Having finished fourth overall in Portugal last time out, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini start Rally Argentina full of confidence.
Competing in both Argentina and Chile on the 2011 Dakar Rally holds fond memories for Al-Attiyah, who emerged as the clear winner of an event that had included stages around Córdoba, in the heart of the province that hosts this year's Rally Argentina. The Qatar World Rally Team driver will therefore be happy to be back on the roads around Villa Carlos Paz and among the hundreds of thousands of fans who never miss an opportunity to come and cheer on the drivers.
Al-Attiyah will also feel very much at home in South America since Rally Argentina sees the introduction – or rather reintroduction – of a format focusing significantly on endurance as, compared with 2011, the timed stages have been lengthened by a third, passing the 500km mark.
“I am happy to be racing on fairly long stages, because it's something that, naturally, I can manage well," he noted, "On Sunday morning, we start the third leg with a timed stage of almost 66km. That's huge for the WRC, where the stages are rarely over 40km, but it's fairly short for rally-raid. However, we mustn't confuse the two disciplines, you can't really compare them. I like both and I'm really happy to be competing in this rally in a DS3 WRC.”
After competing in a rally-raid in Qatar, Al-Attiyah will head for Argentina in time for the start of reconnaissance. Sixth in Mexico and fourth in Portugal, he is determined to reach new heights in his fourth rally in a Citroën DS3.
“It would be nice to finish on the podium, but we shouldn't kid ourselves, a top five finish would be a very good result in itself," he acknowledged, "Most of all, I am going to try and reduce the difference in times between me and the leading drivers. In Portugal, I understood a lot of things when I found myself battling for position with Martin Prokop. By picking up the pace, I found it was easier to handle the car. I'll be trying to get that feeling again next weekend.”
Meanwhile, in the Citroën Junior World Rally Team, Thierry Neuville is tackling this event with a single goal.
“I want to finish the rally without having to use the Rally2 rules," he claimed, "That wasn't possible in the last rally due to a spot of bad luck related to the very specific racing conditions. Obviously, this is going to be my first experience of a rally that has been described to me as difficult. The course is twice as long as the one I know from IRC, there are some very unusual stages and the weather can often be changeable. But I'm here to learn and get better!”
After setting some encouraging stage times in Mexico and Portugal, the Belgian now has some points on the board, but has to try and keep moving up the overall standings.
“If I manage to complete the race without incident, I think I won't be far off the top five,” he insisted.