M-Sport will be chasing a Mexican Fiesta next week – when the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC makes its gravel debut at one of the FIA World Rally Championship’s most vibrant events, Rally Guanajuato Mexico.
Having completed 1,470 kilometres of testing last week, the team worked to perfect set-up configurations and test durability. Known for its high rate of attrition, the Mexican fixture demands reliability as well as performance and the team have left no stone unturned in their pursuit of another strong result.
RALLY MEXICO: HIGH ALTITUDE, HIGH ADRENALINE
Rally Mexico might be the first official gravel rally of the season, but this unique event has an individuality which sets it apart from the more traditional loose-surface fixtures.
Contested in the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountain ranges, stage altitudes are at their highest and the Ford Fiesta WRCs will compete up to 2,746 meters above sea level.
The thinner air can see engine performance reduced by as much as 20 percent which places demands on team and crews alike. While the team work to extract 100 percent of the available performance, the crews must be note perfect – any mistakes being harshly punished as reduced power takes the engine longer to regain full speed.
If that wasn’t enough, air temperatures can linger around the 30°C mark with those in the cockpit as high as 50°C. The event also plays host to some of the roughest terrain of the year and the crews will need to deliver a conscientious drive – especially over the second pass when the stages can become particularly rough and rutted.
The challenges are vast, but so is the enthusiasm of the Mexican supporters. 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 CDMX Street Stage Presented by Michelin.
As the start of the rally moves 400 kilometres south to one of the world’s largest cities, the WRC entourage will converge on the iconic Zócalo square which was featured in the opening sequence of the latest James Bond thriller, Spectre. Creating a spectacle of its own next week, Rally Mexico’s opener is not to be missed with huge crowds upwards of 100,000 expected to attend.
M-Sport is currently 20 points clear at the head of the manufacturers’ standings and Team Principal Malcolm Wilson is keen to see the team excel at the next challenge.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“We’ve had a fantastic start to the season but the next challenge is just around the corner as we debut the Fiesta on gravel. We completed a lot of kilometres at our pre-event test and learnt more about the car set-up which we hope will pay dividends next week.
“Of course there’s no substitute for competition, and I think everyone is on tenterhooks waiting to see if we can continue the strong performance shown on the opening two rounds. I see no reason why we can’t do that and, even though we’ll be hampered by road position through the early stages, a podium has to be our aim.
“Rally Mexico is a real highlight for the team. We have a lot of great memories from the event and the atmosphere rivals anything else we see on the calendar. This year, with the inclusion of the first stage in Mexico City, I’m sure it will be something very special indeed – worthy of these spectacular new cars.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
For the first time since 2014, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia will not be opening the road on the first gravel event of the year. An arduous task still lays ahead for the Frenchmen as the second car on the road, but they will be free from the worst of the road cleaning.
Opening the road or not, Ogier knows what it takes to win in Mexico and the event is close to his heart having made his WRC debut there in 2008. The 2008 fixture also played host to the four-time World Champion’s first points haul as a win in the Junior World Rally Championship also saw him take an impressive eighth place overall.
Since that first outing, the Frenchman has tackled the event on eight previous occasions – securing five podium finishes and three victories.
Previous starts: 8
Best result: 1st (2015, 2014 and 2013)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“I made my WRC debut in Mexico so it is always nice to come back here. 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. We’ll need to try to stay as close as we can over the opening day and then see what’s achievable when the conditions become more consistent.
“We’ve had a good start to the season, but now we’re going to experience something totally different. This is where we’ll get a feeling for these new cars on gravel and where I’ll get to experience the Fiesta’s performance on this kind of surface. We had a really useful test last week with a lot of kilometres, but there really is no substitute for competition.
“It’s going to be an interesting rally and I hope we can continue our good performance and continue to progress.”
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA
Rally Mexico also played host to Ott Tänak’s first points haul when he piloted his Ford Fiesta S2000 into the overall top-ten in 2011, but it was in 2015 when the Estonian became immortalised in the event’s history.
The Mexican fixture was where the now infamous #Titänak originated and where Tänak’s now trademark determination first inspired the hearts of rally fans around the world.
Having contested the event on five previous occasions, the Estonian knows the event well and will be hoping to continue what has been his strongest ever start to a WRC season when he and co-driver Martin Järveoja reunite in pursuit of another strong result.
