The World Rally Championship moves from the snow and ice of Sweden to the hot and dusty gravel stages of Mexico for the second round of the season, with the Citroen Total World Rally Team looking for a return to winning ways on the first of seven consecutive gravel events.
Drivers Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier could not match the pace of the Scandinavian Ford drivers in Sweden, with Loeb taking a quiet sixth place finish with Ogier two places further ahead in fourth. It marked a disappointing debut for the new Citroen DS3 WRC, but the team and its drivers insisted Sweden would not be a true representation of the car's pace.
Citroen will have high hopes for Mexico though, where the French make has taken four consecutive victories, with Loeb winning in 2006 in the Xsara WRC before victories with the C4 WRC in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Last year, the C4 WRC locked out the podium with Loeb leading home privateer Petter Solberg and Ogier.
Loeb is aiming to take a fifth consecutive win on Rally Mexico. “The first rally on gravel is really the kick-off of the season. The route is very like what we'll meet during the rest of the year with this event's special feature, a combination of very quick and very twisty sections. We know that there are quite a few victory contenders. From our side, it's very important not to give away any points in the title chase.”
Ogier will also be looking to repeat his previous form on the event. “I've got good memories of Rally Mexico. In 2008, our first world championship rally in the JWRC in the C2 Super 1600 ended in victory and eighth place overall. Last year we had an exciting finish to the rally as we were battling with Petter Solberg for second place. This year, we'll have a good position on the road on the first day. I feel confident in this rally with its stages that are great fun for the driver. Like all my rivals, I'm impatient to see if we've done a good job in testing.”
Solberg will be present again in Mexico in his privately-run DS3 WRC. The Norwegian won the round in the Central American country back in 2005.
Technical director Xavier Mestelan-Pinon said that he was not concerned about the result in Sweden. “We shouldn't jump to hasty conclusions when analyzing the results of the rally. When the conditions were comparable for all the crews, our cars were at least as quick as those of our rivals. In terms of figures, the DS3 WRCs set ten fastest times out a possible twenty-two. There's only one rally on snow with studded tyres during the season. We had a long debrief after the event, and I think we've found some interesting paths to explore in the future.”
Mestelan-Pinon is satisfied with the development work done on the DS3 WRC in preparation for the coming gravel events. “The World Rally Championship has always been mainly run in gravel events. Even, if it's not a question of sacrificing snow or asphalt, it was very important to be able to count on a car that's competitive on gravel right from the start of the season. Mexico begins a string of seven events on this surface. We've done a lot of testing on different types of gravel from the really rough stuff to the smoother, faster sections. We're continuing to work on the car's handling with the new Michelin tyres.”
Rally Mexico takes place 2000 metres above sea level, one of the main challenges facing the teams on the rally. “We've got a lot of experience of Rally Mexico which we've won with the Xsara and the C4,” said Mestelan-Pinon. “To be quick on this type of terrain, you have to have a good suspension setup and brakes that last. Concerning the altitude you have to adjust the gear box ratios and play around with the engine mapping. It's the result of work in testing as the engine is no different from the one we had in Sweden.”