After the icy tarmac and snow of the first two rounds, the FIA World Rally Championship roars onto gravel for Rally Guanajuato Mexico (5-8 March), and to conditions that could spring some drivers back into title contention.
Mexico is the first of a run of six loose-surface rallies, and the first event where drivers at the head of the field are forced to sweep a clean line for the cars behind.
In the expected hot and dry conditions, first on the road is tough going. The layer of fine, loose gravel covering the stages is thicker than any other round – making the road-sweeping effect as bad as it gets.
As championship leader, Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier has the dubious honour of being road opener on both Friday and Saturday. The situation won’t be much better for Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen, who start second and third.
Conversely, drivers lower in the standings, and therefore the start order, should benefit from a progressively cleaner road and better grip. And for drivers who scored poorly in Monte-Carlo or Sweden, it’s a golden opportunity to bounce back.
Fifth in the championship, Citroen’s Mads Ostberg is one of those hoping to make up lost ground. “From what we have seen previously, on the first pass especially it’s a big disadvantage to be first,” he explained. “I’ll go there fifth on the road this time, and I think that should be beneficial. It’s something I have to take advantage of right from the start.”
Title challenger Jari-Matti Latvala hopes his start position of fourth will help make up for a no-score in Sweden. “After the disappointment in Sweden I feel positive about going to Mexico. I will have an ideal start position for the conditions and now I have to make best use of it,” he said.
Having missed Rally Sweden through injury, Hyundai’s Dani Sordo is eager to make the most of tenth in the running order. “It’s a very good start position. It’s important for me to enjoy this position and try to do my best at the beginning of the rally,” he said.
Other drivers with great opportunities to impress from low start positions include Citroen’s Kris Meeke, and Ford Fiesta RS privateer, Robert Kubica.