For the second time this season, Skoda Motorsport is ready to venture into the unknown. Back in February the team debuted its two Octavia WRCs on the Swedish snow and now it's preparing for another new challenge - the Rally of Argentina (3-6 May), round five of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship.

Although the Czech company has a long history of success in South America dating back more than 50 years to the heyday of the Skoda 1101 Popular, this will be the first time that its pair of Octavia WRCs has contested the event.

What's more the team's German driver Armin Schwarz is also making his first appearance on the famous gravel roads high up in the foothills of the Andes Mountains close to the city of Cordoba. However, Bruno Thiry and Stephane Prevot provide some useful South American experience - the Belgian crew has started the punishing event on two previous occasions finishing a fine fifth in 1996.

"We have some good memories of Argentina having taken class honours on all three occasions when we contested the rally with our Felicia Kit Cars during the mid-nineties. But it will be very different situation now that we are returning with the Octavia WRC," admits Pavel Janeba, Skoda Motorsport team manager.

"Being a gravel surface rally, the basic technical set-up for the suspension and transmission will be similar to the one we employed in Portugal and, it's encouraging to learn that both our drivers feel they have improved these base settings during our recent tests in Africa and Greece. The cars will also benefit from some minor engine revisions - power is important on this rally as the stages are set at considerable altitude. We scored a World Championship point on our first visit to Sweden with the Octavia; I'd like to think we could do it again in Argentina."

Having already recorded top ten finishes from three of his four starts for ?koda Motorsport in 2001, Thiry is looking forward to another good showing on an event he enjoys. "It's a fantastic rally," enthused the 38-year-old Skoda driver. "Argentina is a beautiful country, the scenery is spectacular and the local Latin fans are both enthusiastic and welcoming which creates a great atmosphere. Obviously it's going to be a tough baptism for the team but the Octavia has proved itself to be a robust competitor and, in the past, this event has put the onus on stamina as well as speed. So, hopefully, we can produce a few surprises."

Thiry's team-mate Schwarz is equally enthusiastic about the forthcoming trip to the Southern Hemisphere where winter is approaching. "This is the only round on the current World Rally Championship calendar that I've not contested before," said the 37-year-old German. "However, my co-driver Manfred Hiemer has competed in Argentina and he tells me it's well worth the long journey from Europe. I understand the gravel stages are similar to those found in Portugal - if so, it should be a real driver's event and that sounds good to me. Despite my lack of knowledge, given a trouble-free run, I believe we can achieve another very reasonable result."

Although the rally headquarters are in Cordoba, Argentina's very own 'Motown', the rally itself is based in Villa Carlos Paz around 40km to the west of the city. The action commences on Thursday evening with a crowd-pleasing Super Special stage that acts as a short curtain-raiser to the three-day main event which includes a further 19 special stages totalling 390km throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Many of these timed sections use the same dirt roads in the mountains and across the Pampas on which sporting legends such as Juan Manuel Fangio and Onofre Marimon earned their spurs during the 1940s and 1950s in the epic town-to-town races that were the direct precursor to today's hugely popular Rally of Argentina.