WRC

Mexico Rally pre-event news

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP LEADERS FORD & GARDEMEISTER TOP CORONA RALLY MEXICO ENTRY LIST Corona Rally México, the first full gravel event of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship season, has attracted an entry of 44 crews representing 17 nations...

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP LEADERS FORD & GARDEMEISTER TOP CORONA RALLY MEXICO ENTRY LIST

Corona Rally México, the first full gravel event of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship season, has attracted an entry of 44 crews representing 17 nations and eight different car manufacturers. Included in the entry are the FIA Junior World Rally Championship competitors, who make the long haul outside Europe for the first time in their series, as well as a host of other notable national and international crews.

After two podium positions in Monte-Carlo and Sweden, Ford's Toni Gardemeister leads the FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers for the first time in his career. The Finn will therefore have the honour of leading the crews over the start ramp in Guanajuato on Thursday 10 March. Although Gardemeister has never previously competed in Mexico, co-driver Jakke Honkanen has, and both will undoubtedly be looking for a hat-trick of podium positions. Ford was the team to beat during last year's Corona Rally México. Märtin and Duval, its 2004 drivers, claimed an emphatic one-two finish, Ford's first in nearly four seasons, and the team will be hoping to rack up its 47th consecutive points-scoring finish in the FIA World Rally Championship.

Team Principal Malcolm Wilson also has an astute knack for registering the right driver in the second Focus RS WRC and, in México, former Junior World Rally Champion Dani Solà has been nominated to score championship points. The Spaniard competed in Corona Rally México in 2003 as well as last year, when he claimed an emphatic victory in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship. Sixth overall in Spain last year is his best result to date and this is his first outing in a Focus.

"There is no question that Toni will be at a disadvantage by running first on the road," said Team Principal Malcolm Wilson. "The roads will clean significantly on the first pass over the stages and that will help those drivers behind him. One aspect that surprised us last year was the effect of the altitude. It is all compensated for in the ECU settings on the cars but I would estimate that our Focus cars were about 30% down on power last year. We must also be careful of the river crossings. Some are quite deep, while there are also many culverts on the stages which are hard on the cars. The two things we have to be most aware of are the high temperatures and the water crossings."

Markko Märtin is another driver to have changed teams this year and, although the Estonian won last year's Corona Rally México, he feels there is more work to be done with the Peugeot 307 WRC before he can challenge for victory. His team-mate Marcus Grönholm finished sixth last year and currently lies seventh in the drivers' championship after going off the road in Sweden.

"Mexico is a very nice rally which I like a lot," said Markko. "In some ways I was quite lucky to win there last year, but in rallying you sometimes have good luck and sometimes bad luck, so it all becomes equal in the end. The stages are quite varied, with slow, fast and medium corners, but there is no one characteristic that makes México different from all the other gravel rallies. I would just describe México as a typical gravel rally which is a good thing, because there is nothing special to catch you out. I would love to win again this year, but it will be very difficult; more difficult than last year. I still have a lot to learn about the car and the tyres, but we are making progress all the time. México is the first 'normal' event of the year, as Monte-Carlo and Sweden are very different to anything else, so I think we have a good chance of doing well."

Reigning World Champion Sébastien Loeb returns to the Mexican stages for the third time. Having completed the recce in 2003 he was then forced onto the sidelines last year when he cracked the Xsara's sump after a heavy landing. The Frenchman is sure to want to add Corona Rally México to his ever-increasing list of victories. Team-mate François Duval claimed second overall in last year's event.

After a crushing victory in Sweden, Petter Solberg holds fourth in the series but will be driving the all-new Subaru Impreza WRC 2005 for the first time in competition. The Norwegian was at the centre of much controversy last year after being pushed through a control, but could well have won the event when the team also debuted its new car in México. His Australian team-mate Chris Atkinson, twice winner of the Asia-Pacific Super 1600 Championship, has very little World Championship experience but acquitted himself well in his first outing with the Subaru World Rally Team in Sweden.

"Although I was a bit unlucky on Rally Mexico last year, it's a great event to take part in and I'm really looking forward to getting back next month," said Solberg. "It's a very well run rally, last year the organisers did a very professional job considering it was their first year in the WRC, and I'd say it's one of the best events of the year. Mexico is an interesting place for us to visit too, and as a destination in the WRC it's somewhere I'd like to spend more time; the people, food, scenery and the whole atmosphere make it unique. The stages seem to suit the Subaru Impreza pretty well. We've got a new evolution of the car to launch this time and hopefully, if we have a clean run with no problems, we've got a good chance of winning. Well, that's the plan anyway. It's all about achieving perfection at every stage in the process, from Phil (Mills) and me, to the guys building the cars and the ones working in service too. It's going to be a tough battle out there I can promise you."

Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports has entered Harri Rovanperä and Gilles Panizzi, while the team's third driver, Gigi Galli, will complete the recce to gain more experience. Rovanperä claimed an overwhelming victory in Corona Rally México in 2002, when Peugeot supported the event's bid for inclusion in the FIA World Rally Championship, but the Finn is all too aware that competition then was on a totally different level. Team-mate Gilles Panizzi last competed in Monte-Carlo, where he claimed Mitsubishi's first podium position since the 2001 Safari Rally. The Frenchman has undertaken much of Mitsubishi's test and development work, which has rewarded the team with points from both its cars in the opening two events this season.

"We have a test this week and hopefully will be able to improve the car again," said Harri. "I like the stages in México, it's a nice country and the rally is very well organised."

Skoda Motorsport is likely to debut its second generation Fabia WRC in México, pending final inspections by the FIA at the end of this month. Lead driver Armin Schwarz is another never to have contested Corona Rally México. He did however complete the recce last year and will be happy to be back in competition after missing Sweden through injury. His team-mate Jani Paasonen competed last year but was forced into retirement when he went off the road.

"I haven't competed here before but I did the recce in 2004," confirmed Schwarz. "The stages remind me a lot of those around Fafe in Portugal, which were some of the most enjoyable in the whole World Rally Championship."

Five FIA Junior World Rally Championship crews will also compete in México for the first time, and a host of other national and international competitors make up the field of entries. Rising Spaniard Xavier Pons, who won two rounds of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship last year, will be competing in a Bozian Racing Peugeot 206 WRC for the second time in his career, squaring up to fellow countryman Solà for the first time in World Rally Car machinery. Erwin Richter heads the local entrants, with two Mexican Rally Championship titles under his belt (2003 and 2004), and Ricardo Triviño - who competed in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship last year - will be contesting the event in another Bozian Racing Peugeot 206 WRC, his first event in a World Rally Car. A number of local Peugeot 206 XS crews have also entered; they will run to national Peugeot Cup regulations.

Corona Rally México, round three of the FIA World Rally Championship and the second event in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, is hosted in León, Guanajuato, between 11-13 March.

-crm-

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