Rally Report Card: Mexico 2015
The dust has settled (you saw this one coming, didn’t you?) and it’s time to look back at 2015 Rally Mexico, this time with a scoring card in our hands. Personally, I would still say that Rally Sweden provided more of a rally, but Mexico this year was strong in terms of pure rally entertainment and competition. That’s three solid events out of three this year, I’d say it’s a good trend. When it comes to drivers, though, they were all over the place – from exceptional drives to solid outings to bitter disappointments, in what looked like an equal measure. Jason Anthony wrote a bit more detailed review of each of the drivers. Yes, we are, in fact, so brave to give marks to drivers. Or at least Jason is, these are his marks, I think I’ll chime in with mine later on in the show (or rather: in comments).
VW World Rally Team
Sebastien Ogier: A+
What else is there to say about Seb, really? I think that the looks on the faces of the other drivers at the end of the power stage said it all. No one could comprehend how he pulled out 5 seconds to take the win in that stage. His performance in El Brinco put the exclamation point on an amazing performance. I think that Seb is truly inside the others’ heads already at this point in the season. The frustration of the other drivers is palpable, and Ogier is only going to feed off this. I think that in the coming events we are going to see a lot of guys going off by pushing too hard trying to keep up with Seb.
Jari-Matti Latvala: C
I’ll give him credit, Jari-Matti hung in there for awhile, but in the end, he cracked on SS12 in his efforts to keep Ogier in sight. I wonder what is going on inside of Latvala’s head at the moment. He admitted to pushing as hard as he could at several points in this rally but still didn’t have enough pace. How is he going to approach the next events? Does he truly believe that he has enough to beat Seb? I’m not so sure… Even when he had nothing to lose when he restarted under Rally 2 on Sunday, he couldn’t match Seb’s speed.
Andreas Mikkelsen: B+
Andreas got what he was looking for this weekend. He had a safe and consistent drive to 3rd on the podium. In the process, he picked up the experience he had lost last year due to his crash, and bagged some valuable points for himself. However, once again, we did see the pressure get to him a little bit. At the crucial moment in his battle with Mads Ostberg on Sunday, he spun, just like what happened in Sweden. Other than this hiccup though, Andreas showed that he has a safe pair of hands even when pushing hard. He got a stage win on the Super Special SS18, but more importantly, he never finished lower than 7th on any stage. He is getting closer to that maiden WRC victory.
Mads Ostberg: A+
No, he didn’t win the rally, but I am giving Mads high marks this weekend because of his resiliency. I’ll be honest, after hearing his frustrated outburst at the end of SS3, I thought he was going to unravel. Instead, he hung in there on the first day without losing too much time despite his gearbox issues. Then, once he could trust the car underneath him, he showed just what he could do. If it wasn’t for day one, I think that he would have really been pushing Ogier. Three stage wins for Mads this weekend, but the fact that he achieved them while in a close battle with Mikkelsen is very telling. This guy can handle the pressure.
Kris Meeke: D
I’m going to have to be a bit hard on Kris for this weekend. I know that a lot of guys crashed out on the opening loop of stages on Friday, but his off left an especially bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it is because he has a history of making mistakes on the first day of rallies in the past. Maybe it is because he showed what he could do just one stage earlier by taking the win in Los Mexicanos before throwing it all away. Or maybe, his mistake stands in such stark contrast to his teammate’s stellar performance this weekend. Whatever the reason, I am left wondering if the clock is ticking for Kris at Citroen. He needs to pull it together, and quickly. At the moment, he only has 10 points to his teammate’s 32.
Hyundai – Shell WRT:
Thierry Neuville: B-
Even though he crashed out at a crucial moment in the final sector of SS8 El Chocolate, this was not entirely his fault due to a puncture. Up until that point, he was the one guy who looked like he had something for Ogier from the start. In fact on that stage, he was on pace to possibly take the lead of the rally. Remember that all of this is being done in a 2014 spec car. Despite the off, you have to admire his persistence… still fully committed and pushing to the maximum when he restarted under Rally 2. In the end, his efforts got him 5 points that might make a difference down the road in the championship.
Dani Sordo: B+
We didn’t see much of Dani this weekend, and I still hold that this is the mark of a truly professional performance. What he did this weekend reminded me a lot of Paddon’s drive last round in Sweden. For a guy who is still considered to be a bit of a tarmac specialist, to finish 5th on a tough gravel rally like this is more than acceptable. Couple that with the fact that he was also competing in a 2014 car with a sore shoulder and ribs, and you have a brilliant drive. It is good to see that Dani has still got the pace to compete at the sharp end of the field.
