Junior crews ready to broaden world experience in Mexico The 2005 FIA Junior World Rally Championship makes its debut outside Europe at Corona Rally Mexico - the North American event marking the second of the eight-round series. Of the 13 ...
Junior crews ready to broaden world experience in Mexico
The 2005 FIA Junior World Rally Championship makes its debut outside Europe at Corona Rally Mexico - the North American event marking the second of the eight-round series. Of the 13 registered entrants, five have elected to make the long journey to Mexico to sample a completely new rallying experience and rack up all-important Championship points. The crews will also form an integral part of the whole rally circus, with indoor servicing alongside the FIA World Rally Championship teams, creating a great show for spectators.
"It's important for the Junior drivers to get out of Europe for experience," commented JWRC Co-ordinator, Ninni Russo. "If we consider that about 75% of this year's field have already contested at least one year of the JWRC, then they need to continue making steps forward, both for experience for the crews, technicians and engineers.
"The main reason for some teams not nominating Mexico was because many drivers use the same car for their national championship and they can't have the car away for 7-8 weeks," he continued. "The teams were aware a long time beforehand that Mexico is less expensive than some rallies closer to home, so this was not so much of an issue; it's simply that they need to keep the cars in their countries to use for other rallies."
2004 JWRC Champion Per-Gunner Andersson finished sixth in January's season-opener in Monte-Carlo and has been given an enviable opportunity by Suzuki to compete in all 16 rounds of the Championship this year. He is obviously keen to retain his JWRC crown but is just as eager to learn as much as he can.
"More time in the car gives you more confidence and experience and that's the best way to learn," said the Swede. "I know my schedule will get really busy this year but I'm looking forward to that. I have no idea what to expect in Mexico! I only know what I have seen on TV which is that it is gravel and it looks quite loose."
One of the most notable characteristics of Corona Rally Mexico is its high altitude - rising to an oxygen-sapping 2,737 metres above sea level at its highest point. Russo admitted that engineers will have their work cut out in Mexico. "It will be as much of a challenge for the engineering in finding a good engine set-up to minimise the effects of altitude so that the driver doesn't notice the power deficiency as much," he said.
Citroën Saxo driver Conrad Rautenbach is the youngest of the 13 crews contesting the Championship. At 20 years old, the Zimbabwean is philosophical about the challenge the altitude presents.
"I think we're going to lose about 30-40% of power right at the top which is going to be difficult, but at least everybody will be in the same boat," said the only competitor from the African continent. "I think the Saxo has about 10 horsepower less than the C2 but it has better traction and is quicker on gravel so I think we should be able to go quite well. I know the Junior cars always set times behind the WRC cars but I think the altitude might make the time differences that bit bigger too."
Britain's Guy Wilks narrowly missed winning the JWRC title last year and is therefore very keen to ensure that the crown is his in 2005. The 24 year-old Suzuki driver is ready to face the new challenge that Corona Rally Mexico presents.
"I'm really looking forward to it, both from a rally perspective and personal point of view as I think Mexico will provide some good competition for us. We're strong on gravel which is why we chose to do it," said the winner of two rounds of last year's JWRC.
"I like taking on new challenges but to be honest I know nothing about the rally," he continued. "I think I need to have a chat with a few people to get some insider information before we get there!"
With just seven World Rally Championship starts under his belt, Pavel Valousek goes to Mexico with the least WRC experience.
"I know nothing of Mexico," confessed the 25 year-old Czechoslovakian. "But I like gravel and I think I drive better on this surface so I'm looking forward to it. And from a personal point of view I love the mountains so I think it will be good!"
Italy's Luca Cecchettini, who is competing on the world stage for the third season, aims to better his two fifth-placed finishes in the JWRC last year. "It's a good rally to score points for the Championship," said the Renault driver.
Corona Rally Mexico has won great acclaim from many in terms of organisation and last year this effort was formalised when the Organiser won the Star of the Rally Award - the first time that the prestigious title had been given to an event. At the end of the year, Corona Rally Mexico was also voted the second best event in the 16-round world series.
"I was absolutely positive about the event when I visited in 2004 and at the end I congratulated the organisation on an excellent job," agreed Ninni Russo. "Honestly, I was sceptical before the event, but it was organised so perfectly that I think it is now in the running for the best organised event in the Championship."
Corona Rally Mexico, the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship and second round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, is hosted in Leon, Guanajuato and runs from 10-13 March 2005.