Argentina - J-WRC - Finish
The winner of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship round in Rally Argentina was determined, in part, by the driver who had the fewest problems over the rocky terrain and incurred the smallest amount of penalties for missing the fewest number
Fortunes swung back and fore, but in the end Michal Kosciuszko (POL, Suzuki) claimed his second win of the season to take the lead in the J-WRC after four rounds. Having set 14 fastest times over the 23 stages, he and co-driver Maciek Szczepaniak deserved to win, as Kosciuszko – who celebrated his 24th birthday last week – took the lead for the second time seven stages from the end of the event, and maintained the position to win by 1min 39.9secs.
Rally Argentina is regarded by many as one of the roughest rallies in the J-WRC, and only three out of the nine registered J-WRC competitors nominated the event as one of their points-scoring rounds.
A long period of sunny weather in the rally's host town of Villa Carlos Paz, 700kms inland from Buenos Aires, had made the nearby stages hard and dry, and the rocky stages in the open plains of the Punilla Valley (Days One and Three) and in the Traslasierra Mountain region (Day Two) were going to be a huge test for the small front-wheel drive cars.
Alessandro Bettega (I, Renault) set the fastest time on the opening three stages to establish a 32.3-second lead, but he lost almost seven minutes when the rear left suspension collapsed in the middle of SS4 and he had to drag his Clio S1600 (rather than his normal R3) through that and all of SS5, driving 20kms in total.
He managed to get his car back to service, and his team mirrored his determination by making repairs and sending him on his way just three minutes late – albeit in third place.
Kosciuszko now found himself in the lead, which leaped to over five minutes when second-placed Aaron Burkart (D, Suzuki) stopped on SS8 after a particularly rough section of road broke the steering rod.
Burkart, making his Rally Argentina debut, had lost time on SS2 when he hit a rock and had to drive 5kms on a rear left puncture. In an attempt to regain lost time, he then pushed too hard and kept drifting off the solid rocky line and onto the soft sand, but his challenge for J-WRC honours was to come to an end when he incurred 10 minutes of penalties for missing the final two stages of Day One (SS8 and SS9).
But before Day One had finished, Bettega was dramatically back in the J-WRC lead. Kosciuszko stopped in SS9 with a broken steering, and the resultant ten minutes of penalties dropped him to second and returned Bettega to first place.
Bettega took a careful approach on Day Two, as Kosciuszko set fastest time on all-but one of the day's eight stages. But on SS16, the alternator belt on Bettega's Clio broke. He wasn't aware of the low battery on the short road section to SS17, and only after he'd booked into the time control at the start of the next stage did the battery warning light come on.
Had he been aware of the problem before he'd checked in, he may well have been able to change the belt and continue without lost time, but as it was he could not and was left stranded. The very unlucky Bettega was forced to miss SS17 and 18, and, not only did his two minute J-WRC lead vanish, but he also dropped to third place.
Scoring J-WRC points and stealing an advantage over the J-WRC drivers who had not travelled to Argentina had always been the main aim for Kosciuszko, Burkart and Bettega. Having all survived so many dramas they took it relatively easy on the third and final day to maintain their first, second and third positions.
1st – Michal Kosciuszko, Suzuki Swift S1600:
"This has really been an incredible rally for us. I am really happy to win, score ten points and to take the lead in the J-WRC after breaking the steering and having penalties for missing a stage is amazing. Argentina is such a difficult rally for a S1600 car and we were not able to drive at one hundred percent, but I'm pleased with how we overcame the conditions and brought the car home for the win."
2nd – Aaron Burkart, Suzuki Swift S1600:
"On the one hand I am happy to have finished second and to score eight points, but on the other I know that if I had kept myself out of trouble I could have won and scored two more points. We broke the steering on the first day and missed two stages, but since then I think we have done a good job to get the car to the finish."
3rd – Alessandro Bettega, Renault Clio:
"I would have been happier to have finished first, especially as we led twice in Argentina, but to pick up points for finishing third is okay. The next event is my home rally, so I hope we will have better luck there. We will also have back my Clio R3, so the aim will be to give it its first win in Sardinia."