· Last stage steering rack damage hampers Gutiérrez’s CODASUR challenge
· Sebastien Halpern forced out of possible podium finish after three days
SAN MIGUEL DE TUCUMÁN (ARGENTINA): South Racing brought one of its three Toyota Hiluxes to the finish of the arduous six-day Desafio Ruta 40 Nord at San Miguel de Tucumán in northern Argentina on Thursday (August 31).
The Paraguayan duo of Blas Zapag and Posse Romero claimed the final podium position in their Copetrol Rally Team-backed car behind runaway event winner Orlando Terranova and runner-up José Garcia.
Bolivian driver Rodrigo Gutiérrez and Croatian navigator Tomislav Glavic looked set to finish the second round of this year’s Argentine Cross-Country Rally Championship and a round of the South American Cross-Country Rally Championship (CODASUR) in fifth overall after recovering from a stage maximum penalty on day one that had dropped them to the lower reaches of the top 10.
But the Bolivian damaged the steering rack on his spare car – he had crashed his usual Toyota at the recent Atacama Rally – in the short final stage and was unable to snatch the lead in the CODASUR series or secure victory in the Argentine championship.
The Argentinean duo of Sebastien Halpern and Eduardo Pulenta, meanwhile, held a podium position for two days before a broken differential cost them dearly on day three and they were forced out of the event.
“It was a very promising race and a good performance and eventual result for Blas and late disappointment for Rodrigo and Sebastien,” said South Racing’s managing director Scott Abraham. “Sebastien had a strong rally going and was running well. But he suffered a differential failure after km200 on the third stage. Unfortunately the support guys did not pack a spare diff, so he could not continue. Rodrigo damaged the steering rack on the last stage today and that cost him dearly in the two regional championships.
“Now we must look to the future, learn from the mistakes and look forward to having Sebastien race with the team in Portalegre (Portugal) and Dakar and to our ongoing programme of rallies in South America.”
The competitive action began with a timed Prologue stage of 5.4km at the Autódromo El Villicum in San Juan on August 26th. Argentina’s Orlando Terranova carded the quickest time of 3min 42sec and was followed over the finish line by Halpern and José Garcia. Gutiérrez and Zapag were fifth and ninth.
The first of the selective sections wound its way from San Juan to Villa Unión in La Rioja Province and Terranova extended his advantage at the top of the standings with the fastest time. Halpern and Zapag were third and sixth, but Gutiérrez incurred a stage maximum after technical issues and slipped into the lower reaches of the top 10.
The first section of the second selective from Villa Unión to Tinogasta in the Catamarca Province used 158km of dry riverbeds and gravel roads before venturing into the demanding dunes at Fiambalá in intense heat. Terranova extended his lead to 22min 04sec over second-placed Halpern, who disposed of Garcia to move into a similar position in the overall standings. Zapag climbed to fourth and Gutiérrez recovered some time to hold eighth.
Stage three headed out of Tinogasta en route to Belén and included a timed section of 303.97km with a mixture of gravel tracks, a sea of soft dunes and dry river beds. Terranova topped the rankings, but Zapag and Gutiérrez dropped two hours and there were stage maximum penalties of 12 hours for a troubled Halpern after he suffered a differential failure. It meant that Terranova took a substantial lead into the remaining two stages, Zapag climbed to third overall, Halpern slipped to fifth and Gutiérrez held seventh.
Leg four headed off a plateau start at Pie de Medano, near Belén, en route to Tafi del Valle in chilly temperatures. A stage of 309.14km was on the agenda and Terranova was again quickest, Zapag consolidated third overall with the sixth fastest time and Gutiérrez was fourth and climbed to fifth when Halpern failed to start the stage after his transmission issues on day three.
The short final stage ran for 180.70km between Tafi del Valle and the finish in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán. Terranova claimed the fastest time to seal victory and the fifth fastest time enabled Zapag to confirm third overall. But Gutiérrez damaged the steering rack during the stage and was unable to complete the rally or take the lead in the prestigious CODASUR Championship.
2017 Desafio Ruta 40 Nord – final positions:
1. Orlando Terranova (ARG)/Bernard Graue (ARG) Mini All4 Racing 19hrs 52min 25sec
2. José Garcia (ARG)/Ricardo Torlaschi (ARG) Chevrolet S10 24hrs 28min 55sec @4.36.30
3. Blas Zapag (PAR)/Posse Romero (PAR) South Racing Toyota Hilux 34hrs 22min 40sec @14.30.50
4. Martin Maldonado (ARG)/Sebastien Scholz (ARG) Prototipo HP CRT 34hrs 57min 07sec @15.04.42
5. Omar Gandara (ARG)/Leonardo Martinez (BOL) Toyota Hilux SR 62hrs 06min 58sec @42.14.33
DNF. Rodrigo Gutierrez (BOL)/Tomislav Glavic (CRO) South Racing Toyota Hilux
DNF. Sebastien Halpern (ARG)/Eduardo Pulenta (ARG) South Racing Toyota Hilux