The World Rally Championship makes a return to classic conditions next week as Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak contest the most daunting event of the season at the Philips Rally Argentina.
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team's young guns have had an impressive start to the season – setting both personal and world records alike – and the duo will be out to prove what makes them two of the most exciting young talents in the sport on this the fifth round of the season.
As one of the most spectacular and demanding events of the year, Rally Argentina is a real highlight in the WRC calendar. Covering a mammoth 502.73 competitive kilometres, the rally marks the longest event in the championship for almost a decade – the last rally to possess such a distance being the legendary 2002 Safari Rally in which Colin McRae piloted his works Ford Focus RS WRC to victory.
With the competitive action taking place in the valleys around the Argentine city of Cordoba, M-Sport's young stars will have to contend with changing grip levels, high altitude and some of the longest tests of the year. The 19 special stages boast varying characteristics from the open plains north of Carlos Paz to the narrow, rocky tracks to the mountains further west. Each day of competition also involves an endurance test, the pinnacle of which being the 65.74 km pass over Matadero, pushing both drivers and machinery to the maximum.
Fresh from his record-breaking second place at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal, Novikov's confidence is on a high as he became first Russian and youngest-ever competitor ever to stand on the WRC podium. The influence of experienced co-driver Denis Giraudet has been clear, and Novikov has developed into an accomplished young driver able to translate his obvious speed behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC into consistently strong results. The young Russian will be looking for another impressive finish as he tackles Rally Argentina for the second time next week.
“Our podium was very well received back home in Russia, everyone was very happy," Novikov reported, "Lots of people came to meet me at the airport and we have had a lot of coverage in the newspapers, on television and on the radio too. My fellow countryman Vitaly Petrov also sent me his congratulations – it has been a very nice couple of weeks!"
Before making the journey to Argentina, Novikov will attend the Rally Masters Show in his home-city of Moscow. As the first rally show in the history of Russian motorsport, the event celebrates the resonance of rallying amongst the Russian media and public. The inaugural show attracted rallying greats the likes of Toni Gardemeister and Mark Higgins and this year will see Novikov as the star attraction. The Russian's focus remains on the daunting task that lies ahead, however.
“I competed in Argentina in 2008, but we had problems off the start line which compromised our pace, so this will be my first outing at maximum attack," he revealed, "There is no question that this will be a very difficult rally – and it will be a real challenge just to make it to the finish – but we will try our best as always. The aim will be to make as few mistakes as possible to secure another top-five result.”
With mixed fortunes in Portugal, Tänak will be looking to make a return to his points-scoring form in Argentina. Despite being one of many to have been caught out by the treacherous conditions last month, Tänak and regular co-driver Kuldar Sikk set an impressive pace to secure both their first stage win on gravel and their first Power Stage point behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC.