Rally of Argentina: Round nine preview

As the FIA World Rally Championship heads into the second half of its season, the heat of the Mediterranean summer is replaced by cold winter weather in the southern hemisphere. Rally Argentina was first held as recently as 1979 and draws on a...

As the FIA World Rally Championship heads into the second half of its season, the heat of the Mediterranean summer is replaced by cold winter weather in the southern hemisphere. Rally Argentina was first held as recently as 1979 and draws on a rich motorsport tradition, using twisting and challenging roads around C0x00f3rdoba on which legendary drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio learned their skills in town-to-town races. It is without doubt one of the most testing rounds of the World Championship, for while many rallies now repeat stages in a compact area, this event roams from the cattle country to the north near Tanti and La Falda to the spectacular 2,000-meter mountain passes of El C0x00f3ndor and Giulio C0x00e9sare to the south.

Heading across the Atlantic to South America, Rally Argentina is a daunting test with a fanatical following, hundreds of thousands of ecstatic fans cramming almost every kilometer of the route. Far in the distance, the lower slopes of the Andes can be seen from the host town and lakeside holiday resort of Villa Carlos Paz, near C0x00f3rdoba - the country's second largest city - some 700 kilometers north east of Buenos Aires.

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 C0x00e9sare 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.


The big question for this weekend's () round of the World Rally Championship is will the 1.5 million spectators who turn out for the Argentinean round of the WRC watch S0x00e9bastien Loeb take his sixth win in a row and set a new World record for consecutive wins. The omens have to be good. Loeb came second in this event last year, he loves this event and clearly he and the Citroen team are on form. The only question mark over the team is the role Loeb's team mate, Fran0x00e7ois Duval, will play in the event. Rested for two events with Carlos Sainz replacing him so that Citroen could get its manufacturers' title defence back on track, he returns for the Argentinean round.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "Running first on the road will probably be a handicap throughout the opening day," says Loeb. "The stages of Leg 1 were the same last year and I was surprised to see that I lost even more time second time through once the sandy surface had been cut up by the first run. That said, my direct rivals in the championship will be running in a similar position and will face more or less the same conditions as me. After that, we will see whether the cooler temperatures in comparison with recent rounds will have any effect on the relative competitiveness of the different teams. In my opinion, our mission promises to be a little more difficult. But whichever way it goes, I intend to give it everything I've got."

Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "I like the stages and their variety. They are not easy though. Last year they caught out quite a lot of drivers. There are badly placed rocks in the apexes and jumps which launch the car in all directions. I am quite pleased that the route hasn't changed since last year. It means we already have all the notes and that will enable Sven and me to concentrate on fine-tuning the way we work together. This process began during our pre-Argentina testing, continued during the recce for Greece and then during our pre-Finland testing. It's OK..."


The Subaru World Rally Team will be taking a two-car team to Argentina. The two Impreza WRC2005's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn MacNeall). Both Petter and Chris are eligible to score points in the Manufacturers' Championship. Petter has competed in Argentina five times before. On his most recent outing in 2004 he made an excellent start and held the lead until a water-splash related engine problem brought his rally to a halt after SS4. Petter will be seeking to secure a good points finish next week. Rally Argentina is a brand new challenge for Subaru's youngest signing, Chris Atkinson. The Australian has never visited South America before and will be concentrating on learning more about his car in the specialist conditions.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: Argentina is a completely different rally compared to the others we've done recently. Our performance there last year was good and we were leading the event for a while so I'm feeling good about the potential. As a rally, I like it a lot and I think maybe it's one of the events where I can fight to the top. Certainly I'm expecting some tough competition, but we won't really know how good the other guys are until the rally begins, but I'm looking forward to getting out there. We are a team that likes a challenge and it's a type of motivation I respond well to."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "I've been doing my research, studying the TV footage from previous events and from what I can see it looks like a good rally. The roads are soft and tend to get fairly rutted, but I think they should suit my driving style. Of course, every rally is unique, but I reckon it looks pretty similar in places to one that I used to drive in Canberra as part of the Asia Pacific Championship. You never know, the experience I got there may help. As far as my objectives go, once again I'm planning to put in a solid performance and get experience of the whole rally. I think I was a little over cautious with my opening pace in Greece, and I'm hoping to attack a bit more next week."


