The fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship sees the teams head to South America for Rally Argentina. Argentina is always a favourite among the drivers as it has some of the most vibrant and passionate fans on the WRC calendar. Fans from all over camp out high in the hills with their barbecues and beer to bring a unique fiesta flair to the WRC.
Rally Argentina takes place around the stunning area of Villa Carlos Paz in Córdoba Province. Over the three days drivers have to contend with many different surfaces ranging from sandy gravel on day one, to rocky mountain roads on day three. The event features the greatest difference in elevation on the WRC calendar with changes exceeding 1,500 metres, with the main attraction being the world renowned high-altitude El Condor stage which peaks at 2,138 metres above sea level.
All drivers will be extremely motivated for Argentina after a long five week break, since Rally Portugal. What will make the drivers particularly motivated this year is that none of the current drivers have actually won in Argentina, although many did compete last year which will give some drivers an advantage as 10 of the 14 stages are identical to 2013.
Current championship leader Sébastien Ogier is particularly determined to continue his winning ways in Argentina but is aware of the challenges ahead. “I have never won the Rally Argentina,” said the defending World Champion. “I came close in 2011 and just missed out last year too. That makes me all the more determined to win in Argentina.”
“The itinerary is almost identical to 2013, which could be a slight advantage for us. Despite this, a gravel rally can change dramatically from one year to the next. For this reason, we will be particularly focussed during the Recce.”
Ogier is currently leading the Championship with 91 points, because of this the Frenchman must open the route on day one while his Volkswagen Motorsport team-mate Jarri-Matti Latvala follows behind. Latvala is hoping for the same consistency in Argentina that he and the team have showed in the first four rounds but the Finn is aware of the dangers that lie ahead: “The rally suits my driving style,” proclaimed Latvala. “But is not easy for the drivers.”
“If you’re not careful, you can hit a large stone as soon as you push yourself to the limit. As such, you always have to give yourself a little breathing space, in order to react quickly if necessary. I would be very happy with a podium finish.”
Citroen Racing have had a fairly steady campaign so far. With three podiums in four rallies the French team are trying their hardest to improve and catch the VW duo of Ogier and Latvala. Mads Ostberg currently leads the way for Citroen with 48 points to leave the Dane sitting third in the Championship.
Ostberg is looking forward to Argentina and is hoping to show more signs of improvement after his podium in Portugal. “Argentina in the top 5 of my favourite rallies,” said Ostberg. “The fans and their passionate support create a real party atmosphere. Some of the stages are very beautiful.”
“Our preparation has been perfect – the development has been very positive. I am working on my driving style in order to be more competitive in the Citroën DS3 WRC – it’s a long process which isn’t going to work overnight but the pace at which we are improving already is very promising.”
Kris Meeke has no WRC experience of Rally Argentina. But the 34 year old is hoping he can draw on his previous visits to Carlos Paz with the IRC. “I competed at this rally as part of the IRC calendar in 2010,’ reported Kris. “The stages weren’t all the same but I have a good idea of what the roads are like here. I’ll be a little bit less in the dark than in the previous rounds.”
Meeke has endured a tough start to the campaign with just one podium at the opening round in Monte Carlo. Meeke however feels all he needs to do is cut out the mistakes. “We have to finish a rally without any mistakes. Whatever happens, regardless of the conditions, we must bring the car home.”
“Since the start of the season we have had good pace. We just need to cut out the mistakes. And first and foremost that means making good notes during recce.”
Following the teams first stage wins in the WRC in Rally de Portugal, Hyundai Motorsport will be hoping their drivers Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo can continue to make progress and take more stage wins.
Neuville knows the Argentinean stages well, as this will be the third outing here for the Belgian. Neuville explains what makes Rally Argentina so special: “Rally Argentina is quite hard on both the cars and the drivers. There are a lot of tricky places with water splashes – and a lot of hidden stones that can easily damage the car. Argentina is a special event thanks to the fans and the atmosphere they create – we always get great support there. We tested in Portugal in March to prepare for Argentina and I think we are all set for the event.”
Following Sordo’s sublime effort at Rally de Portugal where he claimed two stage wins, he was appointed to run in Argentina. “I’m really grateful that the team gave me the chance to compete in Argentina after the good performance we had in Portugal,” said the Spaniard. “I intend to make the most of this opportunity to help the team in the development of the Hyundai i20 WRC as we did in Portugal.”
Spirits are also high at M-Sport World Rally Team. Mikko Hirvonen led the previous outing in Portugal and Elfyn Evans currently sits 7th in the standings so the whole team is confident going forward and claiming some rally wins. Hirvonen said: “We were really happy with the result in Portugal, and we’ll be hoping for a bit more in Argentina. When everything is working well, we know that we have the car and the pace to be challenging at the top, and that is what we are aiming for.”
Ogier gets the action under way on Thursday and finishes on Sunday with the El Condor – Copina power stage. Make sure you come back to The Checkered Flag for daily updates from the Rally.