Worth the bother?

The quality of the entry on the Rally of Argentina was second-rate for an event with official World Championship status…

Last month we spoke of the effects which FIA ‘relegation’ of certain events in the World Rally Championship has had upon the quality of those events and the entries they have attracted. The world’s major teams, using highly expensive four-wheel-drive cars and backed by correspondingly high budgets, have shown little or no interest in the rallies which this year count only for the two-wheel-drive championship.

The Rally of Argentina attracted just 74 starters, among them less than a handful from outside South America. The Czech Republic’s Skoda team, its sights on the 2wd championship, sent two Felicia 1500s for Emil Triner/Pavel Stanc and Pavel Sibera/Petr Gross. Austrians Stefan Reininger and Robert Czoz brought a Renault Clio Williams.

Argentinian stars Jorge Recalde and Martin Christie, both well experienced in European rallying, were in a Lancia Delta HF Integrale looked after by Italy’s Top Run team. Uruguayan Gustavo Trelles, paired with Argentinian Jorge del Buono, drove another Delta Integrale, this being one of the Astra team’s cars. Three visiting four-wheel drive cars came from Paraguay, a Toyota Celicas for Marco Galanti/Victor Zuchini, a Mitsubishi Lancer for Arturo Barchini/Luis Panza and a Ford Escort RS Cosworth for Martin Masi/Victor Fadul.

There were numerous examples of the locally made Renault 18 GTX and a team of Peugeot 405 Mi16s entered by Menem Competicion. Gabriel Raies and lose Maria Volta drove a Renault Clio Williams, made in France, not Argentina, whilst brother Juan Pablo Raies was in a locally made Renault 18 GTX with Rodolfo Ortiz.

Although everyone regards Villa Carlos Paz as the base of the event, the actual start and finish were in Cordoba, some 20 miles eastwards, the start in the city centre and the finish at the football stadium about six miles away. Total stage distance was some 270 miles in a total of just over 700. There was an abundance of zones where no service was allowed, 11 in all, the organisers no doubt having in mind the cost-cutting which does seem to work in full World Championship events.

Recalde wasted no time getting ahead and taking the lead, but Trelles, who had hoped to make a serious bid for a win, was struggling with a car which was noticeably down on power and beyond the rectifying power of the handful of mechanics present. Galanti rolled his car on the third stage and it took at least 10 minutes to round up some spectators to heave the car back to the road. The Celica suffered much body damage, but he continued and even got it up from 27th to third place, something which would have been impossible had there been more 4wd cars competing.

As one of the first day’s stages was cancelled before the start, the total stage distance of the first day was reduced to some 34 miles, not much in four hours of driving. Gabriel Raies went off the road and wrecked his French-built Clio Williams, which could not have pleased the factory very much since points scored by Argentina-built cars could not be added to the factory score.

At the end of the day, Recalde led from Trelles by 38s, followed by Jorge Bescham (Peugeot 405) and Sibera.

On the second day, the Astra mechanics were at their wits’ end to restore power to Trelles’ car and it seemed that nothing they could do would improve matters. To make matters worse, the Uruguayan lost at least five minutes by stopping to change a wheel after a puncture. By this time the gap between Recalde and Trelles had increased so much that the local man visibly eased off.

But no rally is won until the finish ramp is reached, and Recalde began to think that he had eased off too soon. First he picked up a 20s lateness penalty after being held up in traffic and then his gearbox stuck in third and he was obliged to tackle an eight-mile stage, and a 40-mile road section, with just that gear available. To his credit, he did not overstress his engine, and when mechanics put matters right simply by replacing a lost selector bolt, he went on with his comfortable lead intact.

Bescham stopped when his engine failed, leaving the two Skodas to head the 2wd category. But this did not last. Inner experienced steering failure and his Felicia went straight off the road. He managed to get going but, as service was banned after that stage, he and Stanc had to make do with whatever bits and pieces they carried in the car, losing a hefty chunk of time in the process. Team-mate Sibera moved up to third place despite a leaking fuel pump which resulted in reduced power, misfiring and the heavy stench of petrol in the car.

After the second day, Recalde’s lead over Trelles was 7m 41s, whilst Sibera was another 2m 34s behind.

The final day brought no change among the leaders, and one got the impression that both Recalde and his fans felt that a victory against such meagre opposition was a hollow one indeed. Sibera continued to push hard to stay ahead of Galanti, but after a heavy landing after a bump, nearly causing the car to go off the road, the Czech driver eased off to preserve his 2wd lead and Galant’, his roll-damaged car letting in as much dust as there was outside, moved up to take third place.

Meanwhile, Triner was making a comeback and, at one time, it seemed that he would be up to be just one place behind Sibera. He did make up a few places, but just couldn’t manage to get ahead of the Renault 18 GTX driven by Miguel Torras.

When it all ended there was a feeling of anti-climax. Was there any real sense in having 4wd and 2wd cars competing against each other, especially when there were no works crews at all in 4wd cars? The FIA has a long history of making, changing and remaking regulations, often without any concept of the consequences. This disparity between car types is something which should be resolved once and for all.

Rally of Argentina – July 6-8 1995

1: Jorge Recalde / Martin Christie – Lancia HF Delta Integrale, GpA
2: Gustavo Trelles / Jorge del Buono – Lancia HF Delta Integrale, GpA
3: Marco Galanti / Victo Zuchini – Toyota Celica Turbo 4wd, GpA
4: Pavel Sibera / Petr Gross – Skoda Felicia, GpA
5: Miguel Torras / Edgardo Gatt – Renault 18 GTX, GpA