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Richard Thompson column: A measured approach
1 May 2013 Motorsport Italia team engineer, Richard Thompson reflects on qualifying and looks ahead to the start of Rally Argentina, what will be Michal Kosciuszko's third outing on gravel with the Lotos Team WRC-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC car...
Hello everyone, it's Richard 'Tomo' Thompson here, the Motorsport Italia team engineer, writing to you before SSS1 of Rally Argentina kicks off later this afternoon.
After the Qualifying Stage this morning, Michal selected to start third on the road tomorrow. This isn't an easy position, because there is the risk of road sweeping, but equally it might be to his advantage on the first loop to be on the stages before the roads are too worn.
Being a rally engineer it's our responsibility to help the crews work out the best possible set-up for the stages. When possible, we inspect the route at the same time the crews write their pace notes. This helps us with tyre choice and set-up options. We try to anticipate how the conditions will change for the second pass. Most rallies now use each stage twice and it's important to note any parts that are going to degenerate. Then we can react with detailed changes to the set-up to counter this. We also need to decide when and where to take two spare wheels. This can be tricky as we're limited on the quantity of tyres we can use. Therefore, we need to discuss and agree a strategy prior to the rally.
Stage inspection gives us a real insight into the country. Everyone has heard of El Condor, the stage that starts at 2100m and can be covered in mist and fog, even snow on occasion, when the service park is still in warm sunshine. It takes its name from the birds that drift on the thermals high above the ridge that leads to the stage. I remember a cafe on the way up the stage where for an extra $10 on the bill the chef will put a steak on a long pole and whistled for the birds, waiting for them to swoop down to take the meat. It's only when they get close that you get a real understanding of their size, the sky really does go dark when they approach!
It was a tough rally for Michal and [co-driver] Maciek [Szczepaniak] last year so we will take a measured approach this time to get some valuable points in the bag. The first day will be a real test and by the end of the afternoon loop it will be clear who is the fastest. The 52km Ascochinga stage is a classic with a varying tempo. It can be wide and fast, but in the blink of an eye, changes to slippery, narrow and cambered roads ready to catch anyone out who slightly loses the line. The second pass through the stages can be very rough here, particularly Mina Clavero and El Condor, being hard on the tyres, car and crew.
The first time I came to Argentina was in 1992, I was 23 years old and working for a Belgian team who went on to be Group N world champions that year. The rally started in Tucuman and in those days it really did feel a long way from home! Since then the country has developed quickly. It's clear as you drive out from Cordoba's airport to where the rally is based in Villa Carlos Paz you pass well-manicured verges and efficient dual carriageway roads, but once you get off the beaten track and onto the stages where the rally is run it is a different story! You'll regularly see Gaucho Cowboys riding their steeds as they remains the favoured form of transport for working the land and tending the cattle because the terrain is punishing.
That's about it for now, but I couldn't leave you without one quick tip. One aspect that all the teams love when they come here are the steaks and red wine. Argentina's wine region, Mendoza, isn't too far away from here, which means there's a great choice. It is especially famous for Malbec, an old French grape variety from Cahors that is well suited to the altitude and weather of the region.
That's all from me. Now we'll wait to see what happens on this evening's Super Special and hope for a good day tomorrow!
More from the team soon.Tomo