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Mexico - 7-10 Mar 13

Posted: February 1, 2014 10:12 PM - 3108 Hits

Round 3 - 2013 World Rally Championship


Posted: February 1, 2014 10:12 PM

Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia cantered to the finish of the 10th Rally Guanajuato Mexico in León on Sunday afternoon to record their second successive FIA World Rally Championship victory.

The Frenchman’s huge winning margin of 3min 28.9sec also marked the first gravel success for Volkswagen’s new Polo R WRC and the ninth WRC win in Ogier’s relatively short career – his first came with Citroën in Portugal in 2010. Ogier was able to slow his pace through the final stages, but he did manage to claim the maximum three extra points on the Power Stage to extend his lead after three rounds of what could easily develop into a one-sided Drivers’ Championship.

“We have to take each win when it comes,” said Ogier. “This is an amazing start to the season for us. We had a small scare this morning with a sensor but we are at the end with the perfect amount of points. Now we have a quite good lead in the championship.”

Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen began the final day just over seven seconds in front of Belgian Thierry Neuville in the fight for second position, but the fastest time through the longest stage of the entire event confirmed the runner-up spot for the Citroën DS3 driver, as Neuville claimed his first ever podium finish with an excellent third in the Qatar World Rally Team Ford Fiesta.

“Of course I am happy to get my first podium of this year,” said Hirvonen. “But I know we have a lot of work to do.”

Dani Sordo and Carlos Del Barrio finished a comfortable fourth in the second of the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team DS3s and Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah finished his first WRC round of the season in a solid fifth place.

Australian Chris Atkinson enjoyed his return to the series and overtook American Ken Block on the first stage of the morning to confirm sixth overall. Mexican Benito Guerra, Czech Martin Prokop and Russian Evgeny Novikov rounded off the top 10. “Our first rally in WRC and I feel quite happy,” enthused Guerra. “The people are supporting me, but I hope next year to be in the rally and to be more in the fight.”

Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari was in a class of his own in the WRC 2 category. The Ford Fiesta RRC driver finished a fine 12th overall on his Mexican debut and a staggering 9min 14.6sec ahead of Peruvian WRC 2 runner-up Nicolás Fuchs.

“I thought that it would be difficult but we started well,” said Al-Kuwari. “Thanks to Seashore and to M-Sport. All was okay and I am very happy to do 400km with no mistakes.”

Leg three – as it happened

Twenty-two cars started the final three stages and Ogier’s overnight advantage of 2min 52.4sec swelled to 3min 32.4sec when the clerk of the course decided to take 40 seconds off the Frenchman’s time for the delay he suffered on the 18th stage. The decision also handed the Volkswagen driver the stage win and meant that he had won six of the previous day’s seven specials.

Latvala was the first to leave Parc Ferme at the Poliforum and head towards the daunting 54.85km Guanajuatito stage. Østberg followed the Finn into the day’s action, but all eyes were on the battle between Hirvonen and Neuville for second place and whether Atkinson could pass Block and secure sixth.

There was no opportunity for drivers to check in late and switch their running order after event officials decided to issue a bulletin to competitors warning about changing their start order, particularly for the points-scoring Derramadero Power Stage (SS22).

Latvala duly set the target time of 36min 35.6sec, but Michal Kosciuszko stopped in the stage with engine problems as Novikov went inside Latvala’s time and stopped the clocks in 36min 27.0sec. Atkinson was able to pass Block and move into sixth position with the eighth quickest time and stage winner Hirvonen pulled 29.2 seconds clear of Neuville in the battle for the runner-up spot when Neuville slid off the road under braking and lost a little time. Ogier eased his pace to record the second quickest time and his lead was reduced to 3min 15.2sec.

Points were at stake for the top three finishers on the Power Stage and Østberg laid down the gauntlet with a time of 13min 06.4sec, despite running second on the road and acting as a ‘road sweeper’. Hirvonen all but confirmed the runner-up spot when Neuville noticeably eased his pace but Ogier claimed the Power Stage win and the three bonus points with a time of 13min 00.5sec. Østberg’s time was sufficient for second and two points and Latvala earned a point for third.

The final 4.42km super special stage was all that stood in the way of Ogier taking a first victory in Mexico and there were no further dramas for the Frenchman on his way to a comfortable victory. Hirvonen confirmed second, Neuville came in third and Al-Kuwari won the WRC 2 category. Sordo claimed the stage win.


