Suzuki heads south to the Pampas
"That's the plan,"
The Rally Argentina provides a vivid contrast to Rally Mexico, the last round of the World Championship held in South America nearly a month ago. Competitors will swap the heat and rocks of Mexico for cooler weather and softer gravel surfaces near the city of Cordoba, about 700 km northwest of Argentina's capital Buenos Aires.
Suzuki will also be hoping for a change in fortunes following a premature end to the Rally Mexico, in which P-G Andersson ran as high as sixth overall.
His team mate Toni Gardemeister notched up his 100th rally in Mexico, and in Argentina the Finn celebrates another important anniversary: his 33rd birthday that takes place the day after the rally.
Argentina is one of the most spectacular events of the season, featuring dramatic stages at high altitudes and stunning scenery - including several crests and watersplashes. The weather in the southern hemisphere at this time of year is autumnal, so rain, mist and fog are a strong possibility.
The surfaces can be soft and sandy, testing traction and grip to the utmost. As was the case in Mexico, the high altitudes will also sap up to 25% of the power from the engines on classic mountain stages such as Giulio Cesare and El Condor.
With its lunar landscapes and enthusiastic local crowd, Argentina is a real highlight of the World Rally Championship. There is a brand new spectator superspecial for this year at Cordoba stadium, which concludes each day of the rally. In total, the action consists of 21 special stages comprising 347.91 competitive kilometres.
For more information: http://www.rallyargentina.com
Car news - Suzuki SX4 WRC n.11 (Gardemeister) and n.12 (Andersson):
Rally Argentina presents several unique challenges, and the Suzuki SX4 WRC has been carefully adapted to rise to the occasion. The characteristic watersplashes that punctuate the route can damage the car and drown the engine, so the SX4 WRC's front bodywork has been specially modified in order to prevent this happening by dispersing the water more quickly and effectively.
The engines have also been modified in order to increase reliability and durability in the tough conditions. Suzuki has only one previous outing in Argentina, on the Junior World Rally Championship in 2006 with the Swift. On that occasion, the car won the class - but competing with a cutting-edge World Rally Car is a very different proposition.
Although the surfaces are mostly soft, there is a lot of variation in the amount of grip available. As Suzuki has no previous experience of running with a World Rally Car in Argentina, the event shakedown will be a vital opportunity to establish settings for a wide range of different conditions.
Under the latest tyre rules, Suzuki (along with all the other manufacturers) will use Pirelli's new hard compound Scorpion tyre in Argentina - but in the cool conditions it may prove tricky to generate enough heat in the rubber during some stages.
Toni Gardemeister has some previous experience of the Rally Argentina, having competed on the rally four times with a best result of fourth in 2005. However, he has not been to Argentina since then - although the Finn has always enjoyed a good feeling with the fast and flowing stages.
After scoring a point for Suzuki on the Swedish Rally last month, Gardemeister aims to increase his total over the rolling pampas of Argentina.
"I have been feeling quite ill the week before the event, so it's not been a perfect start," said Gardemeister. "However, I like Argentina very much and I'm looking forward to going back there after a two-year gap. Many of the stages are quite similar, so I'm hoping that this will not be too much of a disadvantage. There are lots of things that can catch people out, so by driving carefully and keeping out of trouble there's a very good chance of scoring some useful points. Reliability is going to be the key, and there could be some surprises from the weather as well."
Since the start of the season P-G Andersson has demonstrated that he is more than capable of keeping pace with the frontrunners, despite the fact that Argentina will only be the young Swede's fourth rally in a World Rally Car. When he retired from Mexico he was running sixth overall, and P-G's aim is to continue where he left off.
he said. "I've only been to Argentina once before, in 2005, so this will be another very big learning experience for me - although I'm getting used to that now. The surfaces are quite specialised, so one of our biggest challenges will be to adapt the car to them quickly. The other big challenge will be staying on the road, as it is a very fast and slippery event in places!"
Having investigated the engine problems in Mexico, the entire Suzuki team is determined to bounce back and continue the run of success that saw it score points on every round of the championship up until then.
The Suzuki World Rally Team's equipment has been transported from Mexico to Argentina in the three weeks since the last event, and new engines have already been sent from Japan.
Another new arrival in the squad is Paul Wilding, who becomes team manager. Having managed Suzuki's Junior World Championship campaign in recent years, the Australian is a familiar face with plenty of experience in the role.
Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima, Suzuki's team principal, said: "Argentina is renowned as a very tough event, where the soft ground can often hide some big stones. Since Mexico we have improved the reliability of the engine, so we are aiming to get to the finish in Argentina in order to learn more about the car and what is needed to achieve success at the highest level. The priority for both drivers is to get to the end: if we can score some points as well it would be a very welcome bonus."