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Stamina the key for Ford quartet at arduous Argentine fiesta
Ford World Rally Team faces the longest FIA World Rally Championship encounter for almost 10 years in South America next week. More than 500km of rough road competition lie in wait at Rally Argentina (26 - 29 April), making this fifth round of the season the longest since Kenya’s legendary Safari Rally in 2002.
The emphasis will be on endurance with each of the three legs including a marathon speed test. Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson and team-mates Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio face two passes over a 52km special stage in the first leg. The going becomes even tougher in the final day with a 65.74km test across the Los Gigantes mountains, the longest of the season.
The increased distance brings the return of classic roads that will be new to the current generation of WRC drivers, having not been used since 1994.
More than a million people line the roadsides in Cordoba province, nearly 700km north-west of Buenos Aires. The event never fails to excite in a country where the tango mirrors the passion for life, and the atmosphere crackles alongside the gravel roads in the pampas as one of Argentina’s biggest fiesta occasions bursts into life.
The scenery is stunning, too, as each leg visits a different valley. Huge expanses of open plain in the Punilla Valley, north of the rally base in Carlos Paz, contrast with the gentle countryside to the south around the delightfully-named Santa Rosa de Calamuchita. Then the final day climbs into the Traslasierra mountains where rocky ribbons of road wind through a dramatic moonlike landscape.
The roads are predominantly soft and sandy during the opening two days, with plenty of river crossings, but the surface becomes more abrasive during the final leg west of Carlos Paz.
Solberg has delivered consistently strong results at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car during the opening four rounds which have carried him into second into the drivers’ standings, just four points from the lead.
“I enjoy this rally but I think it could be quite different this year,” said Solberg, for whom this will be his 180th WRC start. “It’s 120km longer than in 2011 and that may alter the way in which some drivers approach it. It’s not a sprint, it’s an endurance rally. There’s no need to get too excited too early and attack from the start, so I can wait a little, judge the pace and push later on when I need to.
“It’s a difficult rally. The final day’s stages are at high altitude and conditions can be bad up there. Fog and even ice are not unusual. But I love it, partly because of the atmosphere. The stages are packed with people and even the liaison sections on the public roads have huge crowds. They’re so enthusiastic,” added 37-year-old Solberg, who has three podiums to his name here.
Sordo steps into the Ford squad for a one-off outing to replace the injured Jari-Matti Latvala. His experience of a Fiesta RS WRC is limited to a day’s testing on Wednesday close to the team’s Dovenby Hall base in Britain. Sordo finished second last year, his best result from five starts, and as a Spaniard, the 28-year-old will be a favourite of the Latin American fans.
“I’m excited to be driving for Ford in Argentina because when you are a rally driver all you want to do is compete,” said Sordo. “Although I’ve not had a lot of time behind the wheel of the Fiesta RS WRC, I quickly felt comfortable in the car during testing. The engineers provided a base set-up that worked for me and I’ll approach practice in Argentina with those settings.
“It’s like a home event for me because I speak the same language and in previous years the support from the fans was fantastic. This is only a one-off drive for Ford, but I want to do the best for the team and prove they made the right decision in selecting me. I’m not setting any targets, apart from a points finish, and I’ll judge my pace by how I feel once the rally gets under way,” he added.
* Michelin’s Latitude Cross gravel tyres will be used by the Ford drivers and 40 of these will be available in hard compound. New-for-2012 regulations mean drivers will also have 10 soft compound tyres available if conditions are wet and muddy. However, only 40 units can be used in total during qualifying and the rally itself. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the tyres and each car can carry two spare wheels.
* Five privately-entered Fiesta RS WRCs are entered. Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk and Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet are nominated by M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. Rally de Portugal winners Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson are entered by Adapta World Rally Team, while Brazil World Rally Team returns after its debut there with Daniel Oliveira / Carlos Magalhães at the wheel. The Fiesta RS WRC numbers are completed by Martin Prokop / Zdeněk Hrůzain a Czech Ford National Team car.
The rally is again based around the lakeside service park in Carlos Paz but only a handful of stages are the same as last year. One of these is the floodlit super special stage on the edge of the town that launches the rally on Thursday evening and is repeated on Saturday night. The first full day on Friday is the longest, with almost 200km of competition north of Carlos Paz in the Punilla Valley. The second leg journeys south to the Calamuchita Valley before the final day in the rugged Traslasierra mountains. It includes the classic El Condor and Giulio Cesare stages as well as the 65.74km test from Matadero to Ambul, an amalgamation of four stages last used in 1996. The final test, which crosses the picturesque hanging bridges near Copina, forms the Power Stage, with bonus points on offer to the fastest three drivers. Competitors tackle 19 stages in total, covering 502.73km in a route of 1770.92km.
For more information: Contact Mark Wilford or Russell Atkins at the Ford World Rally Team media desk in Carlos Paz Tel: + 54 3541 484827. Images available at www.worldrallypics.com/ford
ROUND 5 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
26 - 29 April 2012
Thursday 26 April: Qualifying / Day 1
QS Villa Garcia - Cabalango 4.59km 10.58
Start Carlos Paz 19.43
SS1 Parque Tematico Carlos Paz 6.04km 20.08
Finish Carlos Paz 20.28
Friday 27 April: Day 1 (continued) Carlos Paz - Carlos Paz
Serv A Carlos Paz (15 mins) 05.45
SS2 La Pampa - La Pampa I 37.51km 07.28
SS3 Ascochinga - Agua de Oro I 51.88km 08.21
Serv B Carlos Paz (30 mins) 10.48
SS4 La Pampa - La Pampa II 37.51km 12.46
SS5 Ascochinga - Agua de Oro II 51.88km 13.39
Serv C Carlos Paz (30 mins) 16.06
SS6 Cosquin - Villa Allende 19.18km 17.23
Serv D Carlos Paz (flexi 45 mins) 19.06
Finish Carlos Paz 19.51
Saturday 28 April: Day 2 Carlos Paz - Carlos Paz
Serv E Carlos Paz (15 mins) 06.42
SS7 San Agustin - Santa Rosa I 20.18km 08.30
SS8 Amboy - Santa Monica I 20.33km 09.18
SS9 Intiyaco - Golpe de Agua I 39.74km 10.31
Serv F Carlos Paz (30 mins) 12.41
SS10 San Agustin - Santa Rosa II 20.18km 14.44
SS11 Amboy - Santa Monica II 20.33km 15.32
SS12 Intiyaco - Golpe de Agua II 39.74km 16.45
Serv G Carlos Paz (30 mins) 18.55
SS13 Parque Tematico Carlos Paz 6.04km 19.50
Serv H Carlos Paz (flexi 45 mins) 20.13
Finish Carlos Paz 20.58
Sunday 29 April: Day 3 Carlos Paz - Carlos Paz
Serv I Carlos Paz (15 mins) 06.52
SS14 Matadero - Ambul 65.74km 08.00
SS15 Mina Clavero - Giulio Cesare I 17.41km 09.51
SS16 El Condor - Copina 16.32km 10.32
Serv J Carlos Paz (30 mins) 11.42
SS17 Mina Clavero - Giulio Cesare II 17.41km 14.07
SS18 El Condor - Casilla Negra 11.16km 14.48
SS19 Copina 4.15km 15.21
Serv K Carlos Paz (10 mins) 16.24
Finish Carlos Paz 16.44
Rally total 502.73km