Argentina might only have a single World Rally Championship victory to celebrate, but it sports a splendidly eclectic mix of drivers who have competed at or near the highest level. Choose from the son of a former president to a tennis player once ranked third in the world.
And that’s before we consider the likes of Formula 1 giants Juan Manuel Fangio and Carlos Reutemann, both of whom took busman’s holidays on motorsport’s muddier side.
But let’s start at the top with Jorge Recalde. Born on the gravel roads of Córdoba, Recalde was a naturally-talented and universally-liked competitor (he died far too early, suffering a heart attack aged 49).
Recalde impressed the right people early in his career, with Fangio recommending him for a Mercedes drive in 1980. He rewarded the German manufacturer with second place aboard a 500 SLC on the Ivory Coast.
Much of his success came at the wheel of a Lancia in the mid-1980s. For four years, he drove a factory car, starting with a Delta S4 in 1986. A year later he finished second in a Martini-liveried Group A Delta HF 4WD and 1988 delivered the dream result for the massed ranks of fans.
Recalde won Rally Argentina. Granted, the field might not have been as full as it was on a European round of the championship, but the local hero had the measure of Lancia team-mate Miki Biasion at the height of the Italian’s pomp. He earned his win and fully deserved it.
It’s a result that’s still celebrated to this day.
Guest drivers for local heroes weren’t unheard of in the eighties, hence Reutemann’s appearance in the Peugeot 205 T16 Timo Salonen used on the recce for the 1985 Rally Argentina. At that time Reutemann was about Argentina’s most recognizable sportsman, having finished runner up in the 1981 Formula 1 world championship.
Reutemann was no stranger to rallying, having competed sporadically before, but joining Salonen and Ari Vatanen was by some stretch the biggest moment of his time on the dirt.
Unfortunately for Peugeot, the French manufacturer’s hopes were dashed of stealing the limelight on a rally which will be forever remembered for the accident which came so close to claiming Vatanen’s life after a terrible crash on a fast downhill section of the second stage.
Reutemann finished a credible third.
Fellow F1 icon Fangio competed in a time when the line between rallies and road races was blurred, but he certainly drove one rally in 1965.
The president’s son? That would be Carlos Menem Jr, who used a Group N Lancia (run by the famed Argentinian squad Top Run) to finish sixth and win his class in the same 1992 season he finished third in the production car world championship.
Ernesto Soto was another local who ran well, finishing fourth on Argentina’s second ever WRC counter at the wheel of a Renault 12 TS.
The list goes on, with Gabriel Raies, Marcos Ligato, Federico Villagra, Luís Pérez Companc and Gabriel Pozzo all well worthy of a mention.
But only one of Argentina’s driving Gods can also talk about finishing runner-up to Lleyton Hewitt in the 2002 Wimbledon men’s singles.
Step forward David Nalbandian, who remains a rally driver to this day and posted 10th overall on the opening round of his domestic series aboard a Chevrolet Onix Maxi rally car. His sole Rally Argentina entry ended in disappointment with a mechanical problem in 2015.