Rally Mexico Preview 2017- Fast Gravel and Thin Air!

Twelve months ago, Jari-Matti came to this event after two low scoring events. He went on to win the rally! That was also the last time he and Miikka stood on the top step! This year has seen a very different situation. He’s finished on the podium twice, and leads the WRC championship after his victory in Sweden last month.

This does bring its own challenges though. On the first day, they’ll be first on the road and as this event is a gravel rally, they’ll be sweeping the loose gravel for all those behind.

Here are the details for each stage.

RALLY GUANAJUATO MÉXICO SCHEDULE (GMT-6)

WEDNESDAY 8 MARCH

4.00pm: shakedown (Llano Grande)

10.00pm: start of the rally (León)

THURSDAY 9 MARCH

6.05pm:

SS1x – CDMX Street Stage Presented by Michelin 1 (1.57km)

SS1y – CDMX Street Stage Presented by Michelin 2 (1.57km)

FRIDAY 10 MARCH

10.00am: Service A (León – 15 min)

11.28am: SS2 – El Chocolate 1 (54.90km)

12.36pm: SS3 – Las Minas 1 (19.68 km)

2.41pm: Service B (León – 30 min)

4.14pm: SS4 – El Chocolate 2 (54.90km)

5.22pm: SS5 – Las Minas 2 (19.68km)

6.12pm: Additional headlamp fitting zone (Guanajuato – 10 min)

6.34pm: SS6 – Guanajuato Street Stage (1.09km)

7.49pm: SS7 – Autódromo de León 1 (2.30km)

7.54pm: SS8 – Autódromo de León 2 (2.30km)

9.04pm: Flexi Service C (León – 45 min)

SATURDAY 11 MARCH

7.30am: Service D (León – 15 min)

8.33am: SS9 – Media Luna 1 (27.42km)

10.01am: SS10 – Lajas de Oro 1 (38.31km)

11.08am: SS11 – El Brinco 1 (10.09km)

12.58pm: Service E (León – 30 min)

2.16pm: SS12 – Media Luna 2 (27.42km)

3.49pm: SS13 – Lajas de Oro 2 (38.31km)

4.37pm: SS14 – El Brinco 2 (10.09km)

5.47pm: SS15 – Autódromo de León 3 (2.30km)

5.52pm: SS16 – Autódromo de León 4 (2.30km)

6.57pm: Flexi Service F (León – 45 min)

8.50pm: SS17 – Street Stage Feria de León (1.33km)

9.00pm: Parc ferme

SUNDAY 12 MARCH

9.40am: Service G (León – 45 min)

10.43am: SS18 – La Calera (32.96km)

12.18pm: SS19 – Derramadero Power Stage (21.94km)

1.53pm: Service H (León – 10 min)

2.30pm: Podium

Last year’s result

J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila 4:25:57.4

S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia +1:05.0

M. Østberg / O. Floene +5:36.4

D. Sordo / M. Martí +5:37.9

H. Paddon / J. Kennard +6:22.6

O. Tanak / R. Molder +9:59.5

M. Prokop / J. Tomanek +12:58.5

L. Bertelli / S. Scattolin +14:09.6

T. Suninen / M. Markkula +18:01.8

V. Gorban / V. Korsia +32:37.3

So, what are the key challenges of this event. Well, the stages are fast, but also very slippery, so tyre choice is very important. After the cold temperatures of Monte and Sweden, we will see that climbing to 30c plus and then it’s the thinning air as the rally runs in the mountains around Leon anything between 1,800 and 2,700 above sea level!

So, what do the drivers have to say about this incredibly challenging event?

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Jari-Matti Latvala said:

“I have some very happy memories of Mexico after I won last year, but I also know some of the reasons behind it. I started with a good road position, towards the back, and I took advantage of the cleaner roads to take a big lead – while the people at the front were really struggling. So this year for me, it’s going to be the other way round! In these circumstances, you have to take away what you can and I would be really happy with a place in the top five. Nothing has changed for me since Sweden, but I think this emphasises the importance of just trying to do your best wherever you can and staying consistent. If you do that, you can maybe be in a good championship position at the end of the year, even though that was not really our objective for only the first season. There’s always a great atmosphere in Mexico: the fans called me ‘La Bala’ – which means ‘the bullet’ – last time, so I hope not to disappoint them this year!”

Juho Hänninen said:

“I’ve done the rally only once before, a long time ago, but I really liked it. I always feel happy on gravel and I think on Friday, with the long stages like El Chocolate, there could be a very good opportunity for me. I should have a nice starting position and I need to make the most of it. While Sweden wasn’t a great rally for me personally, I learned a lot about how to be more clever on certain things in future: in particular making sure that I am well-prepared after testing. My test before Mexico was very good: we changed a few things on the car with the suspension but not very much, and I am close to having the confident feeling that I enjoyed with the car after the Monte-Carlo test. The work that the engineers have done on the engine is really impressive, I think even with the altitude it should be OK so hopefully I will not have to adapt my driving style too much.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Hayden Paddon commented: “I’m looking forward to Rally Mexico. It feels like a long time since we’ve been on gravel and rallying outside of Europe. It’s an event with a nice atmosphere with passionate fans and enjoyable roads. The altitude is a key characteristic of this rally. We have to adjust the car and ourselves to the conditions. We have to make sure that we put in the extra effort so that we’re fully prepared. Maintaining hydration levels in the hotter conditions is obviously important too. We’re going to try everything that we can to put in a solid performance and to secure a positive result.”

