STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PAMPA DE SAN LUIS, BEAUTIFUL SOUTH AMERICAN AUTUMN BLUE SKY ABOVE, THE PEACE IS SHATTERED BY THE UNRELENTING HOWL OF A WORLD RALLY CAR PASSING AT CLOSE TO 200KPH.
The view from the side of the road just outside Los Gigantes is breath-taking, but every three minutes you’re transplanted to another world for a brief but unforgettable insight into the absolute bravery and complete commitment required to be the best of the best in the WRC.
Even the steady breeze brings another reminder of exactly where we are in the world. Forward planning from the fans means a makeshift asado has been burning for a while and the addition of a sausage or two merely completes this sensory overload. Late breakfast or early lunch, who cares?
Draped in Argentine flags, newfound friends stop singing long enough to insist I share their exquisite fare. Having eaten, I’m offered Mate, a hot drink infused with dried holly leaves and taken through a steel straw. The caffeine kick tops anything the strongest Italian espresso could manage.
Suddenly, a week’s worth of rain, troublesome travel, airport delays (M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson took 54 hours from home to hotel after weather closed in and meant his Buenos Aires-Cordoba flight became a Buenos Aires to Mendoza (to stop for fuel) circle around Cordoba and back to Buenos Aires for the night) and wet feet are forgotten.
Argentina has, as ever, done its thing and delivered on every level. The Villa Carlos Paz-based event remains one of the most atmospheric adventures in the series.
The WRC has been coming to Argentina for close to four decades and for all-but two of those years (1981 and 1982 in Brazil) it has been the championship’s only visit to South America. The familiarity of Cordoba and its surrounding valleys and roads contrasted sharply with what’s to come in Concepcion next week.
Everybody knows about XION Rally Argentina. Nobody knows about COPEC Rally Chile.
The sense of anticipation and appreciation of this southern hemisphere double-header was tangible in the service park. In just three weeks there were 60 drivers’ points and 86 for the makes’ race on offer. Never before has a trip to South America offered such rich reward.
And its Thierry Neuville and Hyundai Motorsport who sit in the box seats following the Belgian’s exceptional Argentina win. The Korean manufacturer’s one-two with Andreas Mikkelsen following Neuville home will make this week’s repreparation of the trio of i20 Coupe WRCs (Sébastien Loeb takes over Dani Sordo’s car) that bit easier.
For now, it’s thank you and goodbye Argentina and hello to a whole new adventure on the other side of the Andes in Chile.