17 Mar 08
When the Production World Rally Championship makes its first of two trips south of the equator for the forthcoming Rally Argentina, one question will be on the lips of the frontrunners - will the Group N Subarus be able to carry the fight to Mitsubishi?
On the opening round, last month’s Swedish Rally, five of the top eight places were filled by Lancers after three days of flat-chat action on the icy roads around Karlstad. And the winner, reflecting the region’s utter domination of the WRC’s winter rally, was a Scandinavian: Juho Hanninen. The one certainty on the next round is that Hanninen will not win; the Finn passes on the trip to Villa Carlos Paz, as do Armindo Araujo, Eyvind Brynildsen and Evgeny Vertunov.
The Subaru Impreza drivers will be relieved to hear of Hanninen’s absence as they continue to dial themselves into the all-new Impreza WRX. Defending champion Toshi Arai finished Sweden in sixth place. He arrives in South America mindful that he needs a big haul of points to keep that defence on track. “Sweden was difficult,” admitted the two-times P-WRC champ. “The car felt down on power on the straights. It was not so good. The handling felt better, but what we needed was more power. The trouble was with the ECU (Electronic Control Unit - the car’s brain) so we will have to see if the changes here have helped. I like Argentina, though - it’s a good rally with very nice stages.”
Prodrive, one of the major teams building and running Impreza N14s, is confident it has the found the power to tackle the Lancers head-on in Argentina. A spokesman from the firm said: “We’ve done an awful lot of testing after Sweden and we’re very confident with what we’re running now. This was a completely new car for us, and it took some time to get to grips with the changes to the electronics - but we’re there now. We’re ready for Argentina.”
In the absence of Hanninen’s, the championship leader is actually in a Subaru, albeit it last year’s model. Series new boy Jari Ketomaa will aim to build on his solid start to the season in Sweden. Ketomaa’s pace has been hot enough to carry him to domestic success at home in Finland, but he’s facing a global challenge in the P-WRC this season. Some of the toughest competition in Group N this week, was nowhere to be seen on round one; the wildcard entries for Argentina are as strong as they will be for any round of this year’s series - with Marcos Ligato and Sebastian Beltran (both in Mitsubishis) ready to make the most of their one P-WRC point-scoring opportunity this year. Don’t be surprised to see either of the local heroes out front when the cars arrive in Cordoba Stadium for the final stage on Sunday afternoon.
And, as if that’s not exciting enough, there’s another outing for the Peugeot 207 S2000 of Patrik Sandell and a 2008 P-WRC debut for American superstar Travis Pastrana - who will have Colin McRae’s former co-driver Derek Ringer alongside him.