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Don’t cry for me…Alan Jones?

Submitted by on September 1, 2009

Hot off the rumour mill this month is the suggestion that Rally Argentina will return to Buenos Aires as its base next year. For the moment, Argentina has only a provisional slot on the 2010 calendar, but organisers are hoping that a return to the bright lights and big city might just seal the deal.

After all, motorsport is serious business in Argentina. So much so that one of the country’s top drivers is probably about to be voted President. We’re talking, of course, about Carlos Reutemann – who not only won 12 Formula 1 Grands Prix but also finished on the podium of Rally Argentina twice: the only F1 driver ever to make the top three of a World Rally Championship event. After his retirement Reutemann went into politics, and despite the odd financial crisis that crippled the country and caused minor bloodshed from time to time, he was judged to have done quite a good job of it. He’s been asked to stand for President, and chances are that he will do so in 2011. Let’s just hope that he resists the urge to break into song from the Presidential balcony in Buenos Aires.

While it will be great for motorsport in general to spawn its first Head of State, let’s hope that it doesn’t set a dangerous precedent. I mean; imagine some anti-monarchist coup that installed David Beckham as Emperor of England, for example. After being invited to his first international summit meeting, he’d probably be hanging around the top of K2 getting his breath back and wondering where all the other world leaders were…

Of course with Argentine politicians (in fact, make that all politicians) generally considered to be about as trustworthy as Cruella de Vil at a dog show, Reutemann’s political side meant that he was never universally loved in the F1 paddock. He was undoubtedly successful though, heading into the final Grand Prix of the 1981 season at Las Vegas leading the World Championship by one point. Only Nelson Piquet, driving a Brabham, could beat him. When asked which one he would rather see win the title Alan Jones – Reutemann’s Williams team mate and nemesis at the time – simply replied: “Don’t care mate. Can’t stand either of them…”

The following year, a row over team orders (unsurprisingly involving Alan Jones once more) led to Reutemann’s departure from Williams and Formula 1 after just two races. When it came to rallying though, Reutemann managed to attract the sort of public adoration that even the subsequent years spent kissing babies and handing out leaflets could not hope to emulate. He’s still the second-most successful racing and rally driver in Argentina after Fangio, which is no bad thing to have on your CV.

Reutemann’s first Rally Argentina, in 1980, started off from Tucuman with the local hero holding third place from the opening day in his factory Fiat 131, eventually finishing on the podium behind rally legends Walter Rohrl and Hannu Mikkola. He was back again for a second attempt in 1985, seeded as car number one in a works Peugeot 205 T16. This time he had to fight for his podium, on a rally that became infamous for Ari Vatanen’s near-fatal accident in an identical car. The winner that year was Timo Salonen, but he was practically ignored at the finish compared to the ecstatic reception that was given to ‘Lole’.

Politically, given that the competitive route alone covered 959 kilometres and 23 stages through the heart of Argentina, this was the fastest campaign trail seen yet in the history of government. Five years later, Carlos Reutemann became Governor of the Santa Fe region and now it might not be long before he’s President. Job done.

The moral of the story? Rallying is a valuable political tool. Think about it: no other form of motor sport visits a country quite so comprehensively, and Rally Great Britain – for example – used to have upwards of two million spectators watching the action in its heyday. In Finland, more than a fifth of the country’s entire population turn up to see their heroes.

In recent years, Rally Argentina has been dominated by Sebastien Loeb. Even Loeb though is thinking of retirement at some point, preferably before he develops repetitive strain injury from opening all that champagne. So why not politics as his next venture? As Reutemann, Vatanen (now a member of the European Parliament as well as a potential FIA President) and all the others would agree, it certainly beats working for a living…

Anthony Peacock – Mediatica

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