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GP Week : Issue 118
Does rallying really need clever ideas? The ruling powers have ordered that mixed surface stages are to be encouraged on world championship rallies, a brave heark-back to what many veterans consider to be an earlier golden age in the sport. It is one of a raft of concepts which organisers are being urged to consider when planning their future rallies. The problem is that convenient and suitable asphalt stages are even more difficult to find than gravel stages, and the chances of finding a combination of the two together to form mixed surfaced stages are very elusive. Rally Argentina, however, took the plunge and did just that. The result was fascinating ... and dangerous. On Day 1, the mixed stage was one of the roughest stages of the rally, at the end of a group of three otherwise gravel stages, joined together with one of the smoothest sections of undulating roads across moorland. On-board video was shown by the sport's promotional website wrc.com, and it was terrifying. It looked horrendously fast, and it was. Ford checked the data on one of their cars showing they were averaging nearly 200kph for several kilometres. It sounded fun until you thought some more. This was on a main road, so that drivers could not concentrate on checking their racing line in recce. Jari-Matti Latvala said his days learning asphalt driving at the Nurburgring stood him in good stead. At the Nurburgring spectators are protected. Here they stood side-by-side alongside the side of the road, a road on which the top drivers on their gravel tyres were busy cutting corners. In top gear. Leaving gravel debris all across the road. Fortunately there were no reported accidents. Gravel tyres? These were not just ordinary gravel rally tyres, but the same tyres which had been subjected to some of the rockiest and roughest tracks in the championship. It was a tribute to the strength of Michelin's controlled soft compound tyres, and to good fortune, that it did not end in tears. The teams thought about it. There was every indication that a lot of time could be gained by careful planning for the mixed stages. Should drivers check they were using their least worn available tyres, as they would when they sought the best grip on orthodox stages - or the least worn, so that the tyres should be as close to slick condition? On the second day the mixed surfaced stage was the first in the loop of four stages. Fears the soft tyres would be so worn out on the opening stage as to be unsafe for the remaining three orthodox gravel stages were compelling. So an additional tyre change point following this stage was authorised, before the cars tackled the remaining three. Result? The drivers set off on the same tyres they had been using previously, so as to give the best grip on the asphalt. Revival of old ideas sounds a great idea, but only so long as they are compatible with present day cars, present day speeds, present day tyre designs, and present day safety standards. It was a relief that everyone survived the experiment. Not everyone was upset but a lot of people were. It seemed so unnecessarily that such a complication should feature in an event which has for over thirty years been one of the most popular and straight forward in the championship. Mixed Views on Mixed Stages n The unusually dry conditions and the fast asphalt stretches of route combined to make this event the fastest Rally Argentina since 1994. n It was Citroen's 75th world championship victory, Loeb's 65th. n The ACA Cup Rally for local cars was won by Agustin Rossi in a Mitsubishi. None of the three Maxi Rally cars reached the finish. Marcos Ligato's Chevrolet led at the end of Day 1 but suffered two driveshaft failures. At one point his times would have placed him in 11th place overall, very close to Hayden Paddon. Both the VW Gol Trend and the Ford Fiesta retired, victims of the harsh road conditions. n Martin Semerad and Hayden Paddon jointly head the PCWRC series, though Paddon has one event in hand. n Young Mads Ostberg's consistency was uncanny, most impressive on his first time in this event. He was exactly sixth fastest on 11 of the 19 stages, climbing from sixth overall to finish fifth when Latvala had troubles. n The roads used on the rally have a long sporting tradition. Where the Finn Latvala was forced to stop on Day 2, was very close to the spot where his fellow countr yman Ari Vatanen had his near- fatal crash on the1985 event. n In an unprecedented development, the organisers of Rally Argentina acceded to pleas from the photographic media – to EXTEND their rally! Unknown to the media, plans had been made to shorten one of the most famous and promotionally favourite stages of the rally by 1.03km. This meant that cars would no longer pass the famous rocks on the Giulio Cesare stage at speed. Less than 24 hours before the start of reconnaissance the Rally Argentina organisers issued a bulletin confirming that the special stage would once again pass these unique rocks – by restoring the stage to its usual length. The news came as a great encouragement to the beleaguered rally photographic fraternity, for whom reduced photo opportunities, increased costs, uncer tain media requirements and perceived indifference to their difficulties have become problems in recent years. Relieved legendary French photographer Francois Baudin spoke for his colleagues when he said that it was thoughtless to make the original plan to stop the stage early: "This place is probably one of the best spots of the whole season.”