2016 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 03 / Rally Mexico // March 3-6, 2016 // Worldwide Copyright: Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville commented: “Mexico is a unique event and one which brings back happy memories of the team’s first WRC podium back in 2014. It is the first hot event of the season, which combined with the fact that the event takes place at such a high altitude, makes it special. It’s an enjoyable rally; we can really push because of the knowledge and experience we have from the previous seasons. We are confident that we can perform well. The car has already demonstrated what it can do in Monte and Sweden, so we have to go out there and show what we know we are capable of. We’re determined to fight back!”

Dani Sordo said: “I am excited about Rally Mexico because it is the first gravel event of the year and for our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. Thanks to the additional power that is present in the new car, it should be an even more spectacular rally than normal, as usually we would expect the performance to drop slightly as a result of the altitude. Making the transition from wintry conditions in Sweden to the warmer climate of Mexico is all part of life in the WRC. We have spent time preparing for the change, with the most important process being adapting our bodies . I am confident we can put ourselves in the podium fight.”

M-Sport WRT

Sébastien Ogier said:

“I made my WRC debut in Mexico so it is always nice to come back here. We always receive such a warm welcome from the fans and they have a real passion for the sport.

“For the first time in a number of years we won’t be opening the road but it will still be a big challenge. We’ll be the second car into the stages so we’ll still have to contend with quite a lot of road cleaning. We’ll need to try to stay as close as we can over the opening day and then see what’s achievable when the conditions become more consistent.

“We’ve had a good start to the season, but now we’re going to experience something totally different. This is where we’ll get a feeling for these new cars on gravel and where I’ll get to experience the Fiesta’s performance on this kind of surface. We had a really useful test last week with a lot of kilometres, but there really is no substitute for competition.

“It’s going to be an interesting rally and I hope we can continue our good performance and continue to progress.”

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Ott Tänak said:

“There are two things that you need to keep in mind in Mexico – the heat, and the altitude. We’ll head out to the event a little earlier to get used to the climate but when it comes to the stages, you need to be on it from the word go.

“The high altitude means that we have a lot less power to play with and you need to constantly have that in your mind. You need to be very clean and precise and make sure that you keep the speed up all the time.

“The stages themselves are nice and smooth, but they could become quite rough and rutted over the second pass and that makes it even more important to have a clean run. There is a lot of new aero on these cars and you don’t want to lose any of it.

“We racked up a lot of kilometres during the test last week, but we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out on the rally. We’ve not had a lot of gravel running so far this year so I think the key will be to find a good rhythm early on.

“We’ll also be opening the road again and that is something I’ve never experienced on gravel. It’s going to be an interesting rally with a lot of things to discover, but I’m looking forward to it and to seeing what we can do.”

D-Mack WRT

Elfyn Evans said:

“The first gravel rally of the year will certainly be an interesting one and I think everyone is waiting with baited breath to see what they can do. The altitude makes this a really unique event and when you combine that with the high temperatures it’s a big challenge – for the crews and the cars.

“We’ll need to be at the top of our game to contend with the physical demands, but we’ll also need to adapt our driving style to get 100 percent of the performance. Because of the thinner air, there’s a reduction in power and you need to be really smooth and not so aggressive behind the wheel.

“You’ve got to be so tidy at this event and keep momentum through the corners. If you scrub speed before a long straight or sequence of corners the engine doesn’t have the power to carry you though and you can lose a lot of time.

“We’ll have to wait and see how the conditions suit us, but I am looking forward to this one. It’s an event I’ve done well at in the past and a clever run can deliver results – it’s just a case of getting the balance between risk and speed just right.”

Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT

Kris Meeke said:

“Mexico is one of the rallies I know the least, but it’s a course that I like. I think that we headed in the right direction during testing and I’m looking forward to checking that in racing conditions. Despite the loss of power, it should still be pretty enjoyable to drive the cars because we’ll be at more or less the same level as last year’s WRCs. We’ll have to guard against being too aggressive behind the wheel so as to avoid losing time. I’m also pleased to be going to Mexico City for the super special stage. If the atmosphere at the F1 Grand Prix is anything to go by, then it’s going to be a very special occasion in an iconic setting. I’ll bring my dinner jacket along in honour of 007!”

Stephane Lefebvre

“Apart from the mud at Wales Rally GB, I haven’t competed on gravel since Rally Poland last July! Testing helped me gradually to get into the swing of things. As we moved between various stretches of road, I was able to define a set-up that gave me confidence in the car. That’s the most important thing in order to learn and improve in a relaxed frame of mind. I’m pleased to be back in Mexico again. I really enjoyed being in the country during my only outing here in 2015. Beyond the sombreros and the cactus, it’s more the warmth and friendliness of the people, the atmosphere in the streets of Guanajuato and the magnificent scenery that make it worth the trip!”

So, this year’s Rally Mexico looks to be just as exciting as previous events, with long and tricky stages!

If you wish to watch any highlights or live coverage, then I’d suggest Redbull TV.

Friday Highlight Show: Saturday 11 March from 4:00am.

Live Coverage: Saturday 11 March at 4:50pm-6:05pm.

Saturday Highlight Show:

Sunday 12 March from 4:00am.

Event Highlight Show: Monday 13 March from 4:00am.

So, can Jari-Matti make it another victory, or will Seb conquer these stages to take a second victory. One person hoping for a result will be Kris and the Citroen team. With a good road position, could they score a podium or even a victory? It will be what they want for sure!

Enjoy, and Viva Mexico!

Warren Nel

6th March 2017

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