Three weeks after leaving the snow-bound forests of Sweden, the FIA World Rally Championship heads to the warmer and sunnier conditions of central Mexico for the next event. Rally Mexico starts on Thursday 2 March and is based in the city of Leon.
Three weeks after leaving the snow-bound forests of Sweden, the FIA World Rally Championship heads to the warmer and sunnier conditions of central Mexico for the next event. Rally Mexico starts on Thursday 2 March and is based in the city of Leon. The World Championship's only round on the North American continent will be the third round of the 16-event series.
After two specialist asphalt and snow events, Mexico brings a return to gravel roads and is often regarded as the first 'proper' rally of the year. The medium to high speed gravel roads climb up the side of spectacular valleys, with some peaking at over 2,700 metres above sea level. Now in its third year of inclusion in the WRC calendar, the route takes crews to the highest stages of the season.
The hard-packed roads vary in character and call for a versatile car set-up that gives drivers sure-footed handling in all conditions. The high altitude brings additional challenges for engineers as the thin air saps power from engines. As a result, average speeds are far lower than on rallies run over similar terrain.
With no stages further than 50km away from the single rally HQ in Leon, the route is one of the most compact in the championship. Commencing on Thursday 2 March with a ceremonial start in the World Heritage town of Guanajuato, the route will cover 17 special stages and 359.54 competitive kilometres. The stages remain largely unchanged from 2005, but this year the route includes a Superspecial stage, constructed at the nearby Puebla motor racing circuit.
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Rally Mexico driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall).
Petter won Rally Mexico in 2005 by a margin of 34.5 seconds, having led the event from start to finish. The Norwegian will be looking to repeat the success and score his first points of the 2006 season. This year's event will be Chris' second Rally Mexico.
"Well, we'll try again in Mexico! We'll try very hard to get some points by finishing on the podium, but winning is the goal. I hope everything will be in good shape -- the car, the tyres and me. We've got a good starting position and I hope we can go well on all three days. The team is very confident and we had a good test in Sardinia. There's so much more to come from us."
"It's exciting to get back to Mexico where we made our World Rally Championship gravel debut. We had a good run last year where we set some encouraging split times and matched the pace of other more experienced drivers. Based on this performance and the fact we know the event now we're looking for a good result, hopefully top five. After Sweden I did some testing with the new car. We're still learning about the Impreza WRC2006, but things are definitely going in the right direction."
The Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Team sporting director, Luis Moya:
"The season starts with two extremely specialised events, so in many respects the proper rallying starts now. Mexico will be the first gravel event with the new car and, after such different rallies, will be much more indicative of performance levels.
Mexico has traditionally been a very good rally for us, playing to both the strengths of the car and the tyres. In 2004 we led for the majority of the rally and then won in 2005. This year we want to repeat that run of success to lay the ghosts of the Swedish Rally to rest. There's no escaping the fact that Sweden was disappointing, but the post-event analysis was very thorough and we have a very good understanding of the root causes.
Petter will come back with renewed enthusiasm and confidence in Mexico. He won last year and I see no reason why he can't repeat this again in 2006. Chris has proved that he is one of the fastest drivers out there on gravel. You only need to look at Australia last year, the last gravel event, when he won more stages than any other driver, to see how quick he can be. He will be competitive and could well get a podium."
Subaru World Rally Team director of engineering, Steve Farrell:
"This event presents its own unique challenges. With some stages nearly 3,000 metres above sea level, the rally has the highest average altitude in the championship. At that height the air is thinner and engines struggle to 'breathe'. This means engine power output will be reduced and cooling becomes less efficient. To some extent the two problems compensate for each other, since the engine produces less power, but it also puts out less heat. This is the first rally where we might begin to feel the loss of engine water injection (banned under 2006 technical regulations) but we are confident that we have done our homework well.
This will be the first event for our new senior engineer, Francois-Xavier Demaison. Pierre Genon is moving to a new position as chief engineer, test and development and there will be a period of transition while Pierre shows him the ropes. In the fullness of time FX will take over as Petter's engineer. We're confident he'll fit in well and are looking forward to a good season together."
Between the Rallies
Chris Atkinson: international jet-setter. After the Swedish Rally Chris drove straight to Hamer, Norway, where he completed the recce for the WRC candidate rally. >From there the Australian flew back to the UK for a few days rest before jetting over to Sardinia for two days of testing. When we finally caught up with Chris he was about to board a flight to Florida to watch the Daytona 500 NASCAR race before travelling to a friend's apartment in Colorado for some winter sun!
Petter Solberg also had a busy couple of weeks between Sweden and Mexico. Like Chris, the day after the Swedish Rally Petter drove to Norway to complete the recce and participate in various PR activities. The schedule included meeting the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and a photo call in front of the distinctive 'Viking Ship' speed-skating arena used in the 1994 Winter Olympics. After the end of Rally Norway, Petter flew to Sardinia for two days testing with the new car before spending some time with friends and family.