RALLY ARGENTINA PREVIEW: MEET THE RALLY AFICIONADOS
- Rally Argentina is the fifth round in the 2012 WRC calendar
- Loeb & Elena confident of a strong result, having won the event on the past six occasions
- Hirvonen & Lehtinen also aiming for strong finish, having finished as runners up in 2011
The fifth round in this year’s FIA World Championship, Rally Argentina is always a popular event on the calendar thanks to its stunning scenery and the great atmosphere served up by the country’s motorsport ‘aficionados’. The Citroën Total World Rally Team’s line-up features the crews that finished first and second here in 2011: Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena – who have also won the last six rallies in Argentina – and Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen. With over 500km of timed sections, the South American event will test the staying power of drivers and teams alike.
One thing is certain, Citroën Racing loves competing at Rally Argentina. With seven wins at Villa Carlos Paz under its belt, the Citroën Total World Rally Team will be looking to keep their amazing run going. Before the event got underway, however, the drivers stopped off in Buenos Aires for the weekend. On Saturday 21 April, Sébastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen and Thierry Neuville burnt some rubber in their DS3 WRCs at a roadshow organised in front of the capital’s law school.
The crews have now moved to the Córdoba region, where they will begin preparations for what promises to be a particularly demanding rally. Making full use of the regulations, the organisers have taken the total length of the timed stages past the 500km mark, compared with 350km for the majority of WRC events. The Matadero/Ambul special stage, a 65.74km-long run scheduled for Sunday morning at 8am, may provide the event’s toughest challenge and is certainly one of the longest stages seen in WRC for a long time!
“The ‘funniest’ thing, if I can put it like that, is that this stage has never been run before,” noted Daniel Elena. “The roads in Argentina vary from very flowing gravel to fairly rough gravel. You never know quite what to expect. What is certain, however, is that none of the drivers will be able to go flat out from start to finish. There’s a good chance gaps will appear and then disappear, but there may well only be a few seconds between the leaders at the finish. This stage won’t be the only decisive stage. There are also two runs on the 52km-long Ascochinga/Agua de Oro stage, the 39kmlong Intiyaco/Golpe de Agua stage, and so on.”
Sébastien Loeb is not intimidated by this daunting programme: “After the disappointment of Portugal, I am determined to get back to winning ways, especially at this rally, with its unrivalled atmosphere. Once again, choosing our starting positions for the first leg is going to be a real headache. In Portugal, we took a measured risk by opting to go first, because there were only 35km of special stages on the first day. In Argentina, there are over 200km of timed stages on the Friday. If it rains, we’ll need to be at the front to avoid having to wade through the mud. If it doesn’t, then we’d certainly be better off starting in around 15th position.”
Runner-up here in 2011, Mikko Hirvonen is also keen to put the last rally behind him: “We thought that we would see a real pecking order between the various competitors established in Portugal. The way the race worked out meant we didn’t get that and I think this rally is going to be very open again. In Portugal, we spent the most of the rally driving at a measured pace. The main thing was to stay on the road, as we had a good lead. I can’t wait to get back to real racing in Argentina. The rally has some very beautiful stages and I always enjoy competing here.”
Three questions to… Mikko Hirvonen
Do you feel that your control over the Citroën DS3 WRC reached new heights at Rally Portugal?
“It was a very unusual rally. We found ourselves clear at the front quite quickly and the pace we then adopted was more about surviving than anything else. At the same time, our lead over the other guys just kept getting bigger! Jarmo joked that at that level of performance we’d be fit for the Finnish Championship… But we didn’t need show a real turn of speed, we just had to control the race to the end, which is what we did. Preliminary testing in Argentina has given me the chance to get back to driving at a pace more in keeping with the WRC.”
Citroën has achieved a lot of success in Argentina in the past. Are you pleased to be competing in this event with the “Reds”?
“I am pleased to compete in every rally with Citroën! It’s true that Argentina is a special rally, the atmosphere is incredible and some stages, such as Mina Clavero/Giulio Cesare, are like no other. I had my best ever result here last year, when I finished as runner-up. I hope I can do at least as well this year; in any event, I am determined to be in the mix with the top drivers. The rally will be all the more interesting as this year’s format leans even more towards endurance.”
From Sweden to Mexico, and Mexico to Portugal: with Jarmo, you’ve been recording videos recounting your most unlikely of journeys from one rally to the next. Can we expect more of the same?
“Yes, you’ll be able to see my adventures between Portugal and Argentina in a few days. I had this idea and we decided to actually do it. So I carry my two enormous travel bags with me from one event to the next, and we have fun making these little films. It gives us a chance to show people who don’t have the opportunity to travel a little insight into the countries we go through. I am very involved in managing my website and I am an active user of Facebook and Twitter. I like these media because they allow me to communicate directly with my fans.”