All change as BP-Ford squad heads for Argentine winter After four consecutive hot weather, rough road rallies in Mediterranean Europe, the cooler climate of a south American winter and smoother roads on the Rally Argentina (14 - 17 July) will...
All change as BP-Ford squad heads for Argentine winter
After four consecutive hot weather, rough road rallies in Mediterranean Europe, the cooler climate of a south American winter and smoother roads on the Rally Argentina (14 - 17 July) will come as a relief to the BP-Ford World Rally Team. It enters the second half of its FIA World Rally Championship campaign lying third in both the manufacturers' and drivers' points tables, intent on improving the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car's strong record in Argentina which has brought two wins in the last four seasons.
Hard, rocky tracks and searing temperatures characterised the second quarter of the season, providing a battering for both cars and drivers alike. The pampas in Argentina's Cordoba province is very different. Road surfaces vary, but generally comprise soft, sandy gravel which frequently becomes rutted when used for a second time and quickly turns muddy in the wet. Temperatures can vary from below freezing in early morning to mid-teens in the afternoon.
While these roads are more forgiving than recent events, BP-Ford drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Mo will not fall into the trap of believing this is an easy rally. Sunday's notorious Giulio Cèsare and El Condor speed tests high amid the spectacular moon-like landscape of the Traslasierra mountains are among the most demanding of the year. Large rocks line the roads and are also kicked onto the driving line by the passage of cars.
River crossings abound (organisers state there are 27 different crossings!) and stunning scenery across the wide open plains provides superb viewing for the passionate Latin American fans who flock into the speed tests in massive numbers. They generate a crackling atmosphere as impromptu roadside fiestas spring up alongside the special stages and there are few who do not enjoy the special ambience that surrounds the event.
Gardemeister, who matched his career-best result with second on the last round in Greece, will be starting this ninth round of the championship for the fourth time. Fifth in 2002 is his best result. "It's a changeable rally and there is a bit of everything there for a driver," said the 30-year-old Finn. "Some roads are fast and others are quite slow. Some are soft and some are hard. It's a difficult rally and I find it quite technical. The weather can also change quickly and if conditions aren't good we can expect fog on the higher stages."
"The most difficult aspect for me is the watersplashes. If the approach is wide and fast and the water isn't deep, then it's possible to enter them quickly. But the deeper crossings are more tricky because the car tends to dive into the water. The dangers are taking water into the engine or hitting the water so fast that the force damages both the car and the engine."
"My performance in Greece was very good. It came close to being the best drive of my career and I felt happy with the Focus all the way through. If I can repeat the same kind of form in Argentina then I'm sure I can take another good result," he added.
Kresta has never competed in Argentina before but completed the recce in 2001. "Starting a new rally for the first time is never easy," said the 29-year-old Czech. "The recce provides some idea of the characteristics of the road, but it's not until I actually drive the stages at competitive speed that I start to gain a proper feel for them. But I'm used to this because I've already competed on several events this year for the first time."
"It's important not to set the targets too high. Gaining as much experience as I can of the Argentine stages is the most important aspect for me. That's what will help me in the future. So I will start at a steady pace without taking risks and focus my efforts on reaching the finish. Already this season that tactic has brought points for both myself and Ford, so I hope the same can happen again in Argentina," he added.
Jan Mo, co-driver to Roman Kresta, will wear a specially constructed plastic support underneath his racesuit to protect his ribs. Thirty-year-old Mo badly bruised his ribs when Kresta crashed on the Rally New Zealand shakedown test in April. The injury flared up again when Kresta went off the road on the opening day of the Acropolis Rally of Greece last month and the pair were forced to withdraw from the final leg. Mo saw a specialist earlier this week in Prague who gave him the all-clear to compete with additional body protection.
Two privately-entered Focus RS cars will start. Antony Warmbold will drive an M-Sport-built 2004-specification car while Argentina's Luis Perez Companc will complete his two-rally programme in a similar car.
BP-Ford has nominated Michelin's Z pattern tyres for the event, which are unbeaten since their launch in New Zealand in April. Designed for a clear and hard surface, the Z tyre has a relatively compact tread pattern to ensure the maximum amount of rubber is in contact with the road for the best possible grip and traction. In the unlikely situation of heavy rain, the team can cut the Z tyre to a ZA pattern. It is a more open tread, designed to penetrate the loose surface in search of firmer ground deeper down.
The rally shows few changes from the 2004 edition and again visits the three valleys of Cordoba province, each offering stages of differing character and landscape. The rally base has moved to the Pro-Racing motorsport complex, 3km outside Villa Carlos Paz. It hosts the single service park, the start and finish, the opening two super special stages on Thursday evening and the final two tests on Sunday lunchtime. The first full day is almost identical to last year, covering eight stages in the Punilla Valley, north of Villa Carlos Paz. Leg two is a mix of the more flowing sandy stages in the Calamuchita Valley to the south in the morning, followed by afternoon tests back in the Punilla Valley. The final leg heads into the Traslasierra mountains to the south-west for the rocky El Condor and Giulio Cesare stages, two of the most famous and toughest in the championship which peak at 2195 metres. Drivers face 22 stages covering 340.82km in a route of 1216.94km.