Talk about a sting in the tail. The biggest challenge of all has been saved for the final day of Rally Argentina: 66 kilometres over Matadero-Ambul.
This is the longest stage on the calendar, also making Argentina the longest WRC event of the year. In total, there will have been 19 stages on the 2012 Argentina event, totalling a staggering 503 kilometres. By halfway through Friday afternoon, for example, the crews had covered just a fifth of the total distance – and there were already several distinguished names on the retirements list.
It’s part of the FIA’s initiative to return the endurance element to the sport, making rallying the epic adventure that it always was. And one of the key ingredients to this is longer stages.
One person pushing hard for the move was WRC manager Michele Mouton, one of the Group B heroines. She commented: “Having endurance stages is a good thing because you know that they will always be a story from them. On these stages, something will definitely happen and this is always interesting for the journalists and the spectators.
"Of course we call them long stages now, but in the past these would have been just normal stages. So we want to give everyone the feeling that getting to the end of these stages is a special achievement and encourage the story.”
The single biggest key to making the endurance stages work in Argentina will be tyres. “We have just 10 soft tyres in our allocation,” said Red Bull’s Sebastien Loeb. “These are quicker but they might not last for the full 66 kilometres, so it could be that the hard tyre is the way forward.”
In fact, don’t expect anyone to be using the soft tyre at all on the long stage tomorrow; most drivers have already burned through their allocation of the softer rubber in the damp conditions seen so far.
On a very long stage, physical fitness is also of vital importance. “It’s not so much being fit enough to drive the car, you can do this with normal fitness,” pointed out Sebastien Ogier, who drives for Volkswagen and is also backed by Red Bull.
“It’s more about being fit enough to have spare mental capacity to make the instant decisions that you always need to make when you’re driving the car, and knowing that you will get those decisions right, even at the high speeds we see on that stage.”
The cars are set up the same as ever – although some will carry two spare wheels in case they hit problems. The drivers need to make sure that they stay hydrated though: their recommended fluid intake is at least five litres per day. It’s true: Red Bull gives you wings…