Friday | 02 May 2014

Argentina countdown: the stages

The organisers promise landscapes similar to the moon, spectacular water splashes and over a million fans on the stages – where else could the WRC be heading but to Rally Argentina?

The battleground has varied little since the rally settled in Cordoba province 30 years ago and the itinerary shows only minor changes from last year. Five of the seven stages, each of which will be used twice, are identical to 2013.

The biggest change comes on the final day when drivers tackle the classic Giulio Cesare downhill for the first time since 2002. It will descend the mountain to finish in the valley at Mino Clavero, home of the late Jorge Recalde, the only Argentine to win a WRC round after triumphing here in 1988.

Each of the three legs visits a different area within the province, offering stunning scenery but widely differing road characteristics.

But the action begins with Thursday evening’s 6km super special stage on the edge of the host town of Villa Carlos Paz, that drivers will start two at a time. It is repeated on Saturday night and is regarded as one of the best of its kind in the WRC.

Friday takes competitors north into the vast open plains of the Punilla Valley and the Sierras Chicas mountains. Two tough tests on soft and sandy roads are repeated, including the marathon 51.88km stage from Asochinga which crosses the mountains towards La Cumbre before doubling back to finish near Agua de Oro.

Spectating Argentine-style

Saturday is the longest day with 164km of action packed into just four stages south of Villa Carlos Paz, in more gentle countryside around the delightfully named Santa Rosa de Calamuchita. The roads are sandy, but faster than the previous day.

Sunday provides a sting in the tail. It is based south-west of the town in the Traslasierra mountains, where rocky roads wind through a dramatic landscape in the Giulio Cesare and El Condor stages – two of the most famous in the calendar.

They are narrow, abrasive and rough and the smallest mistake can prove costly. The second pass through El Condor forms the Power Stage, with bonus points for the fastest three drivers.

The finish is in Villa Carlos Paz after more than 405km in just 14 stages.