The next event in the World Rally Championship calendar will provide the third very different challenge for the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team. So for the Yaris WRC it’s goodbye to the snow-covered tracks of Sweden and hello to rallying in the heat, gravel and high altitudes of Rally Mexico.
Taking place this weekend (10-12 March), what does Rally Mexico have in store? This bluffer’s guide will make you an expert in no time at all.
Tell me more about Rally Mexico…
Rally Mexico has been part of the WRC calendar since 2004, and is the first true gravel round of the year. The event is infamous for ambient temperatures in the region of 30°C and for having the highest stages of all championship rounds. The route climbs the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains, peaking at 2,737m above sea level. At this altitude the air is thin, which starves the engines of oxygen and reduces power by as much as 20%.
Hosted in the state of Guanajuato in north-central Mexico, the rally stages normally take place in the surroundings of the cities of León, Silao, Irapuato and Guanajuato. This year, however, the inauguration ceremony will be held at Zócalo in the centre of Mexico City. Immediately afterwards, the Thursday night crowds will experience the dramatic opening stage, with two runs over a one-mile test route in the streets surrounding the historic square.
Friday’s stages begin with the longest of the rally, the 34-mile and all-gravel El Chocolate, and end with more crowd-pleasing tests in the streets and mining tunnels of Guanajuato City and the Autódromo de León racing circuit. The circuit is visited again on Saturday evening for a second Super Special head-to-head battle before heading to another street stage in León itself.
The Derramadero Power Stage will conclude the action on Sunday ahead of the finishing ceremony near the service campus in León.
What should I look out for?
As championship leader, Jari-Matti Latvala will run first on the road on the opening leg, with the second and third legs run in reverse rally order among the leading cars.
Driver errors are punished more severely in Rally Mexico as the reduced power output means it takes longer to return to race pace after an incident or mistake. Although classed as gravel, the roads are hard-packed and require hard compound tyres.
The opening ceremony and first street stage will be held in Zócalo square, Mexico City, a location made famous in the opening scene of the James Bond film Spectre.
Does Toyota have any history with Rally Mexico?
Not directly, as Rally Mexico has only been a fixture on the WRC calendar since 2004. However, leading Toyota driver Jari-Matti Latvala won the Mexico event last year, while Hänninen previously competed there in 2011. The two driver teams have been preparing for Rally Mexico by testing on similar gravel roads in Spain.
What is the team saying about this round?
Tommi Mäkinen, Team Principal: “The majority of our testing has been on gravel, so we can be reasonably confident of this surface as we head for Mexico. But there is one question – the combination of high altitude and high temperatures.
“Last year we tested on gravel in Spain with ambient temperatures of up to 40°C and the engineers have also done a lot of work on the engine mapping for altitude. But until you experience these things together for real, you never know.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (above), driver Yaris WRC #10: “There’s always a great atmosphere in Mexico. Last year the fans called me La Bala – the bullet – so I hope not to disappoint them this time.
“I have happy memories of Mexico but I also know some of the reasons behind last year’s win. I started with a good road position, towards the back, and I took advantage of the cleaner roads to take a big lead – while those at the front were really struggling. So this year, it’s going to be the other way around!
“In these circumstances you have to take away what you can, and I would be really happy with a place in the top five.”
Juho Hänninen (above), driver Yaris WRC #11: “I’ve raced the rally once before and I really liked it. I always feel happy on gravel and I think on Friday, with long stages like El Chocolate, there could be a good opportunity for me. I should have a nice starting position and I need to make the most of it.
“My test before Mexico was very good. We changed a few things on the suspension and the work the engineers have done on the engine is really impressive. I am close to having the confident feeling that I enjoyed with the car after the Monte-Carlo test.”