M-Sport Ford World Rally Team are targeting a return to form on the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Taking to the wheel of the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC at next week’s Rally Mexico, Sébastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen all have a chance of challenging for the podium.
The team conducted their pre-event test in Spain, only for it to be cut short by the wintry weather that has engulfed much of Europe. The Beast from the East may have cut the test from five days to three, but the Cumbrian squad remain well-prepared thanks to Ford’s invaluable technical support.
Making use of the Blue Oval’s state-of-the-art Climatic Chamber in Dunton, the team are able to replicate the altitude and expected temperatures which – combined with the data from the test – allows the engineers to configure the best maps and set-up for the challenges ahead.
RALLY MEXICO: HIGH ALTITUDE; UNIQUE ATMOSPHERE
Rally Mexico is a truly unique event on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. As one of the most colourful and exciting events of the year, it’s also one of the most challenging with sweltering heat and high altitude taking its toll on crews and cars alike.
The 30°C heat can be closer to 50°C in the cockpit. The crews must be in peak physical condition and every technical component must be able to withstand the punishing temperatures.
If that weren’t enough, the stages climb more than 2,700 meters above sea level where the oxygen-starved air can see engine performance reduced by as much as 20 percent. The drivers must adjust their driving to contend with the reduced power, and the engineers must do their research to ensure maximum performance throughout the weekend.
The gravel stages can also be rough going, especially over the second pass, and the crews must maintain their concentration levels to avoid the pitfalls that make this event a rally of attrition.
In short, Rally Mexico is one of the most challenging events of the year, but it is also one of the most vibrant. The Mexican fans have taken rallying to their hearts and their enthusiasm is best captured in the historic town of Guanajuato.
The colours, sights and sounds are not to be missed, and the opening super special through the town’s former mining tunnels epitomise the atmosphere which surrounds this unique event.
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson is determined to see the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC make a return to the FIA World Rally Championship podium at next week’s Rally Mexico.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“We were expecting the championship to be closer than ever this year, and the fact that all four manufacturers are separated by just 11 points is proof of that. If we want to regain our place at the head of the standings, we need to deliver a strong team result in Mexico and I’m confident that we can launch a return to form next week.
“The last two days of our test might have been disrupted by the wintry weather, but we were still able to collect a lot of good data – both from the test and from two days of work at Ford’s Climatic Chamber in Dunton. We have three very capable drivers who are all hungry for a good result, and the whole team are determined to see the Fiesta make a return to the podium.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
Rally Mexico holds fond memories for Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia. The Frenchmen made their FIA World Rally Championship debut at the event in 2008 – claiming the Junior WRC victory as well as their very first championship points with an impressive eighth place overall.
Since that initial outing, the event has become a happy hunting ground for the reigning World Champions with three victories and six podiums on Mexican soil.
No longer opening the road, Ogier will have a good chance of adding to his podium tally next week but will still have his work cut out with a number of competitive drivers benefitting from a much cleaner road behind.
Previous starts: 9
Best result: 1st (2013, 2014 and 2015)
Sébastien Ogier said:
There’s always a special feeling when we return to Rally Mexico – because it’s where everything started for me 10 years ago! It was our first event in the world championship, and the story started with victory in the Junior WRC.
“Since then we added a couple of podiums and victories at the highest level which means that I obviously have Rally Mexico in my heart! We’ll for sure do our best to continue this love story with another strong result and are looking forward to the great Mexican atmosphere!
“This might be the first gravel event of the year, but it has its own unique character which sets it apart from the more traditional gravel rallies. The altitude is higher than anything else we experience throughout the year and the thinner air means a lot less power than we’re used to.
“Those conditions – linked with the pretty high temperatures – are practically impossible to reproduce in Europe which means we are counting even more than usual on the job done by our engineers in the climatic chamber to get the maximum performance.
“The loose gravel can also pose something of a challenge for the early runners and, even though we won’t be the first car on the road next week, there will still be a lot of fast drivers behind us. We need to try and stay as close as we can on Friday morning. Then, we can see where we are and push for the best possible result.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt will be looking to rejuvenate their season next week, and what better place to do it than Rally Mexico. Having twice finished the event just shy of the podium, the Brits will be hoping to challenge for a top-three result once again next week.
Benefitting from a more advantageous road position, the pairing will have a good chance of making their mark. But their later running order doesn’t come without its challenges with a constant threat of rally-ending rocks being pulled onto the racing line.
Evans will have to have his wits about him, but has every chance of challenging for a strong result in Mexico.
Previous starts: 3
Best result: 4th (2014 and 2015)
Elfyn Evans said:
“Rally Mexico is an event that I really enjoy. It’s such a colourful rally with a great atmosphere and we’ve done well there in the past. It’s one of those events where a clever run can deliver the results. You need to get the balance between speed and risk just right, and that’s exactly what we’ll be aiming for next week.
“When you think about this event two things come to mind – the heat and the altitude. We’ve got to get quickly acclimatised to the environment – both in terms of our physical fitness and our driving style. The thinner air can see the power reduced by as much as 20 percent so you’ve got to be tidy and keep the momentum through the corners.
“We’ll have a good road position, but that’s not without its challenges as there’s an added risk of rocks being pulled onto the racing line. We’ll need to stay focused and hopefully we can deliver a strong result to kick-start our 2018 campaign.”
SUNINEN AND MARKKULA
Teemu Suninen and Mikko Markkula will have much to learn when they tackle Rally Mexico for the first time with a world rally car next week.
Having secured the WRC 2 victory at the event in 2016, the pairing are no strangers to the taste of the winners’ customary Corona, but next week’s encounter will be a completely different challenge.
Despite his pre-event test being cancelled due to bad weather, Suninen remains capable of a strong result. A cleaner road and the reduced power of the cars could play to his advantage, and spectators should not be surprised to see some good times from the number three Fiesta
Previous starts: 1
Best result: 9th (2016)
Teemu Suninen said:
"Mexico is one of the special events on the calendar where we face some really extreme conditions. The weather is always warm, and the high altitude means that we feel the lack of oxygen. It has an effect on the drivers, but also on the cars with 20 percent less power than the more traditional gravel events.
“It’s a shame that the winter weather prevented us from testing, but that’s the way it goes sometimes and we will have to make good use of the Shakedown to get accustomed to the feeling of driving here in Mexico.
“It’s difficult to estimate our chances next week. I won the WRC 2 class here a few years ago, but this year will be completely different and I expect the competition to be really tough. I’ll try to concentrate on my own driving and then we will see where we are.”