Preview: 2020 Rally Mexico
Martin Holmes gives us his Rally Mexico preview, where teams will struggle with sapping power conditions and the tricky gravel roads of the Guanajuato area.
A surprise entry boost is seen for Rally Mexico, the third round of the 2020 WRC, with a 30 percent increase in numbers compared with last year.
The official WRC entry list names 40 crews including 10 World Rally Cars, three WRC2 cars (two Hyundais for Gryazin and Veiby, and a Skoda for Tidemand), 10 WRC3 cars and nine national category cars, including Ken Block’s special Ford Sierra Cosworth.
The event also qualifies as the first round in the FIA’s 2020 Nacam regional rally series.
The only known entry change is the withdrawal for the second successive WRC event of the Deividas Jocius’ works run Fiesta World Rally Car.
Mexico is due to be Dani Sordo’s first WRC event with Hyundai for over four months.
A special feature of the route of this year’s event is the physical completion of the new public road joining Leon with nearby Silao, which traditionally has been a traffic hazard.
There are to be no fewer than 24 stages. Two are essentially new, the new version Bicentennario Parque stage north of Silao, and the completely new downtown Leon Street Stage, the shortest ever WRC stage – at 730 metres.
Rally Mexico (12-15 March) will be the first traditional gravel rally of the WRC season and is to feature a variety of spectator stages, including the usual stages around a rallycross course. There will again be a repeat of the traditional underground 1.12km opening stage.
Most of the stages are at familiar venues run on high altitude hot, hard gravel roads, which severely test the cooling systems of the engines.
The stages are run at altitudes between 1800 and 2737 meters above sea level, with Leon at 1786 meters. It is expected that Michelin’s medium compound hard tyres will be the preferred option.
This event is one of rallying’s traditionally innovative annual fixtures, notably because of the way the supplemental Health Rally helps bond support for the rally to social medical help, which is facilitated to local communities in rural areas where it is not easily provided.
The format of the route is familiar, based at Leon in Guanajuato State with stages in the mountains to the north east of the city, while the start and finish are all in Leon.
Team by Team
Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT
Thierry Neuville lies second in the Drivers’ series, jointly on points with Evans.
Despite victory in Monte Carlo and second place in Sweden, Team Principal Andrea Adamo said: “Mexico will offer a completely different challenge, one that will put different pressures on our car and crews. We know that road order will have some influence with gravel conditions benefitting those, like Dani, who will be later to start on the first day.”
Testing is prohibited outside of Europe so all three crews carried out testing on gravel in Spain.
Tanak and Sordo also competed Rally Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras in preparation for Mexico.
The cancellation of Rally Chile led to no change of plans. The team have their three Sweden i20 Coupe WRCs also for Mexico with Sordo having Breen’s car.
All three drivers have finished on the podium here: Tanak and Sordo second in the last two years while Neuville has finished 3rd three times.
Both the team’s WRC2 crews (Veiby and Gryazin) will contest the event for the first time both in their Sweden Rally cars.
Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (#11 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
“Rally México is the first ‘summer’ event with hotter temperatures than we faced in Monte and Sweden, as well as high altitude and some demanding long stages. They are tough conditions, especially as one of the first cars on the road.
“I have great memories of Mexico, including our first podium with Hyundai Motorsport, and my first-ever WRC top-three finish the year before. It has always been one of the rallies I wanted to win; I was never quite able to achieve it, but it would be nice to change that this year.”
Crew Notes: Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (#8 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
“I was pleased to get my first podium with Hyundai Motorsport in Sweden, but Mexico will be very different – it’s a unique challenge. The heat and altitude make it a very specific event on the calendar.
“On the fan side, too, it’s amazing; we have a lot of people spectating and going crazy which makes it very special and emotional for us as drivers. There’s nowhere better than Mexico to come and get some sunny weather after the winter. Physically, it can be tough. At altitude we don’t have as much oxygen, so our driving style needs to be smooth and flowing, while the engine power is reduced, so we have to be efficient.”
Crew Notes: Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
“I am excited to be back in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC at Rally México, an event I enjoy a lot and where I have always had a good performance. I have stayed close to the team in the opening events of the season, and took part in Rally Serras de Fafe last weekend, so I feel fit and ready. I really want to win in Mexico and to take another victory for the team.
“Our road position on the first day should be advantageous but that alone is not enough. The altitude makes it a difficult event, so we have to be prepared physically and to look after the car as well. We have a lot of support and passion from the fans, which only adds to the character of this event. I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
The only manufacturer out of the three registered for the 2020 series to have won in Mexico, Team Principal Richard Millener, “We’ve got a good track record in Mexico – with victory in 2018 and podiums every year since launching the current-spec cars.”
