The heat is on in the sierra! Five rounds into its maiden season of world class rallying, BFGoodrich currently monopolises the top four places in the provisional Drivers' championship standings and dominates the Manufacturers' points table with...
The heat is on in the sierra!
Five rounds into its maiden season of world class rallying, BFGoodrich currently monopolises the top four places in the provisional Drivers' championship standings and dominates the Manufacturers' points table with its partner teams Kronos Total Citroen and BP-Ford WRT.
Following its win in Mexico at the beginning of March, the g-Force Gravel will be looking to claim a second success on American soil despite stiff opposition. The way the early part of the event unfolds promises to be decisive.
Nobody ever wins Rally Argentina by chance. In its 25- year history, the WRC's Latin American fixture has repeatedly foiled rallying's top stars, including all three front-runners in the 2006 championship. It took Marcus Gronholm four attempts before securing his first win here, while Sebastien Loeb had to wait until 2005 to taste victory champagne and Petter Solberg has yet to add the event to his personal record.
Rally Argentina packs all the challenges faced on the World Championship's gravel rounds into one event inasmuch as it offers a mix of high speed stages, narrower, twistier tests and some pretty breathtaking jumps. There is effectively a little bit of Mexico, Sardinia and Greece in the sierra. "The same goes for the tyres too," says Aime Chatard, BFGoodrich's Rallies programme Manager. "Rally Argentina is a cocktail of slippery ground if it rains on the higher ground, sandy roads in the valley bottoms and some particularly rocky stages, like Mina Clavero and El Condor. Tyres need to be versatile, and durable too to cope with groups of up to 80km of stages."
Friday morning's 80km loop is the principal topic of conversation regarding this rally since it has never previously been contested in one go. In 2003, at least one stage ? or part of a stage ? had to be cancelled by the organisers. "Even so, the wear rate recorded reached around 80%. The 23km Capilla del Monte-San Marcos stage (SS4) had around 16km of buried rocks," recalls Patrick Letort, who is in charge of the team of technicians. Both the first and second (75km) groups of stages could well spring a few surprises.
The early part of the rally is consequently fairly risky.
"The suspension and tyres will need to work in perfect harmony over the 80km loop," warns Aime Chatard. "It mustn't be forgotten that tyres are the final element of the drive train and are in direct contact with the ground. If the way the suspension works isn't optimised, it can lead to loss of grip which can in turn lead to more wheelspin and therefore extra tyre wear."
This year again, the battle between Loeb, Gronholm and Solberg promises to be particularly thrilling, with Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich), Chris Atkinson (Subaru) and Gigi Galli (Peugeot) all in a position to profit from cleaner stages swept clear by the first cars on the road to mix it with the leaders. The likes of Spain's Dani Sordo and Xevi Pons cannot be forgotten either, especially given the backing they are likely to enjoy from the huge crowds, nor can Manfred Stohl (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) who takes his 100th WRC start in Argentina. It is Loeb, however, who faces the biggest challenge, since he will be looking to hand his co-driver Daniel Elena a 24th WRC success which would take him equal to the record currently held by Luis Moya.
THE RALLY ARGENTINA? SEEN BY MANFRED STOHL (Peugeot/BFGoodrich)
"Argentina will be my 100th WRC start. It's an event I have already contested seven times before in a Group N car, and this will be my second attempt in a World Rally Car. The stages tend to be fast, and sandier rather than rough, although you can come across some big rocks in places and you need take it extremely cautiously through those. Tyre durability is a key factor because, although the surfaces aren't all that abrasive, we will have to cover up to 80km with the same tyres. As far as set-up is concerned, I prefer the car to be nimble more than anything else."