With four rounds of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship complete, drivers and teams have travelled to the other side of the world where they will lock horns at the toughest event on the calendar: YPF Rally Argentina.
The South American event, held from April 27-30, is notoriously demanding and represents the toughest test yet for 2017’s new-look World Rally Cars.
It’s the first time the cars will unleash their full power on gravel, seven weeks after a horsepower-sapping debut on Mexico’s high altitude stages.
Based from Villa Carlos Paz, in central Argentina’s Córdoba province, the loose-surface event is one of the championship’s most exciting and diverse fixtures.
Its stages vary in character from the high-speed soft and sandy roads of the Punilla valley south of the town to rock strewn narrow stages high in the Traslasierra mountains to the west.
Softer stages are prone to becoming heavily rutted, and the jagged rocks and stones that appear can puncture tyres and batter mechanical components.
Drivers also have to be wary of the deep river crossings that litter the route and can spectacularly choke engines if approached too quickly.
“It’s not like my favourite high-speed events where you can use the entire road and slide from one side to the other. Here, there is always something to hit,” M-Sport driver Ott Tänak explained.
“Rocks can get dragged onto the stage and you need to keep your eyes open – you have to keep that margin and know which risks are worth taking and which ones aren’t.”
Hyundai Motorsport driver Thierry Neuville, the rally winner last time out in Corsica, said: “Argentina is probably the roughest rally of the season. It’s a rally where you need to take extra care.”
Team-mate Dani Sordo added: “The roads are really rough. It’s an incredibly demanding rally for both car and crew, so we know that we will have to be at our absolute best to secure a good result.”
Picking the correct car set up and tyre choice for terrain that changes so dramatically between stages is one of the biggest challenges. Another factor is the weather.
As winter approaches in the southern hemisphere, almost anything is possible. Snow flurries interrupted the pre-event recce, and while temperatures in the mid-20s Celsius are forecast for the weekend, fog is also possible.
YPF Rally Argentina gets underway on Thursday evening. It features 18 special stages, totalling 357.59 competitive kilometres and a total distance of 1417.98km.