Rain, sunshine, fog and wind: Škoda Motorsport will take on every extreme of weather on the Rally Argentina, round 5 of 2003 World Rally Championship from May 8 - 11.
The two Škoda Octavia WRCs will be driven by 1994 World Champion Didier Auriol and young Finn Toni Gardemeister. Both drivers love the challenging terrain, which tests men and machines to their limits.
Didier Auriol has won the event twice, and has enjoyed a podium finish on four further occasions, so he knows how to deal with the Argentinean terrain. "I've always had a very good feeling with this rally," said Didier. "Not just with the driving, but also with the people and the country. Everybody is so enthusiastic. We will be pushing as hard as we can from the start, so our tactic is easy to guess! Our plan is like New Zealand; we need to be as close to the front as possible. Argentina is a very unpredictable rally and I'm looking forward to it!"
It's easy to see why Didier likes the place so much. Argentina is well known as "cowboy country", with rolling pampas and misty mountains. Cities like Buenos Aires and Cordoba are cosmopolitan and bustling, but the scenery is spectacularly in the remote countryside where the rally takes place. The event is based in Villa Carlos Paz, a holiday resort with an unrivalled party atmosphere an hour's flight west of Buenos Aires.
Last year Škoda Auto had a lot to celebrate as both cars finished in the top six, ensuring a useful haul of manufacturer points. Škoda Auto are currently fifth in this year's series, moving closer and closer to the top teams.
Toni Gardemeister, who finished fifth overall on the 2002 Rally Argentina said, "I like this rally a lot, although this year will be quite difficult as many of the stages are new. This season has been good for us so far and I feel very motivated to go flat-out. I hope the weather stays dry; I don't really like fog and rain although we tend to go well under difficult conditions. Argentina is an interesting place though and the steaks are very good!"
Argentina's population is a vibrant mix of nationalities, but one thing they all have in common is an intense passion for rallying. Thousands of spectators flock to the stages, cheering on their heroes whatever the weather.
Argentina is a classic gravel rally with some fast sections and other slower parts. There are huge jumps and spectacular watersplashes. Other stages resemble a lunar landscape, as drivers dodge football-sized rocks at high speed.
Škoda Motorsport Team principal Pavel Janeba is optimistic heading into the fifth round of the World Rally Championship, although he warns that all of the teams will face a struggle. "Many of the classic stages have been removed from the rally this year, so there are some new stages to learn for everybody," he said. "We're happy with the results we have gained so far this year, and it is a question of trying to maintain this progress in Argentina."
The Rally Argentina gets underway with a spectator superspecial in Villa Carlos Paz on the evening of Thursday May 8. Crews tackle a total of 25 special stages before the finish in Villa Carlos Paz on the afternoon of Sunday May 11.
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