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GP Week : Issue 42
T HERE is hardly a moment in the World Rally Championship I do not enjoy to the full. There is, however, one rally that I always enjoy a little more than the other – Argentina. Its allure never ceases. It was only when I physically missed going to Rally Argentina last year (the first time GPWeek covered a world rally ‘live’) that the realisation of how special this rally really is came home. My first visit to Argentina was in 1980; I could not believe what was happening. The action was around Tucuman in the wild north of the country. To fly to Tucuman, the airline tagged my bag to Tandil, a city in diametrically the opposite direction, because they had run out of Tucuman bag tags. “Don’t worry, it will go to Tucuman,” I was told, “all the flights this evening to Tandil have left.” 40 The bag safely arrived at the same time as I did. The organisers promised us journalists a driver who turned up, but without a car. Hours of arguing later he appeared first with an impossibly small Fiat 600, and then the next day with a Ford Falcon, which judging by his worried expression I am sure he had ‘borrowed’ from a used car lot. The international events of 1982 were sad, so it was with trepidation we went to the rally in 1983. I was white with worry as we entered immigration at Buenos Aires. “You’re English, aren’t you”, said the lady next to me in the line. “Don’t worry, we are much more afraid of you people than you need be of us!” We needed a special invitation from their Foreign Ministry to be allowed to enter the country. You could not get a visa; diplomatic relations were at an end and their embassy had been closed. In 1985 the emotion after Ari Vatanen’s accident was profound. I was convinced the worst had happened, in fact, medics attending Vatanen thought he had clinically passed on. My colleague and I gave up the rest of the day to go back to the place, just to understand how such a catastrophe could have befallen the Finn. What had happened was clear; a muddy patch of ground in the shadow of a tree had not dried out and he had lost control right there. And still inside the wreckage was the driver’s seat, which had broken up in an unusual manner, suggesting it had been modified before the crash. Through the rally I have developed friendships with many Argentinians. One of them is a young man (well, he was a young man when we first met) called Juan Cruz. I once asked him why people in Argentina were so nice. “Ah, you misunderstand us,”he replied. “We are not nice at all, but we are all very curious about you Europeans.” Gradually the Argentines have themselves become more European. Thirty years ago we could not find anyone, even in the rally organisation, that could speak English, or even anything other than their special form of Spanish. Now we can. Rally official Laura Esteve was a special person in our lives when the rally was organised in Buenos Aires. She was delightful, spoke English well, did everything we could not do (like argue with airlines about reconfirmations, check our hotel reservations) and made us feel welcome. Laura set the mould for those who followed. Now that the rally does