In just a few days, the hills above Guanajuato will be alive with the sounds of WRC cars. For different reasons, Rally Mexico is going to be an important event for each team. Let’s take a look at who needs a strong result in Mexico, and why.
Yes, Thierry Neuville’s two gut-wrenching mistakes in Monte and Sweden are difficult to forget, but things aren’t quite as bad as they may seem for Hyundai World Rally Team. While Thierry was making headlines on the first two rallies, his teammate, Dani Sordo was quietly going about his business. Without making much noise, Dani managed to bag two solid 4th place finishes and a power stage point on top of that. Thanks to Dani’s efforts, Hyundai is still right there in the hunt for the constructors championship. Mexico is going to be a big rally for Thierry though. He will have a favorable road position on the first day, and he needs to use this to his advantage. We’ve seen that the new i20 is clearly the fastest car out there, and now is the time for Neuville to make it count. For Hayden Paddon, Mexico needs to be another building block towards the form that he showed last year. You can’t blame him one bit for being shaken by the crash in Monte, but Mexico presents a fantastic opportunity for him to build his confidence. Like his teammate, Neuville, Hayden will have a benefit by starting down the order on the first day, and gravel is by far his preferred surface. Paddon doesn’t need to set the world alight in Mexico, but he does need a strong finish to continue to move his season in the right direction.
My, my, my… what is left to be said about Citroen? After I and almost everyone else pegged them to be leading the championship at this point, things couldn’t be further from those predictions. As bad as things look, however, Mexico does offer some hope to Citroen. Gravel is by far the most common surface in the WRC, so if the C3 works in Mexico, there is a reason for Citroen to be optimistic. Yes, the results of Monte and Sweden will be difficult to overcome, but these rallies are specialist events. Mexico presents the same type of rough gravel surface that will be seen again in Portugal, Argentina, and Sardinia. Maybe the C3 will perform better on gravel, and Kris Meeke can take advantage of the road sweeping factor to secure a strong finish in Mexico. If it doesn’t happen this weekend, I’m not sure Citroen has much hope left. If Kris Meeke needs to push for a strong finish this weekend, Stephane Lefevbre needs to aim for consistency. He doesn’t have much experience in Mexico, and he needs to finish this rally with points… even if it’s just a few. One surprising and disappointing piece of news is the absence of Craig Breen from the entry list this weekend. Now, this may have been a decision that was made before the start of the season, but for Citroen’s leading point scorer to be missing the rally seems a bit strange. Craig didn’t look comfortable in the C3 at all in Sweden, but he handled it much better than Kris Meeke and managed to bring it home to a respectable 5th place finish. To be honest, Craig Breen’s performance over the first two rallies is the only reason Citroen isn’t completely out of the manufacturer championship hunt, so it’s a shame that he has to miss out on Rally Mexico.
M-Sport Ford WRT:
If I’m honest, I don’t know if M-Sport needs to be doing anything differently in Mexico. Both Ott Tanak and Sebastien Ogier have done everything that could have been expected of them. My guess is that if you had offered M-Sport’s current position to Malcolm Wilson before the start of the season, he would have taken the deal in a second. Even if it isn’t the fastest car out there, the Fiesta is quick enough that in the right hands, it can produce some results. I’d hate to see either Ogier or Tanak feel like they need to push harder and start throwing the car off the road. For M-Sport, patience is going to be the name of the game this weekend. Mexico is a tough rally, and if Tanak and Ogier can stay in touch with the leading times, they might be in the perfect position when attrition begins to take its toll on the rest of the field. If M-Sport let the rally come to them, they may very well be walking away from Mexico as the championship leaders in both the driver’s and manufacturer’s standings.
Toyota Gazoo WRT:
Mexico is going to the next curveball that Toyota Gazoo World Rally Team will have to deal with at the start of the 2017 season. First, they had to manage the unpredictable surface changes of Rallye Monte Carlo. Then they had to get through the only all snow rally on the calendar. In Mexico, we’ll get to see how strong the Toyota Yaris WRC car really is. In addition to having to cope with the rough roads, this will be Toyota’s first high altitude rally where the engine power will be sapped by the thin air. Survival might be the strategy that Toyota needs to employ for Rally Mexico. There are a lot of unknowns for them going into this weekend, so if they can get through with some points, it will be a success. The performance of Juho Hanninen will also be under scrutiny this weekend. There’s no other way to put it… he needs to be better. If he had managed to finish even one of the last two rallies, Toyota would be in a much stronger position. As it stands now, his mistakes in Monte and Sweden are the reason that Toyota is 20 points behind M-Sport. Even though Hanninen’s poor results are a disappointment for Toyota, there is one silver lining. Because Hanninen has struggled in the early part of the season, Jari-Matti Latvala has been reinforced and the number 1 driver… a position that he has not enjoyed before in his career. Remember that in Ford, he was always stuck behind Mikko Hirvonen, and we all know about what being Ogier’s teammate did to Latvala’s confidence. With Hanninen as his teammate, Jari-Matti knows that he is the undisputed number 1, and that is giving him the confidence to drive the way he has this season.