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.

Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: 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.

Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: 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.


Marcus Gronholm won this event outright in 2003, while Markko Martin has also produced some top performances in the South American event. Both the Finn and his Estonian team-mate will be out to show off their talent this time round at the wheel of the Peugeot 307 WRC which promises to be extremely competitive over the Argentine stages. Peugeot travels to Round 9 of the championship in 2nd place in the Manufacturers' points table and will be eager to get back to its winning ways following its performance in Greece which confirmed the potential of both the 307 WRC and its driver Marcus Gr0x00f6nholm.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "It was disappointing not to be able to fight for victory in Greece all the way to the finish, so I will be flat out in Argentina which is an event I like very much. I hope the different weather and terrain will be favourable to us, notably on the tyre front. In any case, we have no choice. Although my points deficit in the Drivers' standings looks like it could be difficult to make up, we still have every chance in the Manufacturers' championship and that remains our objective. But we will now need to be thinking in terms of outright victory if we are to stay in the title chase."

Markko Martin/Michael Park: Markko Martin has competed in Argentina on three previous occasions, finishing 4th overall in 2002 and coming close to spoiling Marcus Gr0x00f6nholm's triumphant run in 2003. "After twenty stages, I was in the lead before being sidelined by a mechanical problem practically at the end of Leg 2," recalls the Estonian. "Last year, I was 2nd when I went off in SS5. That time it was driver failure! I hope I can obtain a better result in Argentina than I did in Greece. The stages should be more favourable to us because the 307 WRC is very competitive over fast stages."


Having missed last year's Rally Argentina, the 2005 event will be the first visit to the rally for the 0x582boda Fabia WRC 05. With testing banned on events outside Europe the team has very little data with which to work to find the perfect set-up for what is often a very tricky round of the championship.

Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: Argentina is a very nice rally with a great atmosphere and a lot of very enthusiastic fans. Sometimes it is fast and sometimes just as rough as Acropolis. The roads are often quite damp and the event is famous for having watersplashes on nearly every stage.

Jani Paasonen/Jani Vainikka: Last year was my first visit to Argentina but I won Group N so I hope that I can also get a really good result this year on my first visit with a WRC car. Argentina is a really nice rally for me -- I like it very much.


The event is a firm favorite of many of the crews and the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team will be fielding Harri Rovanper0x00e4/Risto Pietil0x00e4inen and "Gigi" Galli/Guido D'Amore in this, the ninth round of the series. Harri Rovanper0x00e4 has contested Rally Argentina no fewer than seven times, however the Finn has mixed results, having been blighted with technical problems on four occasions. In his first outing on this South American event (1997) he claimed a World 2 Liter victory, but it was then not until 2003 that he saw the finish ramp again. That year he finished a fine fourth overall and last year he and co-driver Risto Pietil0x00e4inen were again in the points, arriving back in Cordoba fifth. Team-mates Gigi Galli and Guido D'Amore competed in Argentina for the first time last year, and the Italians - driving Mitsubishi's all-conquering Group N Lancer Evolution - were the revelation of the event. They held second for much of the rally and even briefly led before being sidelined on the final day with a mechanical problem.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "Argentina is a good rally with lots of nice spectators, great food and steaks in particular!" said Harri. "The stages are quite soft, with gravel not stones, and some stages are a little bit rough. In some ways some of the stages - in places - are quite similar to Turkey this year. I think it will be a particularly good event for our tires and hopefully it will stay dry and not too hot. My feeling now is that we can perhaps fight more closely with the leaders; it can be a very interesting rally I think".

Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "I like Argentina, absolutely, it's a good rally with an unbelievable amount of spectators", said Gigi. "There is always a lot of loose but hopefully we have the right Pirelli tires which should work very well in these conditions. If Torii-san says I must make maximum attack, it will be my pleasure! I think we can expect to make a good result and we have proved the reliability of the car is much better. Is it an event I can win? Anyway, as always I try my best to make a good result for Mitsubishi".


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team