Argentina : Subaru / PCWRC - Finish
The 2006 Rally Argentina round of the PCWRC will be remembered for a lot of different things; mostly though, it will be for Nasser Saleh al Attiyah's double victory in the event, the scene of his first-ever win in the category last season.
It was an event many will want to forget, such was the carnage over the three days of competition.
The final day's two stages plus pair of runs through the Superspecial spectator stages comprised little more than 40 kilometres in total – but featured some of the toughest terrain imaginable.
The first test of the day, Mina Clavero (SS19), was run in cold and overcast conditions. The road surface was dry, though very soft and cut up very badly with rocks. Toshi Arai's experience in the world championship was clearly in evidence as he won the test, beating Nasser by 39.2 seconds over the 20.70-km stage. His time was more than a minute quicker than newcomer and eventual second-place finisher Leszek Kuzaj.
Aptly referred to by Nasser's co-driver Chris Patterson as the ‘Sting in the Tail' of the rally, the Mina Clavero test resembles a lunar landscape, and has to be driven with extreme caution as the rock and boulder formations catch out competitors every year.
“The two stages this morning are tremendously tricky - and feature very narrow track with rocks in the road. It's really an incredible test! You learn to respect the stage.
El Condor last year was covered in ice and snow, and was really treacherous with the rocks lining the road. There are also 6 very narrow bridges which need to be approached with extreme caution and taken very, very slowly.”
SS20, El Condor was another stage win for Arai, and saw the Japanese pass Sergei Uspenskiy for eighth, getting back into the final points-paying position.
In contrast to the previous stage, El Condor was run in very dry and dusty conditions. Nasser extended his lead over Kuzaj to 1:27.7 as they headed for the two Superspecials.
Nasser al Attiyah: “Really, we worked very hard for this result. I want to thank everybody, Chris my co-driver, the whole team. Really I'm so happy with this performance – but still, we have the two Superspecials.”
Leszek Kuzaj: “Yeah, it's good. I had to be careful, got a puncture on the first stage and there's something loose inside the car. Otherwise things are going well.”
Toshi Arai: “I am the puncture king.” said the Japanese ace after finishing SS20.
Nigel Heath: “I didn't expect to come out on Sunday and have to battle with the top Argentinean national rally team driver for a place! Now we go in to the Superspecial, to a stadium filled with the home crowd cheering on their boy – it should be interesting.”
As it turned out, he needn't have worried. Despite Beltran's best efforts (6.3 seconds quicker than the Briton on the second run through the Superspecial), Heath ended the event exactly 2 seconds ahead of the Argentinean, taking fourth in Production class and five very valuable championship points for his effort.
Nasser Saleh al Attiyah
“I've come to this rally with a clear strategy and we stuck to our guns on day one. This proved to be the right thing to do, leaving us in second position at the end of the first day. In leg two we had a choice to attack or to stay - and we chose to stay. It was a difficult decision because of the two-minute road penalty, but by lunchtime on leg two, we were leading. We've managed to keep that to the finish, but it's not been easy because we've been having to measure car preservation against pace - and we've been followed by Leszek Kuzaj in another Impreza very closely the whole way.
“It was one of the toughest rallies I've ever cone – and the most difficult victory I've ever achieved here in these conditions.”
“I've really enjoyed this event. It's my second-ever PCWRC rally and I knew I had to keep lifting my pace - as I had done throughout Rally Mexico. This rally not being a speed event, and more of a survival race I had to temper my ambitions accordingly. I think we've judged it quite well and we're very satisfied with our pace - and delighted with second in group, which also puts us in a good position in terms of points.”
“It's been a crazy rally for me. We didn't expect to retire on the first leg but we did, and had to go SupeRally. On the second leg, we felt that we had to attack at full speed and try to survive. As it turned out, we attacked at full speed and didn't survive – which of course was disappointing. We only got one point here – for the next event we have to concentrate very hard on the rest of the championship to achieve the highest possible average – and we really have to think about going for wins.”
Nasser's driving very strongly and has driven an incredible championship so far. It will be hard for us to catch him, but we will try.”
George Donaldson,STI Group N Project General Manager
“The 2006 Rally Argentina has been a tough and uncertain event in very, very difficult conditions. The drivers who chose the right strategy from the start basically won the event on the first day.
“Nigel Heath, on his first event for us, unfortunately made that small mistake on leg one. He managed to win a titanic battle today with local man Sebastian Beltran, who had led 50% of the event. Nigel managed to stave him off by a scant two seconds at the end of the day. It wasn't easy for him as a foreigner to go into a stadium with 45,000 Argentineans all screaming and shouting for Beltran.
“He went in there really up against the world. It must have felt like going into a Coliseum in ancient Rome. However he kept his nerve, giving himself a valuable extra point and a great start to his year. He's really enjoyed his first event and is looking forward to his next event in Greece.
“Sergei Uspenskiy, now gaining experience after his second event with us in the PCWRC, has really lifted his game here and is very much looking forward to Greece as he feels he will be able to measure himself at a higher level after these first two events. Dreadfully unlucky to slip off the road yesterday, without which his measured drive would have netted him third place in the group. Although disappointed at the lack of points tally from this event, Sergei knows his strategy was good so he's hoping for a strong return into the points in Greece.
“We're going to Greece next. It's a new route for this year's event, on stages that haven't been run for five years. I believe it may be a lot rougher than the previous four or five years of Acropolis rallies. We could be heading to another event with a similar character to Argentina - a tough, unpredictable event giving us a great competition and a result which would be hard to predict.”
Press release Subaru