DAVID EVANS

“Safety was very much bet­ter than last year”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

It took Gon­zalo Cumplido, the man im­me­di­ately to my right, just three cor­ners to start wrestling with his seat belt. The Volkswagen we were in had be­come slightly crossed up. Not sur­pris­ing when the rear wheels were in the air. laughed. Lov­ing it. Cumplido smiled, ner­vously. I laughed be­cause I couldn’t have been less con­cerned. Our driver had done this all be­fore. Michele Mou­ton’s no stranger to push­ing a Ger­man car hard in these parts. Her story about guid­ing an Audi quat­tro A2 down a snow-packed Bar­iloche stage on gravel tyres couldn’t fail to in­spire con­fi­dence.

Michele was en­joy­ing her­self. The main part of her work in this stage was done and this was a brief respite from the re­spon­si­bil­ity of keep­ing the Ar­gen­tinian fans safe.

This stage was Los Gi­gantes. The long­est of the rally. “They call it ‘gi­ant’,” said Mou­ton. The first 10 miles is fast and fairly full of fans. The 14 miles which fol­low to the fin­ish?

“It’s the moon,” Michele smiled, “I call it the moon. There’s no­body around and look at it...”

It’s hard to ar­gue. When Tim Peake comes back down to Earth, if he’s pin­ing for the last six months of his life, he could hang out on the road be­tween Los Gi­gantes and Can­tera El Con­dor. He’d feel very much at home.

The rea­son there’s no­body around is that the or­gan­is­ers have deemed this a no-go zone. Which is why Michele’s taken the wheel. She likes driv­ing. And this road is def­i­nitely one for the driver.

Faced with world rally obliv­ion, Rally Ar­gentina has stepped up and de­liv­ered a se­ri­ous safety plan. It’s still not per­fect, but it’s very much bet­ter than last year.

And MN has been granted ex­clu­sive ac­cess to its im­ple­men­ta­tion. Which is how I find my­self sit­ting be­tween Cor­doba’s chief of po­lice, Cumplido, and Rally Ar­gentina’s safety co-or­di­na­tor Car­los Bor­rione in a Volkswagen Amarok kit­ted out with coms to FIA rally di­rec­tor Jarmo Ma­ho­nen in the he­li­copter above us, rally con­trol and po­lice cen­tral.

To­day I’m part of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process that says if this rally runs or not. ‘Part’ might be push­ing it a bit. I’m here, at least. The fo­cus in the car is in­cred­i­ble. From the start, Mou­ton’s eyes are ev­ery­where. Like ev­ery­where. She doesn’t miss a thing. She’s happy. The fans are toe­ing the line, quite lit­er­ally. Red’s a no-go.

Not far from the fin­ish of Villa Bus­tos she’s spot­ted some­thing.

A chap in his eight­ies is sit­ting on a stool in front of his house drink­ing a cup of cof­fee while wait­ing for the cars. Out front of his house is red tape. He’s got to go. Bor­rione’s on the roof-mounted PA sys­tem while Cumplido jumps out to ex­plain fur­ther. Full of apolo­gies, the old boy takes his cof­fee and re­treats.

Two things sur­prise me here: it’s car­rot not stick and the lo­cals are des­per­ate to do the right thing. Mou­ton’s happy. Ev­ery­body’s happy. Job done.

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