Having set fastest times on both opening rounds, Tänak is revitalised and hungry for further success. Now a genuine contender for regular podiums, the Estonian will be full of confidence heading to his preferred surface at the first gravel event of the year.
Previous starts: 5
Best result: 5th (2012)
Ott Tänak said:
“There are two things that you need to keep in mind in Mexico – the heat, and the altitude. We’ll head out to the event a little earlier to get used to the climate but when it comes to the stages, you need to be on it from the word go.
“The high altitude means that we have a lot less power to play with and you need to constantly have that in your mind. You need to be very clean and precise and make sure that you keep the speed up all the time.
“The stages themselves are nice and smooth, but they could become quite rough and rutted over the second pass and that makes it even more important to have a clean run. There is a lot of new aero on these cars and you don’t want to lose any of it.
“We racked up a lot of kilometres during the test last week, but we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out on the rally. We’ve not had a lot of gravel running so far this year so I think the key will be to find a good rhythm early on.
“We’ll also be opening the road again and that is something I’ve never experienced on gravel. It’s going to be an interesting rally with a lot of things to discover, but I’m looking forward to it and to seeing what we can do.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
Elfyn Evans may only have two previous experiences of Rally Mexico under his belt, but the Welshman knows what this challenging event demands – securing fourth-place finishes on both outings.
Understanding the arduous nature of the Mexican fixture, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt know that a clever rally can yield results and will be looking to do just that – combining their speed with a conscientious drive behind the wheel of their DMACK-clad Fiesta next week.
In the lead-up to the event, both Evans and Barritt were at M-Sport headquarters – passing their experience to the next generation. Providing driver and co-driver training to this year’s crop of Junior World Rally Championship competitors, the pairing found time amongst their own vigorous training schedules to impart some words of wisdom.
Previous starts: 2
Best result: 4th (2015 and 2014)
Elfyn Evans said:
“The first gravel rally of the year will certainly be an interesting one and I think everyone is waiting with baited breath to see what they can do. The altitude makes this a really unique event and when you combine that with the high temperatures it’s a big challenge – for the crews and the cars.
“We’ll need to be at the top of our game to contend with the physical demands, but we’ll also need to adapt our driving style to get 100 percent of the performance. Because of the thinner air, there’s a reduction in power and you need to be really smooth and not so aggressive behind the wheel.
“You’ve got to be so tidy at this event and keep momentum through the corners. If you scrub speed before a long straight or sequence of corners the engine doesn’t have the power to carry you though and you can lose a lot of time.
“We’ll have to wait and see how the conditions suit us, but I am looking forward to this one. It’s an event I’ve done well at in the past and a clever run can deliver results – it’s just a case of getting the balance between risk and speed just right.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE M-SPORT TEAM
Elsewhere in the M-Sport Team, Éric Camilli and Benjamin Veillas will continue their WRC 2 campaign behind the wheel of the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta R5.
Gravel might not be the Frenchman’s preferred surface, but Camilli made huge progress on loose-surface terrain last year and will be keen to demonstrate that next week.
Éric Camilli said:
“Mexico is such a unique event and it’s a real pleasure to be heading back there again. I experienced it for the first time last year and the atmosphere was amazing. The fans there are incredible and there’s a real passion for rally.
“It’s really important to maintain focus on an event like Rally Mexico and I’ve been training hard since Sweden. The temperatures are really high and the altitude means that we have to be in top physical condition. We also need to change our driving to suit the conditions. You need to be really smooth and avoid mistakes because any time loss is really hard to recover.
“I still haven’t got a massive amount of experience on gravel but I think we made a lot of progress last year. If we can have a clean run and build our speed then I think a strong result is certainly possible.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE SERVICE PARK
Elsewhere in the service park, Lorenzo Bertelli will be making his debut behind the wheel of the all-new Ford Fiesta WRC. Completing a day of testing in Spain last week, the Italian is ready to experience the power and performance of rallying’s new era and will do so at the event which played host to his best ever WRC result.
In the WRC 2 category, Pedro Heller will combine his debut on the world stage with his debut in a four-wheel-drive car as he takes to the wheel of an M-Sport prepared Ford Fiesta R5. Swiftly progressing through the classes in Chile’s regional championship, the Chilean is now ready to tackle the next phase of his rallying career.
In the RC4 class, three one-litre Ecoboost Ford Fiesta R2s have been entered for Canadian Jason Bailey, American Dave Wallingford and local Mexican Miguel Medina.