Weeks of meticulous preparations and complex logistics will be put to the test when the 14th Rally Guanajuato Corona gets underway in downtown Mexico City for the first time on Thursday afternoon.
With all pre-rally formalities and the traditional shakedown stage completed in and around León on Wednesday, all attention now turns to the start ceremony and opening special stage in the Mexican capital before the traditional gravel action becomes the focus over the weekend.
Jari-Matti Latvala of the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team will have the dubious responsibility of running first on the road over the opening leg, courtesy of the fact that the Finn holds a four-point lead over M-Sport’s Sébastien Ogier in the championship standings.
Both drivers are likely to lose considerable time over the early gravel sections on Friday morning, as they perform road surface sweeping duties. That handicap should enable the likes of Hyundai Motorsport’s Hayden Paddon, Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville and Kris Meeke and Stéphane Lefebvre of the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team to take advantage. Citroën has made a subdued start to the season, but much of the testing with the C3 WRC has been carried out on gravel and the drivers are sure to benefit from a useful test in Spain last month.
Estonian Ott Tanak has made a solid start to his campaign for WRC honours in a Ford Fiesta, although the Estonian has mixed memories of his previous two visits to Mexico. He finished sixth overall last season with former co-driver Raigo Molder, but made world television headlines in 2015 when his Ford plunged off the track into a lake and was completely submerged. Even more remarkable was the work carried out by his team to ensure that the shaken driver was able to start the final day and reach the ceremonial finish.
“We need to keep in mind the heat and the altitude. We have a lot less power to play with and you need to be very clean and precise and make sure that you keep the speed up all the time,” said a focused Tanak.
Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen and Swede Pontus Tidemand are the early leaders of the competitive FIA WRC 2 Championship, after taking a win apiece in Monte Carlo and Sweden. Only Tidemand, however, has made the trip to North America. He has an excellent opportunity to move clear in the points’ standings and give the Skoda Fabia R5 a third successive victory.
Eric Camilli had a baptism of fire in a World Rally Car on gravel 12 months ago with M-Sport, but the Frenchman has replaced Elfyn Evans in WRC 2 this year and will be hoping to build upon his current third place in the championship. Camilli said: “I remember the atmosphere last year was amazing, the fans were incredible and there’s a real passion for rally. I made a lot of progress last year, but I still don’t have a massive amount of experience on gravel.”
Further WRC 2 competition comes from Poland’s Hubert Ptaszek, Chilean Pedro Heller and Mexican driver Benito Guerra.
Rally Mexico is also the opening round of the FIA NACAM Rally Championship and several drivers will take part alongside the WRC drivers until the close of play on Saturday evening after 17 timed special stages.
The series also features a second event in Mexico next month and further rounds in Canada, Costa Rica and Venezuela. Mexican Ricardo Trivino is the defending champion and both he and last year’s third-placed driver Miguel Medina feature on a start list that includes additional entrants from Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Canada and the USA.
Thursday’s timetable features one of the most exciting innovations in the history of the WRC. Competitors, officials, media and senior team members will take charter flights from El Bajio airport to Mexico City on Thursday morning and head to the downtown area and the historic Plaza de la Constitución.
Miguel Ángel Mancera Espinosa, the Mayor of Mexico City, will host a breakfast and this precedes the official noon FIA pre-event press conference in a media room inside Casa de los Azulejos, a spectacular 18th-century palace built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba family.
There will be ample time for competitors to take part in various PR activities before the ceremonial start takes centre stage in the evening in the awesome location of Zócalo – the main ceremonial centre in the historic Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. There will also be a photo call with all competitors in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral – the largest of its kind in the Americas – before the ceremonial start.
Two passes through a new 1.57km CDMX Street Stage Presented by Michelin are planned in front of millions of television viewers and massive crowds in attendance. Cars will then be reloaded on to transporters, competitors will return to Leon via charter ‘plane and the schedule returns to its more traditional format around León on Friday.