The route of Rally Mexico, set in the Sierra de Lobos and the Sierra de Guanajuato, climbs to the highest point of the WRC season, reaching a peak of some 2,736 metres above sea level.
After securing podium finishes at the opening two rounds of the season in the World Rally Championship, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team DS3 WRC now head across the Atlantic to Mexico for the Rally Guanajuato Corona, on 6-9 March.
After the tarmac roads in the south of France and the snow in Sweden, Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson and Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle will be competing in their first gravel rally this year.
Citroën and Rally Mexico: Wins with Xsara, C4 and DS3 WRC…
In the nine times it has been held as part of the WRC, Rally Mexico has been won by Citroën on six occasions.
In addition to the nine-time world championship winning crew, four other driver/co-driver pairings have finished on the Rally Mexico podium with Citroën: Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti in 2004, Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia and Petter Solberg/Phil Mills as part of a memorable one-two-three in 2010 and Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen in 2012 and 2013.
Withstanding the altitude
Since 2004, the World Rally Championship teams have had to deal with a new challenge at the Mexican round of the WRC. Contested on a highly compact route around León and Guanajuato, the stages are all held on roads that are at least 1,800 metres above sea level, peaking at close to 2,800 metres.
Citroën Racing engineers therefore look for ways to mitigate the effects of the laws of physics. “We have to adapt the engine to this environment,” explained Didier Clément, Chief Operations Engineer for the DS3 WRCs. “The engine mapping is adjusted to reduce the loss of horsepower. If we didn‘t do this specific work, we’d lose around 10% of maximum power output with every 1,000 metres of altitude.”
Two types of testing are required to prepare for this rally: bench tests for the engine and driving at a base in the mountains: “It is difficult to replicate the conditions we’ll have in Mexico here in Europe. In the south of Spain, we are able to test at altitude, but not with the same heat or the same constraints. But the experience we have acquired in recent years helps us to prepare effectively for the rally.”
“The idea is to lose as little power as possible but also reduce the response times during acceleration,” added Didier Clément. “An engine needs air, a lot of fresh air, in order to operate really effectively. In Mexico, there is less air and it’s hot, so we need a really efficient mapping!”
Mads Østberg tames the Citroën DS3 WRC on gravel
After joining the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team at the start of the season, Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson have impressed in the first two winter events on the WRC calendar. Fourth on the tarmac at Rallye Monte-Carlo and third at Rally Sweden, the Scandinavian pair will be making their first competitive outing on gravel in the Citroën DS3 WRC at this, the third round of the season.
Increasingly comfortable in his new team, Mads made the most of a good test session in Spain to get to grips with the DS3 WRC on gravel.
“We are still learning,” admitted the Norwegian. “But every mile we cover in the car makes me happy. Before Sweden, I already liked how the car handled. The experience acquired on the snow and this first day on gravel have given me bags of confidence. We are working well with the team. We understand each other perfectly and we are making progress together.”
Having competed in Mexico for the last three years, his best result being fourth overall in 2012, Mads Østberg hopes to do even better this year: “Although we have to bear in mind that Rally Mexico will still be our first rally on gravel in the DS3 WRC, I’m convinced that we’ll be competitive. I’m positive. A podium finish would be an excellent result.”
Kris Meeke set for first experience of Rally Mexico
As was the case in Sweden last month, Kris Meeke will be taking part in a new event… The Northern Irishman has never competed before in Mexico, unlike his co-driver Paul Nagle, who came to León in 2006 and 2007.
“It won’t be the same as in the last rally, where I had to get used to driving on snow,” reiterated Kris. “This time, it’s on gravel and so it should be a lot simpler because I already have a fair bit of experience on this surface.”
Kris Meeke showed he was very quick last year at the Finnish and Australian rounds of the WRC in the Citroën DS3 WRC: “But Mexico requires a very different set-up. I have worked on the videos and have listened carefully to advice from the team and from Mads. I still have some learning to do, but I’m pleased with the set-up that we found in testing. The drop in power output could be an advantage for me because I have a lot of experience of competing in cars with normally-aspirated engines. You need a slightly different driving style and so that shouldn‘t be problem for me.”
“I’ll be concentrating on my own race,” he continued. “I know that I’ll have a good starting position for the long first day. The aim is to score as many points as we can on the overseas events. I’d be pleased with top five finish.”
A high and compact route
Contested in the region of Guanajuato, Rally Mexico is an especially compact event. The total distance of the rally has been cut again this year to only 1,038 kilometres, 39% of which features timed sections. Four stages are however among the longest of the season, between 43 and 56 kilometres long. There is a seven-hour time difference with the Versailles factory (GMT-6).
The rally will get underway on Thursday, 6 March at 8.00pm local time in the heart of Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Following a colourful and spectacular ceremonial start, the crews will complete the very short, 1.01 kilometre-long super special stage through the streets of the city.
With the first 150 kilometres done and dusted, the drivers will attack the rally’s longest leg on Saturday, with four stages over thirty kilometres long. After the well-known Ibarrilla (30.33km), the crews will then tackle Otates and its 53.39 kilometres. The 30-minute midday service will provide a short break before the crews complete a second run on Ibarrilla. They will then take on Otatitos, a shorter version of Otates at 43.06 kilometres. Day two will end with another televised stage, El Brinco, held on an 8.25 kilometre section shared with Otates, and two laps on the super special stage. This loop alone covers some 86.06 kilometres.
The final day features four stages. After a super special stage, the length of which is doubled on the Sunday, the crews will set off on the longest stage in the early part of the season: Guanajuatito is some 55.92 kilometres long. With no service period, they will complete the rally will the Derramadero stage (11.63km) and a second run on El Brinco (8.25km), which will also be televised and serve as the Power Stage.
The rally is scheduled to finish in León on Sunday, 9 March from 2.30pm. As is the case every year, the winners will be offered a pair of cowboy boots, a regional speciality.
Another new feature for this year: the service park will no longer be located inside the León Poliforum, but rather outside it, on the course of the former city centre super special stage.