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GP Week : 13-Oct-2009
Another year of globetrot THE Munchi's two-car team from Argentina came to world championship rallying in 2007 at a time when fresh blood was vitally needed in the sport. It was the year when the sport lost official entries from Peugeot and Skoda and the concept of 'teams' rather than 'manufacturers' was becoming stronger. Initially the Munchi's drivers were the team's patron Luis Perez Companc and Juan Pablo Raies, but Federico Villagra replaced Raies in mid 2007. Business pressures during 2008 forced Luis to remain at home and Villagra became the team's leading driver, co-driven by Luis' brother Jorge. The number two car Munchi's entries were then filled by M- Sport customer drivers, these drivers fitting into the Munchi's team, or the M-Sport parallel Stobart team or sometimes running privately under their own names, as circumstances demanded. In the economic down-times of 2009 it has proved very difficult for M-Sport to find customers to run a second car in the team, and the FIA made a significant change to the championship regulations so Munchi's could run single car entries for the rest of the season -- if a second car could be run, the number one car would only be eligible to score championship points. South America activities in world championship rallying have a great background, never so emphatically as when Uruguayan driver Gustavo Trelles won the FIA's Group N Cup for four years running, Argentine Gabriel Pozzo once as well. South American drivers such as Trelles and the Argentine Jorge Recalde were occasional members of works teams as well and until now the most dedicated South American team had been the Cordoba Rally team. Munchi's regular activities at the highest level of rallying has brought the New World into the centre of the sport. 2009 has been the team's third season and Federico Villagra has been dove-tailing his world championship programme with competing in the national Argentina championship in which he drives a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo which is run by his own team: "Catalunya was the final world championship rally of the season for us and it has been a really busy year, but it has also been a really good season," he told us. "The Munchi's team has got points on seven out of the eight events we've competed on in 2009. Travelling to and from Argentina, where I have been competing in our national rally championship, has been hard work. "Immediately after Catalunya we went to Catamarca for a rally the following weekend, but it is our life! One special memory for the Munchi's team in 2009 was when the FIA gave us the chance to stay in the world championship even with a one-car team. That was a great relief. "There were two really good results, when we came fourth overall in Argentina and then fourth overall in Greece. The opportunity for me to get these results was something really important for me as a driver". Argentina has meanwhile been at the forefront of development of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X Group N cars: "We are doing well in the Argentine championship at the moment. The new Evo X is now running very good. Mitsubishi have been always in the front on the last four rallies. "There is a new name coming to the fore, Nicolas Madero. I had bad luck on two rallies and that gave Nicolas the chance to pull ahead of me in the championship, and he is currently 18.5 points in front. If he goes carefully and safely and finishes the next three rallies he will end up beating me to the title. He just has to make sure he finishes those rallies to be champion! "Nicolas is a young driver who has progressed a lot in the last few years. He started motorsport in motocross, like I did, and started rallying in my team. When I moved up to an Evo VIII he took over driving my Evo VI, and he also showed a lot of good speed but he made a lot of mistakes. Over the years he has settled down and now he drives for the Tango team." The Companc family, which named their world championship team after its Munchi's ice-cream company (one of their many business interests), seems happy to continue what it is doing and is looking forward to another year: "At the moment negotiations are still going on and no decisions have been made but the way the negotiations are going we should be here one more year. The World Championship does not go to Argentina next year which is a pity, but our people will still have the 'Dakar' to look forward to. "And the organisers of the world championship rally are talking with the IRC promoters with a view to their event being in that series instead -- but of course WRC should be back with us in 2011. "I am not myself planning to drive Dakar -- I have too many things to do -- but one year when I have the time I would like to do it in the right way and with the right car. Dakar has had quite an effect in our country. People are more and more interested to compete on this sort of event, and there is now a new championship being started for this type of sport. This sort of rallying is coming alive in Argentina with a lot of people." Will the Munchi's activities give rise to the hope that other South Americans will follow on? "I'm not sure whether other Argentine drivers will be able to come to Europe in the near future, however. The financial differential between us and Europe is big and seems to be getting bigger and bigger all the time. We do not know what sort of budgets will be needed in the future because of the new types of cars and the new types of budgets they will demand. "We will have to wait and see how the FIA will make it all happen and I hope we will get a chance to carry on into the future. But right now it is impossible for one of our national drivers to get into a WRC car. There are many drivers who would do well if they had a chance, but the problem continues to be our country's economy." Argentina's WRC contender spoke to MARTIN HOLMES WRC FEATURE >> 32