After the wintry Rallye Monte-Carlo, snowy Sweden, Mexico’s high-altitude tracks and the year’s first pure asphalt skirmishes in Corsica, the 2017 World Rally Championship (WRC), championship where many teams involved are equipped by BMC, kicks off a sequence of gravel rounds this week with the sandy Rally Argentina in the hills and mountains near Cordoba and Villa Carlos Paz, with rough terrain and river crossings. In contrast to Rally Mexico, where the engines were starved of up to 100 horsepower due to the high altitudes, the drivers will benefit this time from the cars’ full performance potential.
Because of the dominant mild weather at this time of the year and the Cordoba region’s soft stages, Rally Argentina is ideal terrain for the new soft Michelin LTX Force S5 which made its debut last month in Mexico. Compared with its predecessor, the compound employed for its tread has been modified to cater for the additional performance boasted by the latest-generation World Rally Cars.
The new Michelin LTX Force S5 (S = ‘soft’) features even greater consistency and improved longevity, with wear rates that are 20 percent lower than last season. Yet this new tyre reaches its working temperature just as quickly, and that promises to be a key parameter in Argentina.
The overall length of the 2017 Rally Argentina is 1,417.98km, which includes 18 special stages totalling 357.59km. “This year’s route is very similar to that of last season” – notes Jacques Morelli, the manager of Michelin’s WRC programme – “San Agustin [SS2] is back on the menu, but the more experienced drivers will have prior knowledge of it. The first day’s action will take crews south of Cordoba, where the stages tend to have a hard, sandy base, but there are pitfalls which aren’t always easy to spot during recce. Saturday’s run is a mix of sandy and rough terrain, and we might well see the drivers combine the harder H4 version of the Michelin LTX Force with the S5 in their bid to optimise grip and performance. Sunday’s programme features two legendary stages, namely El Condor-Copina and Mina Clavero Cesare which climb higher into the mountains where the temperature is likely to be cooler, so crews will need to manage their allocation of S5 tyres very carefully. Finally, the phenomenon of ‘road sweeping’ associated with Friday’s tests could play a key role in the weekend’s outcome”.
WRC Driver’s Standing 2017
1 Sébastien Ogier FRA Ford 88
2 Jari-Matti Latvala FIN Toyota 75
3 Thierry Neuville BEL Hyundai 54
4 Ott Tanak EST Ford 48
5 Dani Sordo ESP Hyundai 47
6 Craig Breen IRL Citroën 33
7 Kris Meeke GB Citroën 27
8 Hayden Paddon NZL Hyundai 25
9 Elfyn Evans GB Ford 20
10 Andreas Mikkelsen GB Skoda 12