This year Mexico is a rally of many firsts; it’s the first time Mikko Hirvonen has lead the title race this early in the season, the first ever WRC event for the Monster World Rally Team and the first ever gravel event for Kimi Raikkonen.
If he were to win here, it would also be his first victory in Mexico, whereas Sebastien Loeb has won this event for 3 consecutive years since 2006 – there was no Rally Mexico for him to win in 2009.
“We can't really say that the championship's got off to a bad start with our second place in Sweden, but I'm not going to let Mikko Hirvonen open up a gap in the overall classification,” said Loeb. “The route's an interesting one from a driver's point of view. The stages aren't too hard on the car and they're a kind of digest of all the challenges in a rally with very quick sections, twisty ones and fliers!”
Hirvonen is still concerned about what has been a major stumbling block for him in the past: road position. His win in Sweden means he starts first on the road, and will have to sweep all the loose gravel off the stages as a result.
“Leading the championship can have its disadvantages, and I now run first on the road for the opening gravel rally of the season,” he said. “My rivals have better road positions than me so it will be difficult, but I’ll still try to find a way to challenge for the win. I’m not underestimating the difficulties, but I wouldn’t swap my win in Sweden for a better start seeding,”
As a result, team tactics may come into play once again, something the drivers claim to be trying to avoid, but Loeb expects it is almost an inevitability.
“I think tactics will play a part on this rally,” he said. “But I hope not. It’s difficult to say what will happen now. For tomorrow, I will try to push see what happens. Usually there are problems for someone on this rally, but we have to start pushing and then see what happens with the first day.”
Ford is more than experienced when it comes to playing tactics with road position – just ask Francois Delecour, who once had to be the guinea pig for the late great Colin McRae. This time however, Jari-Matti Latvala will act as the sacrifice.
“It’s something I’m prepared to do,” said Latvala. “I’m the team’s second driver, so it's my job in places like this to support Mikko. If there’s a benefit, then of course we have to look at the possibility and try to help Mikko by going first car on the road.”
One to watch is Petter Solberg – a dismal start to his season with a 9th place finish in Sweden means he starts in the same position in terms of road order for Mexico. With more grip on the stages lower down the order, it could see him in contention for his first victory since 2005.
“It's a rally I’ve always been fast on and we’ve won it too,” said Solberg. “Based on how we did on Rally GB last year, we should be able to do even better in Mexico now we have a better car.”
While the Citroen Junior Team make their first ever appearance at this event, the Monster World Rally Team is taking its first steps into the WRC, where Mexico marks its debut on the world stage. This season Ken Block will run a part-season driving a Ford Focus, and is relishing the challenge ahead.
“The WRC Focus RS is the most incredible piece of rally machinery that I have ever driven,” exclaimed Block. “Unfortunately, I only got about 170 kilometers of testing in which is about 10 percent of what I really need to run to get ready for a WRC event. That is all that is really available to me right now, so I got the most time I could in one day in the car. I am as ready as I can hope to be after one day for my debut.”
Today’s shakedown stage was won by Petter Solberg, who led a Citroen Top 5. However the moral victor was the mid-stage watersplash, which was hellbent on flooding everyone’s radiators and ruining their day. It successfully victimized Dani Sordo.
“The water splash itself wasn’t especially fast – just second gear – but it was very steep in and out,” he explained. “There’s a first-gear corner immediately after the water splash, and the fact that I was braking for that didn’t help the angle of the car. The water flooded into the ducting and broke everything. This is the worst water splash we’ve found on the recce, so it shouldn’t be a big issue for the rally.”
1. Petter Solberg. Citroen C4 WRC. 2:51.7
2. Dani Sordo. Citroen C4 WRC. 2:51.8
3. Sebastien Ogier. Citroen C4 WRC. 2:51.9
4. Sebastien Loeb. Citroen C4 WRC. 2:52.5
5. Kimi Raikkonen. Citroen C4 WRC. 2:54.2
6. Mikko Hirvonen. Ford Focus RS WRC 09. 2:55.3
7. Henning Solberg. Ford Focus RS WRC 08. 2:56.2
8. Federico Villagra. Ford Focus RS WRC 08. 2:56.4
9. Matthew Wilson. Ford Focus RS WRC 08. 2:59.9
10. Jari Matti Latvala. Ford Focus RS WRC 09. 3:00.1