Rally Argentina – rough dirt roads ranging from extremely fast to extremely slow, with plenty of water splashes on the way. The 2018 edition has a lot of changes to the previous year, but most of the roads are familiar from the past and so is the main structure. Let’s have a closer look.
The Super Specials
The rally starts with a new super special near the service park of Villa Carlos Paz, according to some sources because there is some road work in Cordoba where the previous super special was situated in. However, the new super special uses similar elements of going multiple times around the same roundabout, over bridges and through park roads.
The other super special is again the twin-car Parque Tematico driven at the end of Friday and Saturday morning loops, said to be the favourite super special of most of the drivers.
Friday begins with Las Bajadas – Villa del Dique, which was last driven in that format in 2011. Back then, it was the stage where Sebastien Ogier snatched the lead from Jari-Matti Latvala. Since then, the last 14 kms of this stage have been driven as a part of various stages ending to Villa del Dique, last in 2016. This video shows the said part from 2014.
An interesting detail about Las Bajadas – Villa Del Dique is that it’s the very stage where Ari Vatanen had his near-fatal crash in a Peugeot 205 T16 in 1985. Luckily the suspensions and safety gear of today’s cars have improved a lot since the Group B days, not resulting in crashes like that.
The second stage Amboy – Yacanto is the longest of Friday. It was last driven in 2014 but even 6 kms longer from the end than this year. Back then, Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen did the 39 kms of the stage and got all of 0.3 s of difference between them! The first 7 kms of the stage are also the same as on last year’s Amboy – Santa Monica.
The nearby Santa Rosa – San Agustin stage is the only non-super special that remains unchanged. Last year this stage ruined the rallies of both Citroens Kris Meeke and Craig Breen, in addition to causing problems for Latvala in form of a tyre gone off the rim.
It’s also worth mentioning that last year’s dramatic SS2, where Breen had a surprising high-speed bump, Ogier went into the bank and Paddon rolled, is not driven this year at all.
Saturday – Los Gigantes
Saturday opens with a 14 km long stage Tanti – Mataderos. It starts with a 1 km tarmac section in the city of Tanti before going Westwards on the same road that becomes later Los Gigantes. There has been often stages from Tanti northwards, but as far as I’m concerned this is a never before driven stage.
The next two stages on the Los Gigantes area – the roads that Sebastien Ogier described as one of the best in the whole season – are mostly the same as last year but with just starts, finishes and liaisons rearranged. This year’s Los Gigantes – Cuchilla Nevada is the first 16 kms of last year’s Los Gigantes – Cantera El Condor, whereas the next stage Cuchilla Nevada – Rio Pintos continues on it starting after only a kilometre of liaison, but extending beyond last year’s finish, all the way to last year’s stage Boca del Arroyo – Bajo del Pungo, making the stage all of 41 km long, the longest of the rally, containing a total of six water splashes and five dry river crossings.
This area has some amazingly fast rough roads – no wonder they have been also a part of the Dakar raid rally. However, even the slightest flaw can become terminal, as proved by Latvala in 2016 when he rolled his VW Polo from the lead after a collision with a stone had made a damper break through the bonnet. This year this very part is included on the Cuchilla Nevada – Rio Pintos stage.
Last year the Saturday stages didn’t hold much drama. Elfyn Evans had a puncture and a spin on Boca del Arrayo – Bajo del Pungo, Mads Østberg retired to Rally2 with broken suspension and Kris Meeke ,after a string of fast stage times in Rally2, rolled hugely into final retirement on one of the fast sections of Los Gigantes. Meanwhile, Ogier had another lucky off-road excursion on Los Gigantes.
Sunday – El Condor and Mina Clavero
The Sunday loop is exactly the same as last year, consisting of the legendary stages El Condor and Mina Clavero. Mina Clavero is the only non-super special driven only once in the rally, but El Condor gets another repeat as the power stage.
The loop is exactly the same as most past years – the only difference is that now the direction of these legendary stages is completely opposite, making El Condor a hill climb more than a descent and Mina Clavero the opposite. Mina Clavero has been driven previously in this direction, the last time in 2014, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the first time for El Condor like this.
El Condor and Mina Clavero are among the most famous special stages in the whole WRC season. The road weaves between high rocks in a stunning scenery, making the stages popular for the spectators and challenging for the drivers. Mina Clavero also has three water splashes that are characteristic for Rally Argentina.
These two pieces of road are remarkably slow. Last year the Rally Argentina Friday and Saturday stages had winning average speeds from 92 to 118 km/h, but only 74-75 km/h for these two stages, a more typical pace for super specials! Still, they are no Sunday drives!
Early mornings in the mountains can be foggy, making it difficult get through the road as the visibility is low, like in 2016. This calls for good pace notes and high trust on them.
In 2015 Andreas Mikkelsen and Thierry Neuville proved how good friends they are, doing things similarly – by crashing into the same bank on El Condor, the last stage of the rally!
Last year there was again drama on El Condor. The fight for the win extended until the very last metres and the winning margin was less than a second. Elfyn Evans infamously hit a bridge, almost losing more than mere seconds and one position.
I can’t wait to see what kind of drama we’ll get this year on the final stages!
See the route yourself in greater detail at Rally-Maps.com
It’s not easy to be first on the road in Argentina. We could see surprise results from Dani Sordo and Craig Breen on the first day. Elfyn Evans also has a good chance of repeating his last year’s speed by starting 10th on the road.
As a way to get into the mood of Argentina check out this long onboard of Hayden Paddon doing the Los Gigantes roads in 2016, although Hayden won’t be doing the event this year.
Cover image by Toyota UK