Rally Argentina is about rough gravel roads, water splashes and possibly even fog. For this year the route remains almost unchanged from last year, but let’s see how the stages are like in detail.
Rally Argentina has a long heritage on the WRC calendar, having featured every year since 1983 with only two rotation-based absences. Once again, the rally is based in Villa Carlos Paz near the city of Cordoba and all the stages have remained the same with just slight tweaks here and there.
The event is considered as one of the most endurance like rallies on the current calendar. For this year the rules limited the total rally length to 350 km. This meant that Rally Argentina was one of the three rallies which had to shorten its route to meet the demands. However, this year the length is only a couple kilometres below the margin.
The roads are generally quite rough and become rutted quickly and stones are to be watched. There are usually no ditches but instead banks or rocks right at the sides of the roads. Climatic challenges include high altitudes, dust and fog. Some sections are extremely fast, some very technical and slow.
Another factor are the spectators, who are always very passionate, sometimes even too much. These stages are always packed with people. Although there are almost no access roads for most of the stages, people just park up in the terrain and camp overnight to see the action. This can be seen in increasing amounts during the weekend, concluding with the Sunday stages, whose stage side banks are just covered in parked cars, tents and barbequeing people.
The shakedown route of Villa Carlos Paz – Cabalango has been in use for years. It starts on a narrow and bumpy road which is quite twisty and becomes soon a bit faster and wider. The ending is then driven on a very wide and fast-flowing road. Argentina has such a vast mix of road types that this probably isn’t enough to represent everything, but it would be difficult to do it on a single stage. However, the lack of water splashes is unforgivable.
The opening super special at Villa Carlos Paz is a modern street stage including roundabout circles and same sections driven multiple times in different directions. Most of the stage is driven on tarmac, but a short park passage is gravel-surfaced. Not the worst of the season, but not the best either.
Once the stage starts, it’s dark in Argentina. Last year the organizers advised the drivers not to use additional lights because they don’t look good on television. However, it seems no one obeyed the advise.
The Friday stages are driven South of Cordoba. For this year they remain largely unchanged from last year. They are known for being softer and more sandy than on the other days.
Las Bajadas – Villa del Dique has been a staple of the rally for decades. It returned onto the route last year, having been absent since 2011, although the ending was driven in the meantime on a few occasions with various beginnings.
The road is quite wide but seems to have been carved into the ground with banks on the side and a sandy base. The road is very bumpy and rough at places with often stones on the line. Some sections are frighteningly fast, up to the rev limiter on the top gear, whereas some sections need to be taken with caution and slow pace, although nothing is particularly technical.
This stage is notorious for being the place where Ari Vatanen had his big accident in 1985 on a Group B Peugeot 205 T16. The place appears about 5 km into this year’s stage. It’s a fast part, but seemingly harmless. In fact, what caused Vatanen’s accident was a big hole in the road, carved by a truck which had been stuck on the road in rainy conditions just before the rally. Everyone else braked on the hole, Vatanen didn’t even lift.
Last year Ott Tänak hit a stone and spun here, losing time and bending the steering. It was an early setback, but by the time he got back to service, he was already leading. On the second run Esapekka Lappi and Andreas Mikkelsen suffered punctures whereas Teemu Suninen had a lucky escape going wide into a bank.
Stages starting from Amboy have been a part of the rally for decades, often ending to Santa Monica. However, during the last decade the long Amboy – Yacanto has become a somewhat staple stage. The ending was already shortened for last year to 33 km, and now it has been shortened again to 30 km, but still it is the longest of the day and the second-longest of the rally.
The stage shares the sandy and bumpy nature of the previous stage. However, this one begins on a narrower road with more tight corners, but contains still a fair share of rev-limiter tests as well. At 9 km the stage turns onto a wider road which contains soon the first river crossing of the rally. At 14 km there’s a big jump and another turn to a road which alternates from narrow, rough and technical to wide and fast in a blink of an eye. Finally the last 2 km of the stage climb up a small mountain.
In 2014 Kris Meeke went into a bank on this stage. Meanwhile, last year this stage ended Jari-Matti Latvala’s rally, with a stone breaking the front suspension near the end of the stage.
The third stage of the loop is Santa Rosa – San Agustin, another stage run very often in the rally, unchanged during the previous three editions.
For the most part this road resembles almost Rally Mexico by having a harder and smoother road surface with mostly a fast and flowing nature with some tighter corners here and there. Some rough sections are also present, such as 6.7 km and sometimes the road is narrower like after 9.7 km but most of the stage seems really nice to drive. A single river crossing appears at 15 km. Last year the front runners noticed that this stage was a lot more slippery than the previous ones.
In 2017 Kris Meeke rolled his car from sixth gear at 12 km into the stage. He was able to continue but was ultimately retired into Rally2.
A midday super special of Parque Tematico concludes the morning loops of Friday and Saturday. This twin-car track is all of 6 km long and many drivers have cited it as their favourite super special of the season. The narrow roads seem to be quite natural with no artificial jumps or chicanes either. The base is even quite rough and rocky with banks on the side where you can even lean a bit on. The average speed on this super special is actually a bit faster than on the proper Sunday stages!
The Saturday stages are driven North-East of Cordoba. They all are close to each other, based on three roads which have been in good use for the past few years, just setting the finish and start lines to different locations every year.
The first stage of the day, Tanti – Mataderos was a new addition for 2018 and it remains unchanged for this year. A remarkable thing about it is that it starts on a tarmac section in the village of Tanti. It’s also the shortest non-super special of the rally at 13 km.
