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Well, here we are finally. I have been in Argentina for almost two weeks and it's finally rally time. On Wednesday we completed recce - it's a different experience to anything at home. For starters, the first two stages we completed where close to 130 km from service. These are Saturday Heat 2 stages.

Let me back track by saying over the entire event there are only six stages over three heats. I am not 100% sure why but I have a feeling it's simply the distances to stages that mean you can’t have anymore, coupled with the amount of traffic. It means the smartest thing to do to keep everything running to schedule is to run less stages, and they are mammoth stages with five out of the six stages over 30 km each, and the condition of some of these stages you have to question. Nonetheless it's a WRC event and the FIA approved the stages.

We only managed to complete two stages of recce. I am working with two experienced photographers on these events and whilst I would have liked to continue on with recce, it's not a must. With over 20 years experience covering WRC events between the two of them, they have enough knowledge of the stages to know exactly where to go.

Thursday morning was the first of four days shooting the cars on stages. We began with shakedown, and this was also my first experience with Argentinian spectators. They are certainly a lively and rowdy bunch! I am probably lucky I don’t speak Spanish but it's not hard to tell what they were saying, and it's not just to me, it's to any and all media, so I didn’t feel special!

Shakedown was held just 15 km west of Villa Carlos Paz which is the hub of the rally, on a short 5 km stage. Each competitor had two official runs then as many as they wanted thereafter.

Later that afternoon the first of the Super Special Stages was run.

Friday we move to the first heat and stages 60 km north of Cordoba.

Heat 1

Well Heat 1 is done. Latvala leads over Ogier by the slimmest of margins after the two traded positions all day with Hirvonen following behind.

On to the actual stages - crazy, crazy, terrible! We shot the first stage of the morning SS2 Santa Catalina.

With access hard to come by our only option was to drive through the stage to our spot and sit it out till the entire field had passed. As you can only really do two stages a day anyway it just means picking your spots carefully to maximise your shots.

Hyundai, Rally Argentina 2014Our first spot wasn’t the best but we still made do. We had a huge wait time, from arriving in to the stage at 7.15 am till almost 12 noon when we were finally able to move. There was obviously an issue on stage as evident by the lengthy delay and that rally cars where driving through at transport speeds, so something had obviously happened further in front.

We finally moved back through the stage and the surface had deteriorated even further to a point where we almost got stuck on numerous occasions even in our 4WD - ditches, huge rocks, a road surface that was unthinkable at WRC speeds, then the reason for the delay was apparent. Ott Tanak had come to a complete stop, ripped out his rear suspension and rolled his car hitting one of the ditches too hard. Mads Ostberg also came to a halt at the exact same spot, ripping the front control arm off his Citroen DS3WRC

We moved on and even gave Mads a lift to our next point so he could phone his team for a lift back to service.

Let me just say again, this stage was terrible. All five photographers in our car agreed that it should never have been run in the condition. In all my years I have never experiened anything like it. When all the photographers but the driver need to get out of the car to get through ditches and mud, it's telling you something! Nevertheless we made it to our next spot and what a spot - a jump with a hump at the end of a 500 m flat straight section on a left bend, followed by a second hump on a slight left (a notch on a steering wheel) sending the cars sideways over the jump. Then came a right hander mud pit with a huge half a metre ditch on the inside. It made for great photos with spectators cheering on in the background.

Let's talk about the spectators. At the Shakedown it was rumoured 10,000 people showed up, then today throughout the stage there where hundreds of people and obviously a lot more than that as it took us close to four hours to get out of the stage and back to service a mere 60 km away! The spectators are fanatics, camping out all day, sometimes even more, we have heard stories where spectators camp from a Tuesday inside some of the stages in the mountains, never moving even when bad weather comes in. Some have even passed away in their tents because they just didn’t want to relinquish their spot. They set up barbecues and family gatherings everywhere - the atmosphere is quite electric. Even though they are heckling you in their own language most are friendly even wanting photos with yours truly :)

I am looking forward to Heat 2 where there will be even more people lining the stages cheering their fans on.

Story and photos by Michael Vettas.

Visit our Photo Gallery for more of Michael's awesome photos from Rally Argentina

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