WRC

Rally Argentina: Round eight preview

This week teams will travel to the Americas for the second time this season to contest round eight of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Argentina. Starting on Thursday 15 July with two sprints round a Super Special stage in the host town of...

This week teams will travel to the Americas for the second time this season to contest round eight of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Argentina. Starting on Thursday 15 July with two sprints round a Super Special stage in the host town of Carlos Paz, the rally will be the sixth consecutive gravel event of the season and marks the halfway point in the 16 round FIA Championship.

Run on the edge of the Pampas and in the hills close to the city of Cordoba, Rally Argentina is often cited as the most beautiful rally of the year. Breath-taking scenery and numerous water splashes make for spectacular viewing and every year tens of thousands of fans flock to the stages to cheer on their favourite rally drivers.

For the drivers, the event is characterised by high-speeds and fluctuating conditions. Loose gravel stages high in the mountains combine narrow, twisty sections with flat-out roads and numerous surface changes. One of the highest events of the year, many stages are more than 1,000 metres above sea level and weather conditions can be unpredictable, changing rapidly with little warning. In the wet, the loose gravel surface can be exceptionally slippery, while current winter temperatures can fluctuate between 20C and below freezing.

Comprising three legs and 382.63 competitive kilometres, Rally Argentina includes 26 stages. Leg one is run to the north of Carlos Paz, near Le Cumbre, while Legs two and three offer a mixture of stages, both north and south of the host town. This year the event will see a return to the stages near El Condor in Leg three, which peaks at 2,153 metres above sea level. The longest test, the Ascochinga stage at 28.83km, will be used for SS4 and SS8, while the shortest, the Super Especial Complejo Pro-Racing Super Special at 3.02km, will be used six times as SS1, SS2, SS11, SS12, SS20 and SS21. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp at 1638hrs on Sunday 18 July.

Citroen

Citroen will start the Rally of Argentina this weekend (14-18 July 2004) ideally positioned to strengthen its grip on the World Rally Championship, with Sebastien Loeb leading the drivers' championship having collected 28 points from a maximum of 30 in the last three rounds and Citroen controlling the manufacturers' title chase, having collected 42 points during the same events. But this does not mean that Citroen is going to rest on winners' laurels collected by Loeb in four of the first six events of the season.

Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: Victory in Argentina? "Why not?" Says Loeb. "The problem is that victory in Argentina seems just as possible for Marcus, Petter and Markko [Martin], not forgetting Carlos who will practically be on home ground! There is not just one favourite, but many! The competition is very tight at the moment, with each rally being dominated by a different driver: Marcus in Cyprus, Petter in Greece, Daniel and me in Turkey. With some adjustments to its set-up, the Xsara I drove in Turkey should be competitive in Argentina. The jumps and the fords aren't a problem for the car, nor is the rougher going and its traction is now very good over the 'ribbed' portions. So it will be up to us to make the most of all that once the first loop of stages, over which we will probably play the role of 'road sweepers', is behind us."

Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: "I am sure it's going to be a great rally this year," says Sainz. "There are lots of interesting stages and the organisers have found a way for us to return to the Mina Clavero area where the scenery is simply stunning. I am delighted at the idea of doing 'Giulio Cesare' and 'El Condor' again. They are legendary stages. My only minor concern is the state in which we will find them, and we'll see that in recce. But overall, I think it's really nice to broaden the mix, to propose different stages, which means we won't have to repeat too many!"

Ford

Ford BP Rallye Sport will aim to match the high level of fervour displayed by the passionate Latin fans as it strives to extend its strong record in south America on the Rally Argentina (15 - 18 July) next week. The FIA World Rally Championship reaches its midpoint in the pampas of Cordoba province, territory where Ford's Focus RS World Rally Car has won twice in the last three seasons.

Markko Martin / Michael Park: "I enjoy the faster rallies more than the slower ones," said 28-year-old Martin. "There's usually more excitement on the quicker events and that suits me. There's nothing too technical about the stages although there are some sections that are quite tricky which require caution. My results on the last two rounds were disappointing so it's important that we achieve a good points finish here to keep both my own and Ford's championship position healthy."

Francios Duval / Stefan Prevot: "I practised the rally in 2002 and competed last year but there are quite a few stages in this year's route that I have not driven competitively," said the 23-year-old Belgian driver. "That's a disadvantage when compared to people like Carlos Sainz and Marcus Gronholm who have driven here many times but for the younger drivers, like me, it means there is no big difference in our experience level."

