206 doesn't let me feel the rough or the ruts. Running so far up the starting order, it would obviously be a little better for us tomorrow if it rains, because that would pack down the loose, sandy gravel and give us all a similar level of grip."
Marcus Grönholm said: "We did a day's testing for here but there wasn't so much new stuff to try - we had about three different suspension set-ups that will allow us to change for damp, dry or wet conditions. I'm quite confident, really - the car was quick and strong in Cyprus and that's basically the sort of car that you also need here. I was fast here in 2000 but we struggled a bit last year, so I think we can improve on that for sure."
SUBARU (2nd - 27 points)
Technical: Subaru's Impreza WRC2002s are essentially unchanged from their Cyprus specification, although the team has made small changes to the differential mapping. The Prodrive-run team has sent two re-built Catalunya cars to the event.
Sporting: Subaru sends two Impreza WRC2002s for Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg.
Quotes: Petter Solberg said: "The roads here are quite sandy and soft, and in some places during the recce I've seen pretty bad ruts. If it rains the softer gravel could turn to mud, which could be pretty nasty, or if it stays dry we'll have to try to stay in the ruts to keep good grip. But I must say that I'm quite pleased with the car and the set-up that we've found."
Tommi Mäkinen said: "I have a good feeling for this rally. We've done some good testing in the last few weeks in general and I'm quite comfortable with the car - certainly we have made some progress with the suspension, especially at the rear of the car. I don't know how we'll compare with the others, of course. A lot might depend on the weather - if it's slightly damp and cool then I think that Pirelli have some very good tyres for those conditions."
FORD (3rd - 27 points)
Technical: Ford sends two new Focus RS WRC02s for Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae, with Markko Martin using a re-built car from earlier in the season. The Focus specification remains basically unchanged since Cyprus.
Sporting: Ford sends its regular three Focus RS WRC02 drivers - Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin - to this event. The team's occasional fourth starter, François Duval, completed the pre-event reconnaissance to gain knowledge of the terrain and roads.
Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: "I feel quite confident here in Argentina. The Focus was strong here last year and it works well in the slightly rough and rutted conditions that I think we might have on the roads. Argentina is a good all-round test for the cars."
Colin McRae said: "I think it'll be an advantage to run near the front of the field, because the roads are quite sandy and that breaks up quickly. When that happens, you end up with quite a lot of loose and a slippery surface. I think it's going to be three days of very tough competition here. I'd expect the road conditions will deteriorate quite a lot for the second day, when we're running over the stages for the second time."
Markko Martin said: "This will be a hard rally for me because even though I did the recce last year, I only made pacenotes and we didn't go on to do the rally. So tomorrow morning will be the first time I've actually competed here in Argentina."
MITSUBISHI (4th - 6 points)
Technical: Ralliart engineers believe they have made a step forward with the Lancer Evo WRC since Cyprus. The team has concentrated on finding a balance between the car's front and rear suspension settings to improve handling, and the drivers both report that gains have been made. Ralliart has also made improvements to the car's damper and differential settings, and the team has strengthened the car's driveshafts after the series of failures in Cyprus. Mitsubishi's 'Step Two' Lancer World Rally Car has run in anger for the first time, meanwhile - the car completed its first miles in Wales last week.
Sporting: Mitsubishi reverts back to a two-car team for this event, sending its regular drivers François Delecour and Alister McRae.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: "The car feels pretty good here, actually - certainly an improvement from Cyprus. We basically expected that, because it's always been stronger on faster stretches of road - where you're on the throttle for longer - and there's more of that here. "
François Delecour said: "I'm quite happy with the car. We've definitely found some things in the suspension and the differentials since Cyprus, and it's much easier to drive and commit with the car. I don't know how we can do here, though. If the weather is dry it'll be quite sandy but if it turns wet then it'll get very slippery and there could be a lot of accidents."
HYUNDAI (5th - 2 points)
Technical: Hyundai sends three Accent WRC3s to this event, including one brand new car for Armin Schwarz The cars' specification has changed little since Cyprus - the team has concentrated on damper work during its pre-event testing, and also introduced a strengthened sump guard. Freddy Loix has endured a difficult few days in his car, however - the Belgian lost much of his test mileage due to engine problems, and then his car suffered a loss of hydraulic pressure at this morning's pre-event shakedown.
Sporting: Hyundai has entered three Accent WRC3s for the team's regular gravel line-up - Armin Schwarz, Freddy Loix and four-times world champion Juha Kankkunen.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "I'm pleased with the set-up we've found for the car - it's pretty much as good as we can achieve at the moment. But the real problem on this event for me will be knowledge. I've only been here once before, last year, and Manfred (Hiemer) and I have made a lot of changes in the pacenotes on this year's recce because last year, we had fog. It'll be difficult to ensure that we can still be committed but not make any mistakes at the same time."
Freddy Loix said: "I didn't get much of a test here because of the engine problems but at least today I got in a few runs. The car feels fine and this is a rally where the stages are quite nice for the drivers. The only thing might be the soft, sandy gravel. There will be ruts for the second time through stages and if it rains, it could get really muddy."
SKODA (6th- 0 points)
Technical: Skoda has made no major changes to the Octavia WRC since Cyprus, apart from a slightly stronger sump guard. The Czech manufacturer will use two new cars in Argentina - in the hands of Toni Gardemeister and Kenneth Eriksson - with third driver Gabriel Pozzo driving the re-built test car.
Sporting: Regular Skoda Octavia WRC drivers Toni Gardemeister and Kenneth Eriksson are joined by a local driver, reigning Group N World Champion Gabriel Pozzo, on this event. Pozzo is the first Argentine driver to start a rally in a factory-entered car since Jorge Recalde on this rally 10 years ago.
Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: "My feeling with the car here depends a lot on the conditions. After our testing I have a very good feeling on the smoother, softer roads but once it starts to get rutted or rough, it isn't so nice. This will be a hard rally for me anyway - I've only been here once before two years ago and even then, I only completed one stage so I don't know the roads or conditions very well at all. Having finished the recce and seen the stages, though, I think it'll be very bad if it rains."
Kenneth Eriksson said: "We've made a few change to the suspension in testing and even at the shakedown this morning, and we've also played a bit with the differentials. I think the weather could make a big difference, because if it rains heavily then there's going to be a lot of mud and road position could be crucial."
Gabriel Pozzo said: "It's important for me to be compared to Jorge Recalde because he was a very good driver. This is the most important chance of my career, so I have to say thank-you to Skoda for their support."
Citroen is not present on the Rally Argentina, but the French manufacturer tested in the region at the same time as the rest of the world championship teams. It spent several days gathering data in preparation for its 14-round programme in 2003.
Argentina is a round of the FIA World Championship for Drivers of Production Cars, and with the series leader Kristian Sohlberg missing this event, many of his leading challengers will be aiming grab the points advantage. Peruvian Ramon Ferreyros reverts back to a Lancer Evo 7 after he used an E6 in Cyprus, while Karamjit Singh - who claimed maximum points on the Mediterranean island event - continues to use his Proton Pert. Multiple category champion Gustavo Trelles has a brand new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7 for this round, while Toshihiro Arai's team has strengthened the gear selection parts on his Subaru in an attempt to give the Japanese driver improved reliability on the difficult Argentine stages.