Remembering Argentina’s WRC best – Jorge Recalde

To mark 20 years since his passing, we reflect on the career of the only Argentinian driver to win a world championship rally

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Much as we love 2021 here at DirtFish, we’re quite partial to be looking back to what happened in our world two decades ago. You know, 2001… that epic, four-way, final-round nail-biter that ultimately favored the first-ever English world champion in Richard Burns.

You’ll have seen some brilliant McKlein galleries from 2001 already and they’ll keep on coming, as will the finest written and video content.

But not everything about 2001 was good news. On March 10, South American rallying said goodbye to its most successful driver, Jorge Recalde.

The Argentinian died during the Rally de Villa Dolores, an event close to his Mina Clavero home. Through the opening day, his Ford Escort WRC had been plagued with clutch problems, which led to him and co-driver Diego Curletto having to push the car into parc fermé.

Recalde collapsed in his team motorhome shortly afterwards and died instantly. He was 49.

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South America and Argentina in particular was not short of motorsport heroes, with Carlos Reutemann and, of course, Juan Manuel Fangio ruling Formula 1 through Recalde’s youth.

That youth was spent on the family farm. And, once his father had taught him to drive, Recalde would be behind the wheel as often as possible. Circuits and road racing were of interest, but it was rallying that fired Recalde’s imagination. And European rallying was really where he wanted to be.

An undoubted master of the Transierra stages that provided the meat and drink of Rally Argentina, Jorge Recalde was much more than a local hero. His big break came in 1980 when 12-time grand prix winner Reutemann couldn’t find an agreement with Mercedes to drive its 500 SLC on Rally Codasur (the event that would go on to be known as Rally Argentina).

But who would Mercedes turn to instead? Fangio recommended Recalde.

Transmission failure ruled him out of his home WRC round, but he would be back behind the wheel of the big Mercedes in the Ivory Coast later that year. This time he brought the car home in fine style, second overall behind team-mate Björn Waldegård. So much for the Argentinian only being able to shine in South America.

Four years on and he would become the first South American to lead a WRC round. It wasn’t uncommon for manufacturers to hire local specialists in the 80s. With the recce completed in a full factory car, that practice machine could be hastily re-prepared for a driver like Recalde to take the wheel on the rally proper.

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Rally Argentina, 1984

That was what happened when he guided an Audi Quattro A2 to third place in 1984, having led, set five fastest times and finished less than two minutes behind second-placed team-mate Hannu Mikkola on a rally that comprised 600 competitive stage miles.

Two years later and Recalde would make his first appearance with Lancia, finishing fourth on his home round in a Delta S4.

The ticket to Europe and a full factory drive eluded him. By 1988, he’d waited long enough and did a deal to drive a Group N Lancia Delta in a tilt at the Production title. Despite two series wins, he missed out by two points to Pascal Gaban. But he would become a WRC regular – latterly with the Ralliart Europe squad – until 1996.

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The lasting memories Mikkola will leave behind

DirtFish's tribute to Recalde's 1984 Rally Argentina team-mate Hannu Mikkola

But it was his Rally Argentina win in 1988 that folk remember him for. And he did it right, running right with Lancia’s team-leader Miki Biasion even before the Italian was slowed by an electrical fault. Jorge’s biggest fear thereafter? Team orders. Fortunately, he found Cesare Fiorio and Nini Russo in a benevolent mood and there would be no swapping of places.

In truth, Recalde deserved a shot at the big time. Quiet, unassuming and universally liked in the service park, the moustachioed Mina Clavero man was a class act. This point evidenced by the tributes that followed the terribly sad news from this day two decades ago.

Following his funeral, half of Recalde’s ashes were scattered on the family farm with the other half spread across the Giulio Cesare stage he’d once ruled.

Words by:David Evans

Photography by:McKlein Image Databse