Preview: 2017 Rally Mexico, by Martin Holmes
- 7th March 2017, 12:29am
A select entry of 29 cars has been received for the third round of the FIA’s World Rally Championship. Based as usual at Leon, 400km up country from Mexico City, the heart of the rally takes place in the hills to the north east of Leon.
This year there is a major novelty, with the start being held in Mexico City itself. This will be held on the Thursday evening, together with two stages run over a course through Zocalo Square and neighbouring roads.
This is the rally’s way to join celebrations for the country’s 200th anniversary of independence from the Spanish, but the only Spanish driver on the event is Dani Sordo.
Cars will then be transported to and then from Mexico City to Leon, ready for the restart on Friday morning. Plans to start the rally in Mexico City were only confirmed five weeks before the event and required adjustment to the planned schedule.
The shakedown close to Leon will now be held (like at Monte Carlo Rally) on the Wednesday afternoon, and the traditional downtown stage in Guanajuato will now be run on the Friday afternoon towards the end of the first leg of the rally. The Power Stage will be held on the celebrated and fast El Brinco road, best known for a spectacular high speed jump.
The rally is run not only as a qualifying round of the WRC, but also the FIA’s regional NACAM championship. Twelve of the entry will qualify for both series.
Mexico is the first gravel event of the series, but the two short stages in Mexico City and then in Guanajuato are on asphalt, while the Leon super special used twice on two evenings is mixed surface.
The event is organised in partnership with local communities, notably as part of a health promotion campaign for the rural areas.
Each year the rally is increasingly being geared up for spectators, this year with new measures to enhance spectator information and signposting. Access roads this year are being regraded for spectator benefit, and there is a team dedicated for clean up work in the area after the rally has passed.
Championship status is very provisional at the moment. Jari-Matti Latvala leads the drivers’ series and M-Sport is already 20 points clear in the manufacturers’ series, both as a result of good results on both the opening rounds.
Hyundai hopes for a third time lucky, following troubles for their driver, Thierry Neuville, who went off the road when leading on both Monte Carlo and Sweden.
In WRC2 the winners on the two previous events (Andreas Mikkelsen and Pontus Tidemand) are sharing the lead.
When the organisers of Rally Mexico finally released the FIA-approved entry list for their event, 11 new 2017 cars were listed, one car in WRC Trophy (Valery Gorban’s Eurolamp team Mini), five cars in WRC2, but none in WRC3.
A surprise absentee is Craig Breen, Citroen’s top scoring driver on both the two previous events in the season and lying fifth in the FIA drivers' championship, as the team this time do not bring a support 2016 specification car with them.
As recently announced there is no entry from OneBet Jipocar team.
Like on the other long haul world championship rallies, entry levels in Mexico are traditional. These are the numbers of crews who actually started Rally Mexico in recent years: 28 in 2016, 30 in 2015, 26 in 2014, 25 in 2013, 27 in 2012, 24 in 2011, 30 in 2010.
Team by Team
This is expected to be the only event in the 2017 WRC in which Citroen only enter two cars, two 2017 C3 WRC cars and this time no old DS3 WRC supporting entry.
Same cars as at Monte Carlo, with Meeke driving the ex-Lefebvre car (chassis 5) and Lefebvre driving the Meeke car now repaired after its on-event road accident (3).
Main news is that the sudden deterioration in handling on the final morning of Rally Sweden was a set-up issue following changes in weather conditions, rather than a mechanical failure, coupled with inexperience of the drivers in those conditions in these cars.
The team must be hoping for a calm event. Although Sebastien Loeb won this event six times in Citroens, on each of the few occasions their two current drivers have competed here before, they have crashed. Subaru WRX STi cars secretly used for pre-event recce.
This year the FIA’s three-car championship registration rule is helping Hyundai Motorsport regulate who drives which cars. Paddon, Neuville and Sordo are using their same cars from Monte Carlo and Sweden (chassis 3, 2 and 1 respectively).
Main technical problem in Sweden was Paddon’s power steering failure, apparently the same as Sordo’s in Monte Carlo.
Many new projects are being developed at the team, including a separate rally programme for the South Korean driver, Chewon Lim, who has a programme of up to 14 rallies in an i20 R5, including six in the TER series, and two events in his native New Zealand for Paddon in the special i20 built to local regulations.
Curiously none of the team’s drivers have ever finished higher than third in Mexico. The team continues to use BMW X1 recce cars.
Same cars as used on the two previous events (Ogier chassis 2, Tanak 3, the DMack car of Evans 4, while this is the first event for Lorenzo Bertelli in a 2017 car, 6).
Main challenge of the first gravel event of the season is to discover the durability of the apparently fragile new aero components.
The team will bring two R5 WRC2 cars, an M-Sport entry for Camilli (his Monte Carlo and Sweden car, 154) and the Chilean national championship driver Pedro Heller in Suninen’s Sweden car (127).
Findings from Sweden: Evans’ coil failure seemed to be a replay of Tanak’s Monte Carlo problem; Tanak’s gearshift problem, which demanded a gearbox change, was a software issue, but no news why Ostberg also needed a gearbox change.
This year Ogier has special Fiesta ST cars for recce, while other drivers continue with old Volvos again.
This is an event that Latvala won last year, for Volkswagen. Same two cars as in Monte Carlo (chassis 1 for Latvala and 2 for Hanninen).
There was a spectacular testing accident for Latvala who overturned when evaluating the car’s behaviour when running on worn tyres, but the car suffered remarkably very little damage.
The team report that the various corrections to the design of the car required by the FIA for homologation purposes have been carried out. These were to the design of the inlet valves (which had been made of four pieces instead of the permitted three) and to reduce the distance between the top of the shock absorber mounting to the bottom piece of the car, which was 1.2cm too tall.
Subaru cars used by the team for recce, with separate cars for long haul events sent (as done by other teams) by container from one event directly to the next.
- Martin Holmes
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