Peugeot

The Rally Argentina, eighth round of the sixteen-round 2004 World Championship, could well be the opportunity Peugeot is waiting for to return to its winning ways as the season reaches its halfway stage. After three 2nd-place finishes so far this year, Marcus Gronholm will be looking to make the most of this chance to get back into the title chase, while Harri Rovanpera, who was poorly rewarded for his excellent run in Turkey, is also fired up for the visit to South America.

Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: (Apologies for lack of quotes) Marcus Gronholm still has every chance of climbing back up the order and he will be out to make the most of every opportunity that comes his way, including of course the forthcoming trip to Argentina. The Finn is in excellent form, more motivated than ever and, with three 2nd places to his name this year, he has demonstrated that the 307 WRC has winning potential. Victory in Argentina is effectively a real possibility. Marcus won the 2003 event, notching up in the process the fifteenth and, for the moment, the most recent WRC success of his career. The two-times World Champion's other results in the South American fixture include a 4th place in 1997 and a 2nd place in 2000.

Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietilainen: (Apologies for lack of quotes) Harri Rovanpera's personal record also boasts some strong results in Argentina. He won the 2-litre category there in 1997, was again present in 1998 and 1999 but was absent in 2000 before returning with Peugeot in 2001. The Finn failed to finish that year and also retired in 2002. However, 4th place in 2003 enabled him to compound Peugeot's close-formation finish which saw Gronholm (1st) and Richard Burns (3rd) both finish on the podium. Harri will be particularly fired up for this year's Rally of Argentina following his recent showing in Turkey where he posted some excellent stage times.

Subaru

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Argentina, which will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen). Petter has competed in Argentina four times and has scored points on each occasion. He finished second in 2002 and is looking to improve on that this year. Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen contested the Argentine event for the first time in 2003 when he finished 16th. This year he will be aiming to secure Championship points, while gaining further experience of the event in his Impreza WRC2004.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: Argentina is a special rally, very difficult because there are so many different types of road, it's twisty, narrow, fast and the surface is constantly changing too, there are water splashes and maybe even ice in the morning. I think it's going to be one of the most challenging rallies of the year, especially as we have just 25 tyres to use, so the choices we make will be crucial. The rally is in a different month this year and conditions will be very different to those we saw last time. I think the final day will be the most interesting - the one where anything can happen. It's good to get the El Condor stage back, it's just the most unbelievable scenery when you're driving up the mountain, there's often fog in the middle, and then you carry on climbing up right through until it clears again. It's a very cool stage. I've never won in Argentina before, it seems that the drivers with the most experience have previously done the best there, but this time I think it's about time for me and I'm going to give it everything I've got."

Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: This year it's difficult to know quite what to expect in Argentina, the change to a winter date will make the character of the stages very different so I'm prepared for pretty much anything. I've heard there's even snow on some stages, so perhaps there'll be some icy or slushy conditions elsewhere. Many of the stages included this year are ones that weren't used last time, so they'll be new to me. El Condor is coming back, and I've been told it's an incredible road, so I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do there. The stages tend to be much faster than those on the last few rallies and although I feel my performance on the slower sections has improved I still feel most at home on the fast stuff, so I'm looking forward to next Thursday."

Mitsubishi

After three rough gravel rallies hosted around the Mediterranean, the FIA World Rally Championship now takes the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team to Argentina for the only round to be hosted on the South American continent. Rally Argentina (July 15-18), the eighth round of the series, will see Gilles and Herve Panizzi joined by Finland's Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindstrom and the team will be looking to build on the progress made during the recent Rally of Turkey.

Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi: "In Turkey we found some things which make the car more balanced and easier to drive; I hope it also works on the difficult gravel surface in Argentina," said Gilles. "Personally, I don't know the rally in Argentina too well as I don't have much experience on this terrain. But after Turkey I would say points should be possible."

Kristian Sohlberg / Kaj Lindstrom: "Having only done the recce I think it's hard to expect too much, but even so my objective is to get points for Mitsubishi," commented Kristian. "The rally is quite fast but some parts are pretty rough, and also the altitude adds another dimension."

-fia/wrc-

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Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Richard Burns , Harri Rovanpera , Gilles Panizzi , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Hervé Panizzi , Timo Rautiainen , Kristian Sohlberg , Michael Park , Daniel Elena , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Risto Pietilainen , Jarmo Lehtinen , Markko Martin , Kaj Lindstrom
Teams Citroën World Rally Team