Time for Round Five! Its back to the rough stuff for the first in five rounds that are going to all feature gravel and no tarmac. This event for the last two years has featured new winners with Kris Meeke winning in 2015 and Hayden Paddon last year.
Incredibly, Seb Ogier has never won this event. Him and Julien have finished in the runner up position three times in seven starts.
Now, you could argue that this event is the modern-day Acropolis Rally, given the unbelievable roughness. This year there are 18 stages covering 357.59km’s! It’s a tough event indeed. Also, it’s held in their autumn, so there will be fog on some stages.
The Citroen team have won this event 10 times since 2004, including the last time they entered this event in 2015 when Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle took their first victory! However last time out they retired from the lead. The team investigated the problem and this is what their Technical Director Laurent Fregosi had to say.
“When we got back from the Tour de Corse, we analysed Kris Meeke’s car to identify the reason for his retirement. The cause was a broken lubrication system connector, so it wasn’t an actual engine issue. Obviously, we studied an alternative solution, which came through with flying colours at our recent pre-event testing. During the five days of testing, we focused on the suspension, which is a very decisive factor in car performance and driver confidence on gravel. Argentina is a tough event, as the loose ground deteriorates between the two passes, exposing large rocks on the road. Combined with the high speeds reached, the impacts subject the chassis and the suspensions systems to considerable stress.”
So, here are the details of each stage awaiting the crews.
RALLY ARGENTINA SCHEDULE (GMT-3)
THURSDAY 27 APRIL
8.00am Shakedown (Villa Carlos Paz – Cabalango)
4.00pm: Start (Villa Carlos Paz)
5.10pm: Regroup (Córdoba)
7.08pm: SS1 – Ciudad de Córdoba (1.75km)
8.18pm: Parc ferme (Villa Carlos Paz)
FRIDAY 28 APRIL
7.00am: Service A (Villa Carlos Paz – 15 min)
8.38am: SS2 – San Agustin – Villa General Belgrano 1 (19.95km)
9.41am: SS3 – Amboy / Santa Monica 1 (20.44km)
10.24am: SS4 – Santa Rosa / San Agustin 1 (23.85km)
12.29pm: SS5 – Super Especial Fernet Branca 1 (6.04km)
1.09pm: Service B (Villa Carlos Paz – 30 min)
3.02pm: SS6 – San Agustin – Villa General Belgrano 2 (19.95km)
4.05pm: SS7 – Amboy / Santa Monica 2 (20.44km)
4.48pm: SS8 – Santa Rosa / San Agustin 2 (23.85km)
7.08pm: SS9 – Super Especial Fernet Branca 2 (6.04km)
7.43pm: Flexi Service C (Villa Carlos Paz – 45 min)
SATURDAY 29 APRIL
7.20am: Service D (Villa Carlos Paz – 15 min)
8.08am: SS10 – Tanti – Villa Bustos 1 (20.80km)
9.21am: SS11 – Los Gigantes – Cantera El Condor 1 (38.68km)
10.14am: SS12 – Boca del Arroyo – Bajo del Pungo 1 (20.52km)
12.04pm: Service E (Villa Carlos Paz – 30 min)
1.08pm: SS13 – Tanti – Villa Bustos 2 (20.80km)
2.21pm: SS14 – Los Gigantes – Cantera El Condor 2 (38.68km)
3.14pm: SS15 – Boca del Arroyo – Bajo del Pungo 2 (20.52km)
5.04pm: Flexi Service F (Villa Carlos Paz – 45 min)
SUNDAY 30 APRIL
7.15am: Service G (Villa Carlos Paz – 15 min)
9.13am: SS16 – El Condor – Copina (16.32km)
10.56am: SS17 – Mina Clavero – Giulio Cesare (22.64km)
12.18pm: SS18 – Power Stage El Condor (16.32km)
1.41pm: Service H (Villa Carlos Paz – 10 min)
Right then, let’s hear from the drivers then.
Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT
It’s remarkable to think that it now two years since Kris won his first WRC event. I was lucky enough to write about this as one of my first ever reports, and to see him go on to win further rallies since then has been fantastic. We saw that the car has very good pace on gravel with Kris and Paul’s win in Mexico last month. There’s no doubt that they will be near the front again.
Kris Meeke said:
“I only have good memories of racing in Argentina: third place on my first appearance and then my first WRC win, which is now two years ago! This rally is also special for its atmosphere and the excitement – some might even call it craziness – of the crowds. As soon as you get off the plane, you can feel that people love motorsport. Even though I didn’t compete here last year, I’ve every reason to feel confident. What with my win in Mexico, the start of the Tour de Corse and the work done in testing this week, I feel good coming into this rally. I’m nonetheless aware of the difficulties of this event, which can be fairly unpredictable.”
Craig Breen said:
“I can’t wait to compete in my very first rally outside Europe! Argentina looks like a fantastic country, with some magnificent stages. I know I’m going to have a lot to learn and I’m aware that it could be a tough weekend for me. It’ll be my first event on gravel in the C3 WRC and it’s a quite a few years now since I last took part in a rally which was completely new to me. I’ll be making the most of every kilometre to build up my experience, without thinking about the final outcome. I’ll be able to use the work done during this week’s test in Portugal: I had a very good feeling in the car.”
It’s been great to see M-Sport back at the front again after a long time of no wins. They’ve lead the manufacturers championship from the start and Seb leads the drivers’ championship. He’ll be looking to continue this, but on the first day he’ll be running first on the road. This will make tyre choice critical. Feedback from the safety gravel crews will be extremely important.
Sébastien Ogier said:
“Rally Argentina is the only event that Julien and I have not yet won and, every year, we go there with the ambition of securing victory for the first time. That has not changed this year. We want to win, but it won’t be easy.
“We’ll be opening the road through on the first day which brings its own challenges, and then there are the stages themselves. The surface is unlike anything we have visited so far this year. It’s gravel, but it’s a completely different type of gravel to what we experienced in Mexico.
“In Argentina, the roads are much softer and sandier but also quite rough in places. That means that challenging for the win is always going to be a compromise between speed and endurance.
“I had two days of development testing in Portugal last week and everything is moving in the right direction, so we’ll be hoping for another strong result next week.”
Ott Tänak said:
“It feels good to be heading back to gravel, but we start with a big challenge at Rally Argentina.
“It’s not like my favourite high-speed events where you can use the entire road and slide from one side to the other. Here, there is always something to hit. Rocks can often get dragged onto the stage and you need to keep your eyes open – you have to keep that margin and know which risks are worth taking and which ones aren’t.
“In the past, I’ve not had the best of luck in Argentina, but I feel as though we’ve done a lot to improve ourselves and it would be nice to put that right this year.
“We had a good test last week – working to improve the handling of the car and to get an even better feeling behind the wheel. I’m looking forward to next week and I think we have a fair chance of a strong result, so let’s see what we can do.”
Elfyn Evans said:
“We’ve got some special memories from Rally Argentina, and we’re looking forward to getting back on the loose stuff. We’ve not had the best of luck so far this season, but hopefully that’ll change when we get back behind the wheel next week.
“It’s an event that I’ve always enjoyed, but you have to take a fairly measured approach. Each day is really different in terms of character, but there is always very little margin for error with something to catch you out around practically every corner. You have to have a clean rally for the majority and keep mistakes to a minimum.
“That said, it is definitely a real highlight on the calendar. The fans are phenomenal – some camping out on El Condor days before the action begins. There’s a real passion for motorsport in Argentina and it’s always special to compete here.”
This team have definitely built the fastest car, and in Thierry a great driver capable of winning. The win last time out in Corsica has kickstarted their season and the team won this event last year with Hayden and John taking their first WRC victory. The team will be determined to continue this and take the fight to championship leader Seb.
