The 2017 FIA World Rally Championship ventures across the Atlantic as Mexico plays host to the season’s first gravel event, the rough, passionate and unique Rally Guanajuato Mexico.
The first non-European event of the season, Rally Mexico is a world away from the previous event in Sweden.
From the snowbank lined forest roads, with temperatures as low as -20°C, comes the rough, rocky mountain roads of Mexico where air temperatures can linger around 30°C and can reach as high as 50°C in the cockpit.
In addition to the hotter temperatures, the rally features the highest altitude anywhere on the calendar, with some stages being run at nearly 3,000m above sea level.
This results in limited oxygen supplies to the engines, with a potential loose of 20% of their horsepower.
Because of this the teams have been testing in the mountainous Granada region of Spain as well as configuring the dynos to high altitude settings in order to negate the altitude problem.
Despite all this, Rally Mexico is renowned as one of the most colourful and vivacious events on the calendar and that will only be heightened this year with the inclusion of a spectacular opener in Mexico City.
The famous Zócalo square will play host to two 1.57km tests as the classic colonial square, an area more accustomed to receiving foreign heads of state and hosting national celebrations, will echo to the sound of World Rally Cars, with more than 200,000 fans watching on.
Latvala’s Altitude Problem
Jari-Matti Latvala, together with the brand new Tommi Makinen run Toyota team and the even newer Toyota Yaris WRC, has been the series’ surprise hit so far.
The Finn currently leads the championship after his excellent win in Sweden but Latvala doesn’t expect to be challenging for another fairy-tale win.
Despite being first to clear the rock gravel strewn roads for his rivals on day one, Latvala’s main concern is Toyota’s lack of experience in dealing with high-altitude conditions.
Therefore the Finn believes that it’ll be the toughest event for new team.
“We are a new team going to Mexico for the first time,” he told Autosport magazine.
“The other teams have a lot of experience of this rally and these conditions.
“The team has done some simulation work, but we don’t know too much about how things will work when we get to Mexico.”
Runner behind Latvala on the road on day one is reigning champion Sébastien Ogier.
This is the first time since 2014, that Ogier will not be first car on the road.
This means that he’ll be free from the worst of the road cleaning, but an arduous task still lays ahead for the Frenchmen as the second car on the road.
Despite this, Ogier still expects a good result on the rally that he began his WRC career on.
“I made my WRC debut in Mexico so it is always nice to come back here,” he said.
“We always receive such a warm welcome from the fans and they have a real passion for the sport.
“For the first time in a number of years we won’t be opening the road but it will still be a big challenge. We’ll be the second car into the stages so we’ll still have to contend with quite a lot of road cleaning.
“It’s going to be an interesting rally and I hope we can continue our good performance and continue to progress.”
Team DMACK driver Elfyn Evans has only competed in Mexico twice before, but on both times he has finished fourth overall, so the possibility of three in a row will hopefully be on the cards if everything goes the Welshman’s way.
Neuville & Citroen Must Deliver
Hyundai go into the event searching for its first podium finish of the season, despite dominating the first two events.
Thierry Neuville and Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC have proved to be the quickest combination so far this season.
However, small but very costly mistakes by the Belgian has prevented a clean sweep of victories and as a result Neuville arrives under pressure to deliver.
However, the Belgian is determined to claim the manufacturer’s first top-three finish in Mexico since 2014.
“We are confident that we can perform well,” he said.
“The car has already demonstrated what it can do in Monte and Sweden, so we have to go out there and show what we know we are capable of.
“We’re determined to fight back!”
His team-mates Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo will also be looking to join him on the podium and get on terms with the Belgian having been consistency outpaced by Neuville so far this year.
Citroen also arrive with a point to prove.
The C3 WRC and Kris Meeke have flattered to deceive so far this season but both are hoping to kick start their season in Mexico, confident that they’ll show good pace on gravel.
“Mexico is one of the rallies I know the least, but it’s a course that I like,” the Northern Irishman said.
“I think that we headed in the right direction during testing and I’m looking forward to checking that in racing conditions.
“Despite the loss of power, it should still be pretty enjoyable to drive the cars because we’ll be at more or less the same level as last year’s WRCs. We’ll have to guard against being too aggressive behind the wheel so as to avoid losing time.”
Skoda Aims to Achieve Six in a Row
In WRC2 M-Sport’s Éric Camilli will go head to head with Rally Sweden winner Skoda’s Pontus Tidemand.
Tidemand is hoping to continue Skoda’s five round winning streak in WRC2, but Camilli is hoping to put a stop to that despite competing on his least favoured surface.
The WRC Trophy only has one competitor entered, Valeriy Gorban’s Mini John Cooper Works WRC.
Follow the Checkered Flag for all the coverage of Rally Mexico over the coming weekend.