Championship leader opens the road on the WRC's return to North America.
It’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s the highest round of the season and it’s the first time we get to view the WRC’s class of 2023 in action on pure gravel roads.
We’re leaving behind the European winter for the sizzling heat of Guanajuato Rally México (16 - 19 March), back on the calendar for the first time since 2020 and home to the FIA World Rally Championship’s third round.
M-Sport Ford’s table-topping star Ott Tänak, who grabbed the championship lead with victory in Sweden last time out, knows his standing will come at a cost at this week’s fixture, the season’s first outside of Europe.
The Puma driver must pay his dues in the mountains around León when he opens the road for Friday’s opening leg on stages coated in dry and slippery gravel. Those tracks become cleaner and faster with each car that passes as the loose dirt is swept aside.
While the two-time Mexico runner-up is praying for rain to bind the loose gravel together, his wish may be in vain as the event is forecasted to have sunny skies with temperatures nudging 30°C.
“I'm not sure I’m that good a [rain] dancer to get the rain in a place where it almost never rains!” joked Tänak, who is joined in the team by Pierre-Louis Loubet and privateer Jourdan Serderidis.
“During testing it was my very first time on gravel in the Puma Rally1 and it was very important to discover as much as possible. The team is working hard to keep improving, but to really understand where we are now, we need to do a gravel rally first,” he added.
Neither Kalle Rovanperä nor Thierry Neuville will benefit that much from second and third in the order. But one man who does is Rovanperä’s Toyota GR Yaris team-mate Sébastien Ogier, a six-time Mexico winner, who starts fifth.
The eight-time champion drives part-time for the Japanese marque and returns to action for the first time since his Monte-Carlo win in January.
“When I knew that Mexico was coming back, I had to mark it in my calendar as an event that would be nice to do again. It’s where everything started for me in the WRC, as it’s actually where I made my debut in 2008," said the Frenchman.
Dani Sordo joins Neuville and Esapekka Lappi in a three-strong Hyundai i20 N line-up and will be the last of the frontrunners onto the road. He will be keen to make the most of the extra grip to put himself in a strong position for the last two legs, when competitors start in reverse order of classification.
"If we get it right, we believe we can be in the battle for victory, but we want to be on the podium as a minimum," said Sordo, who alternates drives with Craig Breen.
Elfyn Evans, fourth in the standings, also drives a GR Yaris, as does Takamoto Katsuta - although the Japanese driver will not score manufacturers’ championship points with Ogier in attendance this week.
The route climbs to more than 2,700 metres above sea level, where engines traditionally struggle to 'breathe' in the thinner air and lose 20 per cent of their power. However, the Rally1 cars’ hybrid specification brings a battery-powered boost less impacted by the thinner air, which could make this one of the fastest editions Guanajuato Rally México has ever seen.
The rally starts on Thursday night with two iconic street tests through Guanajuato's former mining tunnels. Three more days of action follow in the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains before Sunday afternoon's finish in León after 23 stages covering 320.23km.
Image: Sebastien Ogier (FRA) and Julien Ingrassia (FRA) - Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT @ at World Rally Championship Mexico 202