World Rally Championship leader Sebastien Loeb says the new asphalt sections included in next week's Rally Argentina will be vital in deciding the outcome of the sixth round of the series.
The organizers of the South American rally have included two main asphalt sections on the stages. The first comes at the end of a lengthened El Condor stage, which now finishes in Cuesta Blanca after 12 miles of paved roads. The second significant section comes on a revised second day of the event, which features a return to the Punilla Valley to the south of Carlos Paz. The Las Jarillas-Falda del Carmen test which opens Saturday ends with nine miles of asphalt.
Both of the stages are run twice, meaning the crews will have to run close to 20 percent of the total route using Michelin's gravel tire on asphalt. Loeb and his Citroen teammate Sebastien Ogier recently tested the tires under those conditions for the first time.
Loeb said: "As the asphalt sections are in the very heart of the gravel sectors, we can't play on the setups. We'll have to adapt our driving style to get the best out of them. And the crucial factor will be good tire wear management."
Despite these changes to the route, Loeb remains a big fan of the event. He has won the last five Rally Argentinas, and Citroen has not been beaten there since 2003.
"This rally has an ambiance unlike any other," said Loeb. "The Argentinean spectators are mad about rallying. They're very warm, very demonstrative and really participate in the event. There are people everywhere, from the hotel to the summits of the stages.
"We've got a good record in this rally, which I can't really explain. The route's extremely varied. Some stages alternate technical portions and quicker ones. Maybe I've just been a bit more successful than my rivals over the past few years. For sure, I feel good here!"
Argentinian fans of Citroen and Loeb will not have to wait too long to see them as the French firm is running a show in the center of Buenos Aires tomorrow (Saturday), with the DS3 WRC expected to be donuting its way around the obelisk on the Place de la Republique.