¡Viva México! The Volkswagen Polo R WRC is just a matter of days away from its much-anticipated competitive debut on gravel in the FIA World Rally Championship. The 315-hp four-wheel drive powerhouse from Wolfsburg will take on very specific conditions when it rolls down the starting ramp at the third round of the season, the Rally Mexico, from 7th to 10th March.
I really like the atmosphere in Mexico.
Reaching altitudes of up to 2,700 metres above sea level, the special stages are the highest the teams will face all season – a true challenge for both driver and technology. However, for thousands of rally fans, this is the biggest fiesta of the season. Flying the flag for Volkswagen: Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), and Rally Sweden winners Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia (F/F).
“The first three rallies of the season are all a bit special. After the iconic and unpredictable ‘Monte’, and the extreme cold of Sweden, we now face soaring temperatures at over 2,000 metres above sea level,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “The thin air and temperatures of above 30 degrees have a real impact – on both driver and co-driver, as well as the technology. The Rally Mexico is also the first round of the season on gravel. We are yet to compete under these conditions with the Polo R WRC. As such, we are obviously very excited to see how competitive the Polo is in Mexico.”
The drivers will cover 394.88 kilometres over the course of 23 special stages at the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season. The most spectacular opening stage of the season awaits the competitors in Guanajuato on Thursday evening. The site of a former silver mine is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its shafts have now been converted into roads, creating the venue for one of the most breath-taking special stages on the WRC calendar – the “Guanajuato Street Stage”. Crowds of almost 80,000 line the streets and perch on house roofs to greet the rally drivers with a flurry of camera flashes as they drift by. This stage is not to be confused with the 54.85-kilometre “Guanajuatito”, which is one of the longest and most difficult faced all year and forms Sunday’s highlight.
As well as the remaining, wonderfully-named special stages – such as the new “El Chocolate” – the “Mexico” has another highlight in store for them on Sunday: the most popular spectator point for fans comes on the 22nd stage – “Derramadero”. Among the exquisite ingredients that make up this awesome Power Stage are an ultra-quick winding passage, a drop of about 200 metres in just 2.5 kilometres, and the “El Brinco” jump, which produces spectacular images of World Rally Cars in flight. Bonus World Championship points are up for grabs for places one to three on this stage.
Jari-Matti Latvala, Polo R WRC #7 “One of the most important aspects of preparing for Mexico is how well you can cope with the time difference. If you have adapted to local time well, then your senses are sharper during the Recce. For this reason, I travel to California two weeks prior to the start, in order to acclimatise. We have to adapt in a lot of ways: unlike in Sweden, the grip level does not change as often on gravel. Despite this, your concentration is really put to the test in Mexico. For example, the longest special stage of the rally, ‘Guanajuatito”, is incredibly difficult. I like the character of this stage. It is made up of very narrow sections that are technically very demanding, and also very, very quick passages. It has a bit of both – fast and expansive in some places, tight and technical in others. It is very diverse – just as the entire Rally Mexico is.”
Sébastien Ogier, Polo R WRC #8 “I was delighted with the win in Sweden. The way we presented ourselves as a team over the entire weekend was very impressive. However, that is yesterday’s news, as the Rally Mexico now sees us take on our first gravel event with the Polo R WRC. I really like the atmosphere in Mexico. The start in Guanajuato, in particular, is a fantastic experience. Down narrow lanes, through tunnels, and past thousands of fans cheering you on frenetically – that is pure goose bumps! For me personally, it is always very special to line up in Mexico. It was there that I drove my very first rally in the World Championship back in 2008 – and I promptly won my first race in the Junior WRC class. And, just like back then, we are now starting out on a new venture there with the Polo R WRC. Mexico will give us our first indication of how good the car is on gravel, and where we need to tweak a few screws to improve in the future.”