The 30°C heat can be closer to 50°C in the cockpit, and the stages rise to more than 2,700 metres above sea level where the oxygen-starved air can see engine performance reduced by as much as 20 percent.
The Swedish Rally went ahead as planned given the conditions, so no knock-on consequences. The organisers did a great job given the difficult circumstances and, despite the reduced schedule, the rally produced some close-fought and exciting competition as always.
News of the cancellation of Rally Chile came in good time so it didn’t affect plans and they go direct from Mexico to Argentina.
The team had the same cars as used in Monte Carlo and Sweden for Lappi and for Suninen and his Monte Carlo car for Greensmith, #4.
In R5 Alberto Heller has a MkII Fiesta, chassis 12.
The team tested in Spain last week – a day and a half for Suninen and for Lappi, his first experience on gravel-tuned car. Gus Greensmith also had a day in the car.
The team also conducted a two-day research and development test at Ford’s Climatic Chamber in December.
Crew Notes: Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (#4 Ford Fiesta WRC)
“Every time I get behind the wheel I’m learning more and fine-tuning the set-up to better suit my driving. We worked on a few things in Sweden, and continued that at the pre-event test last week. We’ve not been too far off challenging for the podium, and I think that has to be our goal in Mexico.
“I’m getting more and more confident with the Fiesta, but of course Mexico is a tricky and unique event where you really need to be clean and efficient in your driving. The altitude also means that we run with less power, so small mistakes take longer to recover. But the feeling is good, so let’s see what we can do.”
Crew Notes: Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen (#3 Ford Fiesta WRC)
“I’ve always enjoyed this event and the stages are really nice to drive, but the high temperatures and altitudes mean that it can also be really challenging. Even with a world rally car you can feel the lack of oxygen and we need to be prepared for that – both physically and in our driving too.
“We haven’t had the best start to the season, but I’m now fully focused on this event. We completed a pre-event test last week where we found a good set-up, and we know from previous years that the Fiesta is a fast and reliable car here. We will certainly be trying our best to score some good points next week.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
With a ten-point lead in the Manufacturers series, and Elfyn Evans leading the Drivers’ championship, each of their drivers are in the top four places.
Team Principal Tommi Makinen declaring, “It has been a brilliant start to the season for the whole team and, of course, we hope to keep it going in Mexico.”
Evans will be first on the road on Day 1, the first time a British driver has done this in recent years.
Among the team’s drivers experience in Mexico ranges from Sebastien Ogier who made his WRC debut on the event in 2008, has achieved five wins (with three different manufacturers: VW, Ford and Citroen) including the last two years and looking to equal Loeb’s record of six wins in Mexico.
Kalle Rovanpera will be on only his second Mexican event while Evans has one podium result from five appearances.
It is their three regular drivers team entered without Katsuta.
Crew Notes: Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (#17 Toyota Yaris WRC)
“It’s always a great feeling every year to go to Rally Mexico. I have so many good memories there: It was my first WRC event back in 2008, when we started with a win in the Junior category, and since then we’ve had a lot of good results there.
“I have had the chance to do two days of testing in Spain recently, and I think the first feeling with the car on gravel is really good. After two events where we had some good pace but didn’t manage to claim a win yet, this will definitely be the target in Mexico. With more mileage in the car now, I start to feel more and more comfortable in the Yaris WRC. Being third on the road is not a bad starting position, and our plan will be to try to fight as hard as we can for the victory.”
Crew Notes: Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (#33 Toyota Yaris WRC)
“It’s obviously been a great start to the year with the team, and I’m looking forward now to the first gravel event of the season.
“In a way, Mexico is quite like the first two rallies of the year, in that it has its own specific challenges that we have to try and adapt to. And this year, it’s another new surface for us to get used to with a new car. But we found a good feeling in the first two rounds, and we hope to do the same in Mexico. Leading the championship does mean we will be opening on the road on Friday, which will not make it easy for us, but we almost have to forget about that and just focus on the job in hand.”
Crew Notes: Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (#69 Toyota Yaris WRC)
“The pre-event test in Spain was the first time for me on gravel in the Yaris WRC, but I was getting used to the feeling more and more. We tried a few different setup options and I think we found a good compromise.
“I competed on Rally Mexico two years ago, and the main difficulty there is the high altitude, which means you need to adapt your driving style. Sweden was of course a very nice rally for us, but I think that Mexico could be one of the trickiest events for me this year with my experience, and we will have to see how it goes.”