The Rally Series of North America looks set to become the region's premier series in 2004, such has been the goal set by its seven qualifying events this year. Formerly known as the Championship of North American Rallies, the FIA's World Motor...
The Rally Series of North America looks set to become the region's premier series in 2004, such has been the goal set by its seven qualifying events this year. Formerly known as the Championship of North American Rallies, the FIA's World Motor Sport Council approved and accepted the new North American series in December 2002 and each of the seven events is being observed by the FIA for approval of the series as a Zone Championship in 2004.
The opening two rounds could not have been more different, and in fact the whole of the Rally Series of North America provides unrivalled contrasts, taking in every surface and weather condition imaginable. Rally International de Quebec, which ran in late February and received a successful FIA observers report, took crews over snow-filled roads in sub-zero temperatures, but two weeks later competitors were greeted with the searing heat and warmth of Mexico. The organisers of Corona Rally Mexico, the second round of the series, are currently leading the way in bringing world-class rallying back to North America and are tipped to secure a round of the FIA World Rally Championship. This achievement would mark a return of the sport at its highest level to the region after an absence of 15 years, as well as a first for Mexico.
With the postponement of the Cherokee Trails to September, largely due to the outbreak of war, the Rally Series of North America resumes with the oldest and most prestigious event in Mexico, the Rally International de las 24 Horas (11-12 July). Sponsored by Renault Sport and for the most part organised by the same team that has elevated Corona Rally Mexico's status, the rally is hosted in the town of Valle de Bravo in the State of Mexico, 140 kilometres from the capital city. In a history spanning 44 years, the event has been held in various formats in a number of different regions, but 2003 is the first year it will be run entirely on asphalt, posing yet another unique challenge for the crews contesting the series.
Next weekend, Valle de Bravo will come alive with high-powered machinery and motorsport fans, the influx of people having a dramatic effect on this small traditional Mexican town. Forty-five crews are currently expected to brave the rally's legendary wet weather, and the route packs in 28 stages covering 399.11 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 906.39 kilometres. The nature of the stages, which snake their way through dramatic mountain ranges, also vary significantly and while some of the roads are new and offer a fast and flowing pace over smooth surfaces, others run over old and broken asphalt, challenging tyres, grip and driver skill - especially in wet conditions - to the absolute limit.
"This year's event will not be disappointing; I believe it will be one of the toughest in recent history, since it has been predicted that it will be one of the rainiest in years," commented Rally Manager Gilles Spitalier. "The first leg has been pushed into the night - this gives back some of the tradition of the event when it ran for 24 consecutive hours until the eighties, whereupon it was split into two 12-hour legs on safety grounds. The entry list has been one of the largest in years thanks to the sport's growing interest in the country due to the possible inclusion of the CAF's main event, Corona Rally Mexico, into the World Rally Championship."
In the absence of Subaru Rally Team Canada driver Patrick Richard and joint series leader Marcos Ligato, the Rally de las 24 Horas will provide a chance for the home-grown talent to climb the series standings. Carlos Izquierdo tops the entry list and the reigning Mexican Rally Champion will be looking for victory in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
The Rally de las 24 Horas starts in Toluca Town Square on Friday 12 July at 17:00 hrs and the opening leg, covering 14 stages and 213.06 competitive kilometres, essentially takes place through the night - the final stage of the leg starting at 01:53 hrs. The second day of competition on Saturday takes the crews over a different configuration of many of the same stages, all in daylight, before the finish in Valle de Bravo Town Square at 21:15 hrs.