Our Tours - Rally Argentina - 2011
Our group of intrepid travellers congregated at Auckland airport before the slowest check in process I have ever experienced. Fortunately there was plenty of room on the plane to stretch out and try to grab a few hours sleep on the 12 hour flight to Buenos Aries. A delayed flight meant our connection was no longer possible so it was well into the early morning by the time we transferred to Cordoba, and then on to Villa Carlos Paz and our hotel.
After what seemed like a very short sleep, we were out on the tourist trail, visiting the local area to the north of Carlos Paz. It was great to catch up with Alejandro Fidelebus again - he has been out to Rally NZ with Mario in the past - and would be our local guide for this event.
Shakedown day: leaving well before dawn, we, along with many many others, set off to find a suitable spot to watch shakedown. We had to be in place before the first car at 0800 and so we were walking back into the stage from the finish line in the dark. As dawn approached the first cars appeared casting dusty roostertails which provided some surreal lighting effects for the first few cars. Only after the sun came up completely did we see how many spectators were unable to make it to work on a Thursday.
After shakedown we returned to the service park and caught up with Hayden and John, and had a look at all the works cars before grabbing a bite to eat and driving out to the first stage of the rally - the newly constructed superspecial. Can anyone say crowded? I'm not sure what this stage was like - I couldn't see the stage, let alone the rallycars. A fabulous idea though, and Hayden said it was great to drive, but not something I would bother with again.
Now to the real rally! - An early start was required to travel south and significantly uphill to the stages most would associate with Rally Argentina. At an altitude of 2500m - (thats 2/3 of the way up Mt Cook) the landscape is like no other, and offers a stunning backdrop to photographs. Rain was not an issue this year - there has been none for months in some areas - but dust will surely feature.
Our first real stage was Mina Clavera where we spectated quite close to the stage finish, and were able to see cars coming for perhaps 40 seconds before they encountered an innocuous looking bump on the inside of the sweeping corner between the rock formations. Loeb, Hirvonen, Latvala, Ogier, Petter Solberg, Ostberg, Villagra and Paddon were all spectacular here.
Hayden looked very good here, but a highlight for me was my first experience the South American maxi-rally cars. Different makes and shapes, they all have the same engine / gearbox / suspension / brakes and sound awesome! Lunch was at the Restaurant La Posta - while the cars returned to Carlos Paz for service we dined in very pleasant surroundings, awaiting their second passing of these stages. For the afternoon we walked into a side road and then around the obnoxious VIP camp, which blocked access to the stage. Why is it marketing people worldwide are so out of touch with the real world?
This was the side of the classic "El Condor" and had an enormous crowd spread over the stage. These photos of Hayden should give you an idea of the number of people out watching (dont forget this was a work day).This stage was the first time we noticed the crowd leaving immediately after Hayden had passed! After we met up with the rest of the group who has spectated at the start line we proceeded to have a very relaxing trip back to Carlos Paz - There was no choice really, the traffic backup must have been 15-20 km in three directions. The number of locals camped literally on the side of the road was astonishing.
Day 2: saw another early start to get south to the Calamuchita valley and the stage "Santa Rosa". Again many many spectators, and again enormous enthusiasm and welcome for spectators (like us) who had come so far to see Argentina's rally. This was quite different country to the first day, less mountainous and much more flowing, but with good numbers of yumps evident at rally speeds. Our rally lunch today was following a tour of a boutique brewery in a very German restaurant. The afternoon stage was to be a watersplash, but there was scant evidence of water anywhere near. Plenty of people though! Despite reporting less than full power Hayden had consolidated his lead and was looking assured of a good finish.
Sunday was nearly a disaster - after travelling an hour and a half we found our way blocked by the police who had a different plan from last year, and would not allow even foot access to the stage finish. A compromise was made and we travelled back to the stage which would be the "Power" stage on it's second running. No one was very keen to return to the superspecial after the first time and preferred the first cars at the power stage followed by a rush to just make the finish ceremony. A very good recovery of the day, and a reminder you always need a backup plan, after all rallying is the sport which first introduced the term "force majeur".
The farewell dinner hosted by Mario was fabulous, and it was delightful to meet his extended family.
After the rally we returned to Buenos Aries for some culture - both tango style with dinner and country style with a day ranch visit, again sampling the Argentinian asado - the barbeque. where Maureen held up our end of the entertainment singing a song from New Zealand. Back to BA we can report the "Absinthe" cafe across the road from our Hotel did not have as much Malbec in stock as they might have had, the last of us getting thrown out so they could close. The next day we spent exploring BA and flew out in the evening to Igauzu. Surprise! another delay! But,. so worth the trip.
The Iguazu Falls are stunning, a world heritage site. First day we went to the Argentinian side. After crossing the border between our hotel in Brazil and the National Park in Argentina, then back to the hotel(four border posts), then out for dinner in Argentina (another four border posts). The last day was a long one.. First we went to see the Falls from the Brazilian side which was even more awesome than the Argentinian view! Then after a helicopter flight over the falls, we were collected for lunch and then transported to the airport for our transfer to BA.
At BA we found we were too early to check in, and that our fight had already been delayed, so after much waiting (some waited horizontally, some at the wine bar) we eventually got on our plane and took off with further delays for the 13 hr flight home to Auckland. By this stage the volcano in Chile had started to erupt, so we were very lucky to get out at all.
This was a highly enjoyable event and my thanks to all my companions for making it such a success - JK
Bye the bye - for your information - South American rallying is alive and well!