The 2019 season hosts its first gravel event this weekend at Rally Mexico, where the Citroën Total World Rally Team crews Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia and Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm will tackle the invariably hot, high altitude roads around León. Following a successful start to the season, the team’s crews will be determined to score their third consecutive podium.
Rally Mexico is an unusual event, with characteristics (namely heat and high altitude) that are not encountered elsewhere on the calendar, making it a completely unique experience. Citroën Total WRT however, is certainly not short on experience in Central America.
The team holds the manufacturer’s record here, winning seven out of the fourteen events that have been contested as part of the WRC. With Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, Citroën also have the crew with the second best record at the event with four overall wins, the last of which came last year. Therefore, the French crew has good reason to have genuine hopes of success, especially as the Rallye Monte-Carlo winners will be running third on the road on day one, seemingly better placed this time to get the absolute maximum from the C3 WRC.
Recent runners-up in Sweden, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm start fifth in the running order and can therefore expect more of the fine layer of sandy gravel to have been swept off the line by the time they tackle the stages. They will be looking to take advantage of the cleaner roads as they try to compensate for their lack of experience of the stages. The Finns will be determined to keep improving whilst also looking to continue to score big points, and will undoubtedly adopt a more gradual strategy as a result.
After claiming its maiden career win at Rally Mexico in 2017 in only its third rally, the C3 WRC also showed its qualities at this round last year, finishing third on the podium and claiming a total of eight stage wins, the most by any of the teams. In order to prepare for this year’s event and fine-tune its set-up even further, each crew has had two days of testing in the south of Spain, in conditions close to those expected in León.
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal: “We’re heading to Mexico looking to confirm our strong start to the season and finish on the podium again. Both Sébastien and Esapekka have decent road positions given that the level of grip will improve gradually as more cars come through the stages. We’ve always done well here but we know that things can be completely shaken up on this first gravel event of the season. The altitude and heat can put unusually high stress on the cars but once again, we’ve done everything we can to come into the rally with the best possible preparation.”
Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver: “We had two good days of pre-event testing, on roads that were fairly representative of the kind of stages we’ll have to tackle this weekend. We were lucky with some very warm weather during the tests, although obviously not quite as hot as it will be in Mexico. After a tough Rally Sweden, where we weren't able to fully deliver, I can’t wait to get started and show our full potential. The stages are beautiful here but you do need to be careful on the afternoon loop, when it’s warmer. The second passes are always hard on the cars, especially as the high altitude can lead to reduced horsepower and also issues with cooling.”
Number of appearances at the event: 10
Number of wins: 4 (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018)
Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver: “The tests held in Spain enabled me to feel even more comfortable in my C3 WRC, building on what we achieved at Rally Sweden. Having said that, my experience of Rally Mexico is very limited. Last year’s rally was my only competitive appearance here, in addition to completing the recce in 2017. In light of that, a top-five finish would be a good result for me. Our starting order will give us an advantage over the first few crews so it'll be up to us to make the most of it. You really need to be clean and efficient in your driving on these roads, given that we lose about a hundred or so horsepower due to the high altitude.”
Number of appearances at the event: 1
Best result: 11th (2018)
2019 RALLY MEXICO KEY FIGURES
21 timed stages covering a total of87km
10%the percentage loss of power for every 1,000 metres above sea level
2,756 metres: the peak altitude of the rally, located on the Ortega stage
7overall wins secured by Citroën at Rally Mexico: 1 with Xsara WRC (2006), 3 with C4 WRC (2007, 2008 and 2010), 2 with DS3 WRC (2011 and 2012) and 1 with C3 WRC (2017)
RALLY MEXICO SCHEDULE (GMT-6)
Although it has been cut by around 30 kilometres compared to last year, the Rally Mexico route remains a classic, most of it very familiar to the championship regulars. Featuring a competitive distance of 114.19km on Friday, including two runs on the famous El Chocolate stage (31.57km), and then a hefty 138.37km on Saturday, with two passes on Otates (32.27km), the weekend's opening two legs will undoubtedly provide the crews and cars with a heavyweight challenge.
With an average altitude of 2,200 metres, combined with temperatures that often sit around 25 degrees, this round is a genuine technical challenge. Not only do the engineers have to carry out in-depth work on the mapping of the engine in order to limit power loss, but the lack of oxygen related to the high altitude means they must also pay special attention to cooling of the engine, the hydraulic components and the brakes.
Tyre choice is often another critical factor on the other side of the Atlantic. As wear is less significant than usual due to the relatively sandy roads and the reduced power of the WRCs, teams have to weigh up whether to opt for hard Michelin tyres or to go with mediums.