After a six week break, the 2015 World Rally Championship jets off this weekend to South America for Rally Argentina. One of the longest in the calendar in terms of competitive mileage, as well as featuring some of the most punishing stages, this is the true test for both man and machine.
First run as a round of the WRC in 1980 following its debut the previous year, the rally has been a feature on the calendar ever since. Originally it was held in Tucuman Province before it took a year off in 1982 and moved to San Carlos de Bariloche the following season. In 1984 it relocated once again to Cordoba Province where it has remained ever since. The winner of that inaugural WRC Rally Argentina in 1980 was Walter Rohrl, who went on to win the Drivers’ Championship that year. It has only been off the calendar on two further occasions: in 1995 where the championship ran a reduced number of rallies and in 2010 when it was temporarily moved to the IRC calendar as part of the WRC’s ‘alternate years for rallies’ policy.
The 2015 Rally
As in previous years the rally is centred on Carlos Paz, which also is where the service park is located. The crews will tackle 12 special stages, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider that two stages are more than fifty kilometres long and are run twice each, you can see why many think of this as one of the toughest rallies on the car and also the driver. The rally starts on Thursday night with a short Super Special Stage before the crews start the rally proper with the 52km Agua de Oro – Ascochinga stage, which runs in a block of two along with Villa Bustos – Tanti and is repeated later in a day before finishing with another SSS. Day 2 is made up of two stages repeated but will see the cars compete in the classic stages of Capilla del Monte and San Marcos, which features several water splashes and these will provide the fans with some great action. The final leg is a solitary 16.32km stage that is repeated later as the Power Stage but since the stage in question is El Condor, one of the most abrasive and trickiest stages in modern rallying, this year’s instalment of Rally Argentina promises plenty of drama right up to the end.
Ones to Watch
The 2015 WRC season has thus far been utterly dominated by Sebastien Ogier, who has already established a sizeable lead in the drivers’ championship after only three events. He seems utterly at one with his Volkswagen Polo R and will be the one to beat, despite having to be first car on the road on the first two days. Last year’s winner was Ogier’s team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala who has had a disappointing start to his 2015 campaign after suffering major problems on the last two rounds and he will be desperate to win here to close the gap on the Frenchman. The third Volkswagen of Andreas Mikkelsen finished fourth last year but wasn’t far off the pace of his more senior team-mates and is lying second in the Championship thus far. In Sweden he threw away the chance at victory on the final stage and has shown that has the potential to take his maiden WRC victory. Outside of the Volkswagen team, there are plenty of other drivers who have the speed to get at least at podium here, namely the Citroens of Mads Ostberg and Kris Meeke, with the latter hoping to emulate his third overall from last year to help boost what has been a poor season thus far. Thierry Neuville in the Hyundai has been a consistent front runner this season and looks set to be there or there abouts again here. Finally there is Ott Tanak, who has shown that he has the pace to succeed, could do well if he keeps the car on the road.
Rewind to 2014
Last year’s rally was won by Jari-Matti Latvala who, after overhauling his team-mate Sebastien Ogier on the final stage of the opening day, built up a strong advantage of nearly a minute and a half over the Frenchman by the end. Andreas Mikkelsen could have finished as runner-up to Latvala after setting some very competitive stage times but a technical problem at the close of Day 1 meant he had to Super-rally. Nonetheless he nearly managed to take the final podium position away from the Citroen of Kris Meeke but missed out by 23.6 seconds. After suffering problems on the same stage as Mikkelsen, Thierry Neuville came home in fifth ahead of Robert Kubica, who took advantage of the attritional nature of the stages by driving a clean rally to sixth.
Support Category Preview
As well as being host for the WRC cars, this rally also makes up the fourth rounds in the WRC-2 and WRC-3 Championships and whilst there are no entries for the latter, WRC-2 looks set to be just as exciting and eventful as the other events this season. Favourite for victory is Championship leader Jari Ketomaa, who has already taken the win in Sweden and boosted it with a podium finish in Mexico. However if he trips up then there are several drivers who could take advantage. Monte Carlo winner and reigning WRC-3 Champion Stephane Lefebvre is looking to gain experience on the gravel but has already showed flashes of speed on the surface. Peruvian Nicolas Fuchs, in his ‘home’ WRC event, could probably be the closest challenger to Ketomaa, having finished second on last year’s instalment whilst Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari could take advantage of the high retirement ratio with another consistent drive. Whilst not part of the WRC, this event also runs as the first round of the CODASUR South American Rally Championship. The entry list for this category sees some familiar faces from motorsport and beyond that, with the likes of Marcos Ligato, Federico Villagra, Miguel-Angel Baldoni and 2002 Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian among the entrees.
1st: Sebastien Ogier
2nd: Jari-Matti Latvala
3rd: Mads Ostberg
WRC-2 Winner: Nicolas Fuchs
CODASUR Winner: Federico Villagra