Neither Makinen, Burns nor Team Mitsubishi Ralliart had contested the event before, yet Makinen soon grabbed the lead on the dauntingly fast stages west of Cordoba. Ice was a hazard on the first few stages, before competitors headed for the highest stages of the rally, more than 2,000 metres above sea level. Makinen swept into the lead in his trouble-free Lancer Evolution III as Subaru driver Colin McRae crashed and Carlos Sainz hit mechanical trouble in his Ford. After 198 kilometres of flat-out stages during the 403-kilometre first leg, Makinen had built up a useful advantage of 26 seconds over Kenneth Eriksson's Subaru.
Burns was feeling unwell and found it hard to concentrate, but his Lancer Evolution III was also running well and he exploited its reliability to hold fifth place.
Pacing himself to perfection, Makinen continued to pull away on the second day of the rally, despite spinning his Lancer Evolution III on the 17th stage. He couldn't afford to relax for a moment on some of the most demanding stages in the world, but after another 196 stage kilometres, he had extended his lead over Eriksson to 55 seconds.
Makinen knew that he could not be sure of victory until he had safely negotiated one of the longest stages of the rally, at the beginning of the final leg. Another fastest time confirmed his supremacy and he made sure of his third victory of the season, after setting quickest times on 15 of the 28 stages. A huge crowd gathered in Cordoba's World Cup football stadium to acclaim his victory on one of the toughest rounds of the World Championship, with 546 stage kilometres in the total of 1,311 - not to mention strict road timing that hardly gave crews pause for breath. As a result, Makinen extended his points lead over Carlos Sainz to confirm his position as the man to beat in the 1996 World Championship.
"I am very happy, but it was not easy. On some of the stages, I have to say that it was difficult, because I have not been here before, but the car and our Michelin tyres were very good and I am looking forward to the next round of the championship, which is my home rally, the 1000 Lakes," said a delighted Makinen.
Burns gained in confidence with every stage in his Lancer Evolution III, finding that it was easier to drive after making small adjustements to the shock absorbers at the end of the first leg. He speeded up on the faster stages during the second leg and climbed to fourth place. Despite severe pressure from Bruno Thiry as the finish neared, the 25-year-old Team Mitsubishi Ralliart driver kept his cool to take an encouraging fourth place, confirming the speed and ruggedness of the Lancer Evolution III.
"The car has run very well indeed and I'm happy, because I needed to get more kilometres in it. I really enjoyed those last few stages," said Burns.
Mitsubishi's Group N superiority was confirmed once again, as Uwe Nittel and co-driver Tina Thorner scored another convincing victory in their Ralliart Germany Lancer Evolution III. He moved into a clear lead on the first day of the rally, forcing his production class car ahead of many of the Group A cars to finish in 10th place overall. Uruguayan Gustavo Trelles took second in his similar car, with Argentine newcomer Daniel Preto third.
"It's brilliant result for the team. It shows what a good car the Lancer Evolution III is. You've got to look at its complete reliability - there's not a nut or washer out of place. Tommi has been so cool and relaxed, and I'm delighted with Richard. The pressure is lifted and he can go to New Zealand and Australia and enjoy himself," declared Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Director Andrew Cowan.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is now preparing for the next event in its Asia-Pacific Championship campaign, the Rally of New Zealand, which starts on July 27. Its next World Championship event will be the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland, which begins on August 23.
1 T. Makinen/S. Harjanne FIN/FIN MITSUBISHI LANCER EV. III 5.48.42
2 C. Sainz/L. Moya E/E FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH + 01.35
3 K. Eriksson/S. Parmander S/S SUBARU IMPREZA 555 + 04.39
4 R. Burns/R. Reid GB/GB MITSUBISHI LANCER EV. III + 08.01
5 B. Thiry/S. Prevot B/B FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH + 08.25
6 G. Pianezzola/L. Roggia I/I TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR + 14.17
7 P. Liatti/F. Ponz I/I SUBARU IMPREZA 555 + 15.21
8 R. Madeira/N. Da Silva P/P TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR + 16.27
9 P. Bernardini/C. Francois F/F FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH + 20.38
10 U. Nittel/T. Thorner D/S MITSUBISHI LANCER EV. III 1st Gr N - + 25.44
Makinen, who is co-driven by fellow Finn Seppo Harjanne, will be joined by the British crew of Richard Burns and Robert Reid in a Lancer Evolution III, who are currently challenging the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship for Team Mitsubishi Ralliart.
Makinen has won two rounds this year, the Swedish and Safari Rallies, and finished second in the previous event, the Acropolis Rally in Greece. Burns, meanwhile, is travelling to Argentina fresh from his superb second place in the third round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, the Rally Malaysia, which took place in June.
However, neither driver has much experience of Argentina although both are confident that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III will place them at an advantage, as Makinen explains: "I know this car is very good on gravel stages and I was very happy with it in Greece. I also know that our Michelin tyres work very well, and so I am quite confident."
Burns adds: "I have been here before as a gravel note driver, working for another team, so I have seen some of the stages. However, I am going there to learn and do my best to support Tommi. I feel a lot more confident after my performance in Malaysia so I am looking for another good result here."
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Manager Phil Short is well aware of the challenge facing the team and comments: "This is a crucial event, half way through the championship. Mitsubishi Ralliart, as a team, has never been here before and, although it will be tough on everyone, we have the least experience. For that reason we will conduct more testing than normal in the days leading up to the event. We may be at a slight disadvantage with our lack of experience, but then we approached the Safari Rally in the same way and we won with Tommi, so we are quietly confident of a good result once again."
The Rally Argentina features 28 special stages over three legs, all on gravel covering 526 km in a total route of 1312km. The first car is due to leave the start at Cordoba at 08:15 on Thursday, July 4, arriving back in the city three days later on Saturday, July 6 at around 16:40.
The team has faced such challenges before, successfully contesting the unique Safari Rally in Africa earlier this year with a similar lack of experience, emerging with an historic victory for Tommi Makinen.
The pair of Group A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IIIs that will be driven by Makinen and Burns are built to a similar specification to that used for the Acropolis Rally where Tommi increased his FIA World Rally Championship lead with second place. The special stages of Argentina, of which there are 28 covering 526 km in three days in a total route of 1312 km, are almost as rough as the Greek tracks in places for half the event, with the rest based on soft, sandy tracks that can be equally as challenging.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is relying on the fact that, historically this year, the Lancer Evolution III has been the dominant car in terms of speed, reliability, handling and traction on all gravel events this year. And with tyres from Michelin combined with Michelin's exceptional technical back up, Mitsubishi hopes to field one of the strongest teams in the event which has attracted leading entries from Ford, Subaru and Toyota.
The 1996 Rally Argentina starts from Cordoba at 08:15 on Thursday, July 4 for 13 special stages in the first leg, covering a stage distance of 199 km in a route of 403 km, before finishing at the Estadio Cordoba at 17:40. The second leg, starting from Cordoba at 08:15 once again, features a further 10 special stages which total 196 km in a route covering 409 km, again finishing back in Cordoba at 17:40. The final leg is 500 km in length, starting from Cordoba at 07:30, but features just five special stages of 130 km in total before the finish in Cordoba at 16:40 on Saturday, July 6.
Copyright 1996 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
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