2003 WRC

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5 September 2003    
Por Las Pampas Rally - 2003 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies / Round 7

Frustrating but solid second position for Sousa in Argentina
Mitsubishi L200 Strakar
C. Sousa / H. Magne
Mitsubishi L200 Strakar driver Carlos Sousa finished the 6th Por Las Pampas Rally, the penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, in a solid second position and, more importantly, kept his 2003 title aspirations alive. The five-day event was again marred by controversy, but Sousa kept the pressure on arch rival and rally winner Jean-Louis Schlesser, bringing his L200 Strakar to the finish 4 minutes and 55 seconds adrift of the Frenchman with 16 points separating the two as they go into the final round of the series in Dubai.

Mitsubishi L200 Strakar
C. Sousa / H. Magne

The 2003 Por Las Pampas Rally started on Monday September 1st from the Plaza San Martin in Cordoba and took the crews on a five-day, 2,207 kilometer route through central Argentina to the finish in the town of Santa Rosa de Calamuchita on Friday (September 5th). The event, the seventh of the eight round series, crossed barren and rugged terrain in the same region that hosts the country’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship, and was contested over 1,805 competitive kilometers. It was always destined to be a furious battle between Sousa and reigning World Champion Schlesser, the pair going into the event split by just four points.

Sousa took the advantage from the outset, the Portuguese and co-driver Henri Magne fastest over the opening 215 kilometer section in their TMN and Galp supported L200 Strakar en route to Mina Clavero. "I didn’t know what to expect when I started this rally because it is my first time in Argentina," commented Sousa. I was very happy with the way everything worked early on. I thought it would be faster, but the cross country sections were spectacular. The roads were narrow and that was beneficial for me; it reminded me of Northern Portugal. We had no problems and the car worked perfectly. But I didn’t know if it was an advantage to start first on the road on this rally."

Starting from second position, Schlesser fought back on the following leg, where the section was run twice and the bikes and cars ran close together. "It was a frustrating day for me," said Sousa. "I could not make headway and then I got lost for a time near the fourth passage control on the first loop, and Schlesser managed to take the lead."

Mitsubishi L200 Strakar
C. Sousa / H. Magne

On the third leg between San Lorenzo and Serrezuela, Sousa once again found it impossible to pass his rival, despite catching the Frenchman’s Buggy. Using all his skill to defend his position, Schlesser took control of the narrow track and Sousa was forced to run in his wake, risking the pounding of rocks being thrown into his path and up onto the L200’s windscreen. "It was a difficult section," said Carlos. "There was no way that I could find a path to overtake. It states in the Cross Country regulations that someone should allow a faster car to pass, but this was not the case on this stage; there was nothing I could do." Schlesser finished the section 4 minutes and 11 seconds ahead of Sousa, with Patxi Otano up to third overall in a Mitsubishi Montero/Pajero.

On the penultimate stage around the Sierra Grandes and Copacabana River, Schlesser managed to extend his lead, despite a frantic evening of service work the night before. After the regular service halt where vital repairs were made, Schlesser’s car was involved in a road traffic accident when being tested by one of the mechanics and, although there was little serious damage, the team was up most of the night repairing the car for a second time. On the stage, Sousa and Magne acted in accordance with the regulations when they were first to come across a closed gate, stopping to open and close it. However Schlesser increased his advantage by simply driving into the gate, to save time. His actions were later put before the Stewards, and the Frenchman’s advantage was then consolidated further when Sousa had problems in a river bed.

"I had a terrible day," said the Portuguese driver. "Driving first on the road wasn’t beneficial for me. I wasn’t able to achieve a lead on the first part and on the second we had to cross a river bed and I had some problems with my car, so Schlesser overtook me easily."

Mitsubishi L200 Strakar
C. Sousa / H. Magne

Commenting on the incident with the gate, Sousa was philosophical. "I stopped, opened it and then closed it, which cost me some time because you have to take off the seat belt, get out of the car, get back in, and finally lock the belt again. You don’t waste all this time if you just hit the gate. We did not lodge a protest, because race officials could see what happened."

Schlesser went on to win the final stage into Santa Rosa de Calamuchita and his maximum points see him lead the series by 16 points with just one round remaining. "It was a hard battle," said Sousa at the finish. "Jean-Louis is not easy to defeat and he sometimes applies unsporting methods. On the other hand, I did make a mistake in leg four and that kept me from fighting till the end."

Behind Schlesser and Sousa, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Strugo finished third overall and won the T1 category in his Mercedes ML430. He moves up the series leaderboard into third position. Argentinean Patxi Otaño finished fourth in Argentina in a Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero.

The 2003 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies will be decided on the sands of UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge next month. The event is set to be the largest motor sport event in Middle East history and starts with a Prologue stage on Monday October 20th.


  Driver / Co-driver Nat. Car Total Time Difference
 Jean-Louis SCHLESSER / Jean-Marie LURQUIN F/B  Buggy Schlesser Ford X202 4X2 22.14.49   
 Carlos SOUSA / Henri MAGNE P/F  MITSUBISHI L200 STRAKAR 22.19.44  + 4.55 
 Jean-Pierre STRUGO / Yves Ferry F  Mercedes ML430 27.04.46  + 4.49.57 
 Patxi Otaño / Héctor Santos RA  MITSUBISHI PAJERO / MONTERO 27.58.09  + 5.43.20 
 Fernando Gallinar / Gustavo Poggi RA  Suzuki Vitara 31.20.04  + 9.05.15 
 Pablo Gomez / C. Panzuto RA  Toyota Hilux 31.57.21  + 9.42.32 
 Jorge Mansilla / César Pereyra RA  Toyota 35.01.28  + 12.46.39 
 Manuel Seveso / Pablo Utrera RA  MITSUBISHI L200 36.01.30  + 13.46.41 
 Leonardo Vagnini / Mauricio Jeromin RA  Suzuki Vitara 39.12.43  + 16.57.54 
10   Chacarero / Angel Blasquez RA  MITSUBISHI PAJERO / MONTERO 75.57.42  + 53.42.53 
11   Matas Deni / Hernán Núñez RA  Nissan Pathfinder 98.28.28  + 76.13.39 
B=Belgium/ F=France/ P=Portugal/ RA=Argentina/