Hayden Paddon said:
“When you go back to a rally where you’ve got good memories, it’s very easy to be in a positive frame of mind. I would love to repeat that result again, although I’m obviously under no illusions as to how difficult that it will be. However, once you’ve won it once, you have to go back with the target of trying to win it again and that’s exactly what we are aiming to do. We have a good run of gravel rallies ahead of us and we should have a decent road position, so I’m determined that Argentina will be the real start of my season.”
Thierry Neuville commented:
“The result from Tour de Corse is still fresh in our minds so we want to carry this feeling forward. Argentina is a completely different challenge to what we faced in Corsica, but we will do our best to pick up some momentum in the Championship with another good performance. Rally Argentina is probably the roughest rally of the season. It’s a rally where you need to take extra care in certain sections. The terrain doesn’t suit my style of driving perfectly and it is a rally where I have never found too much speed. Yet, this year we are looking forward to it with our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. I think we will be much better in these conditions and a lot more comfortable as well.”
Dani Sordo said:
“The rallies in the Americas are always special events for me personally. The roads are really rough and there are always so many spectators. The atmosphere is guaranteed to be fantastic, and we can really feel that support when we are on the stages. It gives us a boost. However, Argentina is an incredibly demanding rally for both car and crew, so we know that we will have to be at our absolute best to secure a good result. We always like to drive in Rally Argentina, so we are excited about our chances. It was great to score our first podium of the season in Corsica, despite it being a difficult weekend. I hope we can make a more confident mark on next weekend’s rally and aim for another top-three performance.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Toyota have made a remarkable return to the world championship, and with Jari-Matti they really do have a great driver. He’s won this event before as well, so despite Toyota not having much experience, they will be near the front I believe.
Jari-Matti Latvala said:
“I’ve always had a very good feeling with Rally Argentina. We’ve won it before, and even last year we were leading until we had a problem and went off on Saturday afternoon. The first two days are fast and flowing, then the last day is slower and more technical, with tricky stages featuring lots of corners and the possibility of very bad weather conditions, especially fog. Although the roads tend to be soft and sandy there is generally quite good grip, I have been working on the differential settings in particular: I didn’t feel that they were the best for me in Mexico, so that is something I really wanted to improve for Argentina, and we have some good solutions now.”
Juho Hänninen said:
“I have many fond memories of Argentina, so I’m really looking forward to getting back there after many years away as it’s one of my favourite gravel rallies. It’s not just the stages that are fantastic, but also the fans, who are so passionate about rallying: even on the road sections. Of course, one big unknown is the weather because everything is possible over there, which makes it difficult if the stage conditions change after the recce. In any case, it won’t affect our set-up a lot: if it’s really muddy you can make the car a bit softer but we won’t make any big changes. Whatever happens, it’s important just to drive naturally without feeling too much pressure.”
Onebet Jipocar WRT
Mads missed both Rally Mexico and then also The Tour de Corse events, so comes into the event with good knowledge, but lacking experience with the new generation of WRC cars. Rally Mexico was missed as his wife Beate was due to give birth and then the team missed Tour de Corse as they didn’t get the tarmac suspension in time to do a proper test. The good news is that the team did a two-day test in Portugal to get some seat time and test suspension and differential settings for Argentina. They feel that they are as ready as they could be, and also this event is very different to the Rally Mexico event, even though they are both gravel.
Mads Østberg said:
“I have done only one rally in the 2017-spec car, while most of my opponents has done four. I have a good feeling before Argentina, but must admit I am a bit unsure of what I can expect result-wise in my first competitive outing after nearly three months. I love the stages and the atmosphere, and I am positive to deliver some good stage times, but the competition level has become very high this season and I lack some experience with the new spec car compared to the other guys. My goal for the season is to fight for podium places, I can`t promise this will happen in Argentina.”
So, we are primed for another great rally I believe. Four different winners so far, this season, could that trend continue, or will we see the first repeat winner?
Warren Nel, WRC editor