Hayden Paddon: C
I was really curious to see how Hayden was going to respond after such a great rally in Sweden last month. Well, I guess it is fair to say that the rough stages of Mexico brought him back down to earth. His off looked fairly innocent, but it was enough to put him out of day one and having to restart under Rally 2. He is still learning at this level which makes his off slightly more forgivable than Meeke’s. I continue to have faith in Hayden; perhaps he was just pushing a bit too much while riding the high from his performance in Sweden.
Elfyn Evans: A-
Elfyn put in a really mature drive this weekend. When you look at him compared to the other guys in his age/experience group, he really shines. While most of his contemporaries (Tanak, Kubica, Paddon, Meeke) were throwing their cars off the stages, Elfyn kept a steady pace and was rewarded with a really strong finish in 4th. We know that he certainly has got it in his blood. Give him a few more years, and I think that we have a championship contender on our hands. The reason for the minus is that while I saw lots of consistency from Elfyn, I never saw incredible outright pace. Without taking anything from him, Evans’ 4th place did come partly as a result of the high attrition in this rally.
Ott Tanak: C+
Thanks to Ott, we now have another one of those enduring images from the WRC that will stick with us. This crash will go down in history alongside of Latvala’s roll down the cliff in Portugal 2009 and Tommi Makinen’s cartwheeling crash in Argentina 2002. All that being said, I don’t think that we can blame Tanak too much for the trip into the lake. Once his suspension broke on a compression in the road, he was a passenger. Thank goodness the crew had the presence of mind to get out of the car as quickly as they did or we could have been telling a much different story. Unfortunately, we didn’t see enough of Tanak this rally to give him a fair grade, so I’ll just give him a C+. The plus is for the mental fortitude he had to get back into the car after being shaken by such a scary incident.
Team Kubica WRT:
Robert Kubica: C-
So, which is the lesser of two evils? Is it a driver who shows flashes of incredible brilliance but is prone to frequent off course excursions, or a driver who consistently finishes down in the order, but still finishes? I don’t have the answer to this question, but I think that we all know which category Robert falls into! Kubica had a stage win in one of the super-special stages, but other than that, I am going to remember this as another rally featuring a Kubica crash. I would like to think that at some point Robert is going to figure out the balance between speed and safety, but as time continues to pass, I am beginning to wonder if and when this will happen. I believe that he still gets a pass because of his lack of experience as opposed to guys like Kris Meeke who made the same mistakes. However, how much longer will his backers tolerate the frequent crashing?
Czech National WRT:
Martin Prokop: B
Well, I think that Martin Prokop is the perfect antithesis to Robert Kubica. I am not completely certain, but I believe that this is Prokop’s best finish in a WRC event. He achieved a 6th place finish by putting in consistent times, but never showing any outright pace or brilliance. I still don’t know if his finish is the result of a genuine improvement or just high attrition, but well done him. Martin’s MO has been to hang around at the bottom of the time sheets until some of the faster guys fall by the wayside. Until this point, it has only given him a few points-finishing results, but maybe in this new era with no split times causing guys to push too hard, his safety-first approach might continue to pay dividends.
Lorenzo Bertelli: D
Lorenzo did OK on some of the super-special and street stages, but failing to finish any of the 3 days was a disappointment for a guy looking just to get some experience. Unfortunately, he missed quite a few of the stages on Saturday and Sunday due to crashing and mechanical troubles Other than the crashes, I didn’t see too much of Bertelli during this rally. At this point of his career, Bertelli’s only goal should be to gain experience, and his mistakes this weekend robbed him of a valuable opportunity to rack up stage miles on a very difficult rally.
The Rally Itself: B+
It is hard to believe that Guanajuato Rally Mexico has been running strong for 12 years. While other rallies that entered the WRC around the same time (Japan, Turkey) have fallen by the wayside, Mexico has almost become a classic already! The route is very compact which means a lot of action for the spectators. In addition, the organizers did a great job of bringing the rally into the city with a few different street and super-special stages. The Guanojuato street stage is one of the coolest looking city stages in the championship with the cars running through the tunnels. The rally seems to have a true festival atmosphere that we don’t see on some of the other rounds of the championship. As for the mountain roads, I don’t think that the rally is any rougher than Acropolis or Sardinia, but the power-sapping altitude baits the drivers into pushing too hard to compensate for the lack of horsepower. All these elements make Mexico a unique event that most certainly deserves to be on the calendar. The 2015 edition will no doubt be remembered for years to come because of “Ti-Tanak”, but it featured some great moments of competition as well. In the end, however, it was another emphatic reminder of Sebastien Ogier’s continuing dominance in this era of the WRC.
Star of the Rally:
M-Sport WRC Mechanics
The images of the M-Sport team were gripping as they raced against the clock to rehab Ott Tanak’s car in just 3 hours. Sadly, their efforts were all for naught when Tanak’s car sputtered to a halt just a few km’s outside of service. Despite this, their efforts were nothing short of heroic. Well Done!