Mexico's question marks. The inclusion of a new event in the WRC calendar inevitably poses a number of questions for all those involved in the championship. In the case of Rally Mexico, many of these questions concern tyre-related ...
Mexico's question marks.
The inclusion of a new event in the WRC calendar inevitably poses a number of questions for all those involved in the championship. In the case of Rally Mexico, many of these questions concern tyre-related matters following the recent introduction of important changes to the technical regulations: the imposition of a maximum tyre quota for drivers*, a new tyre nomination procedure at service halts as well as the usual unknowns concerning the terrain itself. Michelin Competition's rallies manager Aime Chatard and Harri Rovanpera, the only driver to have previously competed in Mexico (in the non-championship event in 2002), explain some of the implications of this new situation...
Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot-Michelin driver): "When I took part in Rally Mexico two years ago, the programme included some slow, fairly rough stages which were reminiscent of Cyprus. The majority of the tracks though were quite smooth on a hard base, more like Portugal. However, only half of the competitive route used in 2002 will be used this time round. Obviously, we won't know for sure until the recce but, from what I have heard, the average speeds of this year's stages are likely to be quite fast, around 80, 90, 100 kph.
One of the big difficulties for the drivers has been to select in advance the tyres that will make up our individual quotas, that is to say 60. Not easy for a new rally! This comes on top of the usual requirement for teams to nominate the two types of tyre they want to use.
In the case of Rally Mexico, Peugeot registered its choice before I was entered for the event but I think the combination of the Michelin Z [for relatively smooth gravel] and the Michelin GW [for abrasive stages] is a good choice. My plan is to use the Michelin Z first time through the stages and then switch to the Michelin GW for the second run if the tracks cut up, but we will see how it goes when the time comes. As for my personal quota, I based my choice of compounds on the likelihood of warm conditions.
There are also two other question marks: what life will be like without gravel note crews and how much the stages will evolve, both between two runs through the same stage as well as with each car that passes; to what extent will the first cars sweep aside a cleaner line for runners further down the order...?
Following Michelin's wins in Monte Carlo and Sweden, Michelin Competition's rallies manager Aime Chatard is aware that Mexico is above all a step into the unknown: "Harri took part in the 2002 Rally Mexico and his observations were the most representative of those we had at our disposal. However, the overall physiognomy of the event has evolved significantly since then and the pace is sure to be much faster this year.
We therefore started practically from a clean sheet and, for Michelin, the challenge was to ensure our partners had a choice of tyres that covered all the conditions and surface types they were likely to find, since the regulations do not allow us to carry out pre-event testing on-site.
Meanwhile, the drivers now have to keep to a set quota of tyres. The quantity they have been able to choose for Mexico is 60, i.e. ten times the number of programmed 'groups' of stages. However, even though we were obviously supportive of the desire to limit the quantity of tyres that we take to each rally, perhaps it would be judicious to adjust this measure with a view to enabling the availability of two additional sets (ten tyres) for new rallies in the future. This would allow us to cover the inevitable unknowns concerning the exact nature of the stages, the way they evolve with each passing car and/or in different types of weather, plus the weather conditions themselves of course.
In Mexico, as everywhere else, this principle of quotas will lead to more polyvalent solutions than in the past. At the same time, we will endeavour to ensure as high a level of performance as possible over a broader spectrum of terrains.
Finally, in addition to having to work without the information supplied by their gravel note crews, now banned, drivers will have to specify the tyres they want for the following group of stages before service on those events that adopt the so-called 'flexi-service' system. This will clearly complicate their choice of pattern and compound, but insofar as their nomination does not have to be announced more than an hour and a half, two hours maximum, before the start of a stage - that is to say, close to the timescales we have been accustomed to in recent years - this shouldn't cause a big problem."
(*) in reality, this rule already applied in Sweden, although the maximum quota for that rally (90 tyres) did not have a major influence on choice.