The newly established Red Bull Skoda team will make its first appearance of the season at next weekend's Rally Mexico.
Reigning Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Juho Hanninen will be behind the wheel of a Skoda Fabia S2000 for the team, starting his attack on the S-WRC title.
The team has been created as a result of Skoda Motorsport joining forces with the existing Red Bull Rallye Team, which is run by Austrian Raimund Baumschlager and has tasted success in the WRC's support categories in recent years.
Rally Mexico is the second round of the World Rally Championship season and the first round for S-WRC runners in their Super 2000-spec machinery. 22 stages will be held on gravel surfaces around the rally base in the city of Leon, from 3-6 March.
Hanninen will be hoping to get his S-WRC title challenge off to the best possible start by winning the category in Mexico. “Our appearance in S-WRC is a big challenge for the whole team,” said Hanninen, who will be navigated by regular co-driver Mikko Markkula. “We have high ambitions, as we want to be among the leaders of the field, and so the start of the season is extremely important. The competition is going to be strong, but we have prepared well. This rally will show where we stand in comparison with the other teams”
Baumschlager added: “The Mexico Rally is not going to be an easy ride, but we are prepared for that. We have top-class resources, state-of-the-art technology and, thanks to the massive support we are getting from the Skoda Motorsport, we also have Juho Hanninen, one of the best current drivers on gravel. I believe that our position in the final rankings will be high.”
Hanninen's teammate in the Red Bull Skoda team, Hermann Gassner Jr., will not be present in Mexico. Instead, his campaign will begin at the next S-WRC event in Jordan. “We are going to do some more testing to make good use of the time remaining until the Jordan Rally – after all, the car is new to me. The appearance in S-WRC is a big step forward, it is the first time that we will be part of an international series. The goal is to gain as much experience as possible and gradually climb up to the top of the field.”
After Mexico and Jordan, the team plans to take part with both drivers in Sardinia, Greece, Finland, Germany, France and Spain.