After the 1 km city section is tackled, we hit the gravel road, which is quite hard-based but bumpy rough and rather technical. Instead of soft banks, there’s now big rocks and stones sidelining the road. Climbing up the mountain the road retains it nature although there are softer sections and faster passages in between. The only top gear rev limiter test is seen right before the finish line.
Just some kilometres from the end of the previous stage, Mataderos – Cuchilla Nevada starts on the same road. The stage starts now 6.3 km earlier than before. This is actually the only section of the rally which hasn’t been driven before. The finish remains in the same location, making the stage now 22 kilometres long, whereas in 2016 and 2017 this stage extended for 38 kilometres.
Since we’re on the same road as the previous stage, the characteristics are the same – quite hard road base and only slightly rough. The new beginning of the stage has some tight ascending corners, but after last year’s start it descends a bit back on a fast section, before returning again to tight corners and climbing.
About halfway through the stage it gets very fast with a lot of long straights glued together by corners, most of which are also fast. This is also where Kris Meeke had his second high-speed roll in 2017.
At the very end there’s a junction turn onto a slightly smaller road, but most of that will be saved for the next stage. Last year the first run of this stage was driven in thick fog and it caused a slight lucky off for Andreas Mikkelsen
It’s not hard to believe this was the fastest stage of the rally last year with 116 km/h of average speed on the second run. However, the added technical sections in the beginning will most likely decrease that for this year, but it will still be competiting for the fastest stage title with Las Bajadas – Villa Del Dique.
With an even shorter liaison in between, Chuchilla Nevada – Characato begins from the same place as last year. However, now it ends 7 km earlier, being still the longest stage of the rally at 33 km.
Compared to the previous stage, the road is now slightly narrower, softer and bumpier. The beginning is fast, but turns slightly all the time and has lots of surprising jumps. Now the banks at the side of the road are again made of soil instead of stone.
Last year both Craig Breen and Esapekka Lappi had high-speed offs here, Breen rolling the car and Lappi being more lucky after going too fast because of a wrong pace note. You could say Kris Meeke was lucky to only have to change a wheel on the second run.
Meanwhile, in 2016 Jari-Matti Latvala had a high-speed roll on roads which are at the beginning of this year’s stage. Although, the off was caused by a suddenly broken suspension.
The road becomes gradually narrower and rougher about 18 km into the stage. Stones are now again sidelining the road in many places. It also starts becoming more technical, altogether bringing down the pace of the stage.
A junction turn at 28.6 km brings up the speed as the road gets again firmer, only to bring it down almost to a stop with a river crossing. Then some more technical corners conclude the stage.
Like before, Sunday consists of two stages South-West from Cordoba. These legendary stages are considerably slower and partially also rougher than the Friday and Saturday stages.
The day begins and ends with the classic Copina – El Condor, which was reversed for the first time last year to be driven uphill. This direction has been retained for this year as well.
The only proper fast part of this stage is the beginning in the valley where the road is good and the corners flowing. The mountain is reached at 3 km and the road becomes instantly more technical, narrower and rougher. The bridge which Elfyn Evans hit in 2017 appears at 4.7 km, and a couple of similar ones right after it. The stage remains highly technical except for a slightly faster passage from 10 to 14 km.
The climb is a total of 750 m from start to finish. With most of it spent in small gears engines get enormously strained. At least Tänak’s Toyota suffered from overheating problems last year.
Last year the WRC2 driver Gustavo Saba made a costly error on the final stage of the rally in El Condor.
Between the two runs of El Condor, a single run of Mina Clavero – Giulio Cesare fills up the day. Last year it was also reversed but for this year it’s returned to its uphill format, making the day contain three hill climbs in total, adding up to the engine strain.
This year the stage is shortened from its 2017 format by two fast kilometres from the start. Thus it starts right away on a narrow, rather rough and technical road with the rocky scenery reminiscing of the moon. A couple of faster bursts, narrow bridges and some water splashes spice up this very winding route.
It only gets tougher past the halfpoint as the route climbs up to a mountain, with the road roughness reaching Rally Turkey levels. Just before the finish the road looks like it had a pavement ages ago, now having been ripped to pieces, only adding up to the challenge.
Last year Kalle Rovanperä had a huge roll on this stage, hitting a spectator car with a woman sleeping inside, but luckily no one was hurt. The direction was reversed and this fast section is now removed from the stage anyway.
Road conditions and starting order
Like in most gravel rallies, Argentina has a definite cleaning effect, but not the worst of the season, thanks to the bumpy and rough roads which don’t always have a hard grippy base anyway. This varies greatly from stage to another. For example last year Sebastien Ogier claimed the Santa Rosa – San Agustin stage was cleaning a lot but Amboy – Yacanto not so much. Teemu Suninen also mentioned last year having never been on as slippery dry gravel driving Mina Clavero as the second car on the road.
Last year the drivers also faced visibility challenges. On Friday it was dust slowing down the later starters, whereas on Saturday morning thick fog made it a brave effort to trust the pace notes.
This year the Tour de Corse winner Thierry Neuville leads the championship and will be first on the road, whereas last year’s overwhelming winner Ott Tänak will have Neuville and Sebastien Ogier sweeping the road ahead of him. The last WRC car will be the returning Andreas Mikkelsen, but starting as the tenth car means he has to watch out for stones not to get a puncture – like he did a year ago.
Here we have Richard Burns on a Subaru Impreza in 2001 tackling the Amboy stage. This year’s stage contains the beginning until 3:25, at which it will turn left instead of right like in 2001.
Cover Photo by ToyotaUK