High altitude, high temperature, and high pressure – Rally Mexico turns up the heat.
Mon 04.03.13, 10:10AM
This week the FIA World Rally Championship leaves Europe, arriving in Mexico for the first gravel event of the year.
Kicking off from the city of Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rally Mexico is 394 competitive kilometres and 23 stages squeezed into the mountains that surround the cities of León, Silao, Irapuato and Guanajuato. It is the smallest footprint of any event on the WRC calendar, with the most compact and efficient route in the history of the sport..
Compact though it may be, the mountainous location provides its own challenges. In addition to the hot weather, loose surfaces, and blinding clouds of dust this week drivers must cope with the extra demands made on engines straining at altitude – the reduction in oxygen at altitude leads to a loss of around 20 percent of engine power.
Complicating matters further is the sharp gravel that gets kicked on to the dusty mountain passes, puncturing holes in the rubber of the less fortunate and punishing those who run adrift. With timed stages representing 38% of the distance covered in Mexico, there is no margin for error.
The action kicks off with a 1.05-kilometre timed event around the tightly-packed cobbled streets of Guanajanto, but the 2013 rally features two new stages: a 2.16-kilometre run through the region’s Bicentennial Park, built to commemorate two centuries of Mexican independence, and the 31-kilometre ‘El Chocolate’, named after a nearby village.
Twenty-seven entries have been listed for Rally Mexico, but Sebastien Loeb will not be among them – it is the Citroen driver’s first no-show of his part-time season. The Frenchman, who has won the Mexican event six times, will be of no use to his team this weekend.
But it is not just Loeb’s absence that will make the 2013 rally a weekend to remember – thanks to the absence of previous victors Markko Martin and Petter Solberg, Rally Guanajuato Mexico will have a new winner.
Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo will be doing their best to keep Citroen at the top of the manufacturers’ standings, while championship leader Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala are looking to bring Volkswagen a second consecutive win on the team’s Mexico debut. Also looking to capitalise on a strong showing in Sweden will be Qatar M-Sport’s Mads Østberg, who powered his Ford Fiesta RS WRC to the final place on the podium at the last event.
Making his first appearance of the 2013 season will be Ken Block, driving a RS for his Hoonigan Racing Division.
The pressure is on Volkswagen to exploit Loeb’s absence and deliver another victory after taking the prize at the last event in Sweden. But according to the team’s technical director, the current Polo R WRC is a compromise with room for improvement.
“For sure, the car we have now is the compromise,” Francois-Xavier Demaison said. “This is the car we started designing in the middle of 2011 and started testing last year. We did a small evolution for this year, but no major changes. Next year, we have changes.”
A race celebrated as a return to the sun and the first in a long run of gravel rallies, Mexico has been one of the most popular events on the WRC calendar since its inception. With the first real indicator of performance still to come in Portugal, whoever comes to dominate Rally Mexico in the absence of Loeb will be driving their way into the record books.