After the first long haul event of the season three weeks ago, crews will once again head west, this time to South America and the gravel routes of Rally Argentina. The second in a back-to-back trio of long haul events, Argentina faces competitors with stages of a completely different character on each day.

The third of the big six rallies run so far this year, Argentina is another true classic and one that tests crews with very different conditions on each day of competition. The event has been run in May as part of the World Rally Championship for the last two years, but this season sees the event brought forwards by six weeks in a return to March running which may present more unpredictable weather to add to the mix.

Each of the three days on this demanding event pitches crews against a different backdrop and road surface, making for an incredibly varied event in which those who are fast on one day may slip back the next. The stages on day one are very fast and similar to those in Mexico, while competition on day two is run on a very hard base of sand. Day three climbs high into the mountains and is very twisty. Such is the variation that the team will approach each day anew.

The rally is based in Villa Carlos Paz in the city of Cordoba, nestled into the banks of the San Roque Lake. The service park lies at a height of 650 metres above sea level, but stages rise steeply into the surrounding mountains to a peak of 2100 metres, making this another high-altitude encounter.

Road position is particularly important as crews who are able to run the stages before the loose surface deteriorates too badly will gain significant advantage. The second passes of the stages in the afternoon will likely be increasingly treacherous for those further down the order as the ruts cut deep into the road. On the tough tests and in the inconsistent conditions, drivers must perform consistently to stay at the front.

The stages consist of medium- to high-speed routes that flow through the mountains in and around Cordoba, with a superspecial stage held inside the Cordoba Stadium. Crews will use the same hard compound variant of Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyre as debuted in Mexico.

This rally is extremely tough on cars as the environment is harsh and unforgiving and the high altitude robs the engines of power on the final day.

The event comprises 21 stages over 352 competitive kilometres through the Punilla Valley to the north of Cordoba, Santa Rosa de Calamuchita to the south and Traslasierra to the west. The spectator Superspecial stage inside the Cordoba Stadium will be run a total of three times, once at the end of each day.

Two Impreza WRC2007s are entered for Rally Argentina. Petter Solberg / Phil Mills will drive car number five and Chris Atkinson / Stéphane Prévot will be in car number six.

Petter’s best result here is second, achieved in 2002 and in 2006. Chris’ highest finish is sixth in 2006, and it was on this event last year that he first sat alongside Stéphane Prévot.

Team quotes
David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: “Argentina is a spectacular event but it also brings a host of new challenges to the season for both drivers and cars. After the strong pace we demonstrated in Mexico, the team have been working hard to maintain our upward momentum and I’m confident that we will continue this progress in Argentina. The key is to keep up the pace of development so as to really hit our stride mid-year with the introduction of the new car.”

Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: “Argentina is another fast gravel event. Each day is different, which makes it very challenging. We treat the three days almost as three individual rallies when it comes to setup and our approach. If it rains the roads will become incredibly tricky and slippery, especially as all WRC teams will use Pirelli’s hard compound gravel tyre. Road cleaning isn’t a factor here as the roads are generally harder, but road position will still be important for surface conditions. Our target remains a top five finish for both Petter and Chris.”

Driver quotes
Petter Solberg: “The rally is very narrow and fast, and it’s very good! Especially the people: there are so many fans that always come to watch the rally which makes it very special. The team have worked very hard since Mexico, I’m feeling very positive and I think everyone is feeling more confident for Argentina. We’ll go there and judge our pace but I think we can fight at the top. We’ll get the feel of the car from shakedown and then we’ll take it step by step and push from there. I’ll push hard, and then push a little more. That’s my approach.”

Chris Atkinson: “Argentina is probably one of the most difficult rallies for me. It seems to be a rally you need quite a bit of experience at, and that suits those who’ve been here for a long time. You recall Sainz and other greats winning this rally and making their careers because of it, and it’s a rally I’ve still to come to grips with speed-wise overall. I think we could be even more susceptible to punctures here than in Mexico so that will be an important factor. I joined Stéphane here last year for the first time, but it’s been great with him this last year so I don’t think it will make a difference. We can use our pace notes from last year though so it might mean that he won’t have so many hours of rewriting them!”

Between the rallies
Since Rally Mexico Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson have been using the time to relax and continue their training in advance of Rally Argentina. Solberg and Atkinson spent most of the week increasing their level of training for the busy period ahead, and Chris took one day out to go snowboarding.

Phil Mills and Stéphane Prévot both returned home to spend time with their families relaxing, training and preparing their notes. For Prévot, rather than having to rewrite pace notes for new events, this is the first rally on which the duo have experience together to build upon.
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