Posted: February 1, 2014 10:09 PM

After winning the event’s longest stage, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen ensured they would finish Rally Mexico as runners-up. With the points scored by Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio for fourth position, the Citroe?n Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team increased its lead at the top of the Manufacturers’ World Championship.

After two long, gruelling days of racing, the final leg of Rally Mexico was considerably shorter. The crews still had to tackle the 54.85km-long Guanajuatito stage, and the Derramadero Power Stage (21.14km) and the Super Special Stage held next to Leo?n, the base of the rally.

With a slim 7.5s lead over Thierry Neuville at the start of the final day, Mikko Hirvonen had no choice but to push hard to thwart the ambitions of his rival. The Finn did just that, with style to spare, by beating all of his rivals on Guanajuatito to record his second stage win of the weekend. And although his tyres were already very worn, he also managed to show good speed on the Power Stage.

“We only really had one mission today and that was to keep our second place, so I’m pleased we managed to do that,” commented Mikko at the finish. “I didn‘t go flat out on Guanajuatito because I wanted to keep my tyres for the Power Stage. But I was too cautious in the first section, which was really quick with a lot of dips, and I couldn’t get into the top 3. But anyway, I’m pleased to finish on the podium for the first time this season. It’s a good result which owes much to my consistency. However, it looks like we have a lot of work to do as well.”

Fourth at the end of the second day, Dani Sordo held his position until the finish. “It’s a good result because it means that Citroe?n has increased its lead in the overall standings,” said the Spaniard.

“Although we have made progress this weekend, I was unable to challenge the other guys because I was struggling to adapt to the car. We are going to keep working, especially in the tests that are scheduled ahead of Rally de Portugal.” “This rally was a good result for the Manufacturers’ World Championship, as we have extended our lead by four points,” confirmed Yves Matton, Citroe?n Racing Team Principal. “It wasn’t easy, however, especially for Dani who had difficulty in making the most of the car’s potential. We worked hard throughout the weekend and I think our efforts will start to bear fruit from Portugal onwards. Mikko, on the other hand, was happy with his DS3 WRC and he was able to challenge at the front. Both our cars have finished in the points. That’s in line with the target we had set ourselves and that we’ll be looking to achieve throughout the season.”

Competing in the DS3 WRC of the Abu Dhabi Citroe?n Total WRT, Chris Atkinson picked up another position during the morning. The Australian was delighted to have finished sixth overall: “It was a good comeback, we were 15th at one stage, so to get sixth is fantastic! Obviously, it could have been better, but I’m happy. I’d like to thank Khalid Al Qassimi for letting me have this opportunity. Hopefully, I can have another chance, so that I can build on this experience.”

Welcomed by the local media and his home crowed like a winner, the Mexican Benito Guerra was pleased to have picked up the points for eighth place: “It’s really the outcome I was dreaming about before the start of the rally. I am happy to have battled with the other drivers throughout the weekend. This first result in WRC is here, now I would like to speak with my sponsors to see if we can take part in other events at this level. I hope to be in Portugal!”

DMACK Pleased With Gravel Progress In Mexico

Posted: February 1, 2014 10:08 PM

DMACK is celebrating a strong debut for its 2013 specification gravel tyre after Czech driver Martin Prokop continued the firm’s string of top-10 finishes in the FIA World Rally Championship today. Prokop’s ninth overall was backed up by a Production Cup overall win by DMACK stalwart Nicolas Fuchs.

This weekend’s Rally Guanajuato Mexico was the third round of the world championship but the first time competitors tackled gravel after the asphalt of Monte Carlo and snow of Sweden. The event was a welcome return to the surface which makes up the bulk of championship events and saw DMACK debut two new evolutions of its tried and tested DMG+2 gravel tyre.

DMACK introduced the S3 and H3 versions of the tyre – both benefitting from an evolution in construction and enhanced compound development to deliver a mix of both durability and performance. Both tyres are the result of DMACK’s ongoing progression strategy which sees the firm make continuing development tweaks and modifications as a result of its experience at the pinnacle of the sport.

While the high altitude stages in Mexico were generally not so abrasive, the competitive distances between tyre changes were high and forced drivers to consider how they best managed their allocation of tyres across the weekend. Each crew was allowed a maximum of 28 tyres made up from the two permitted compounds.

DMACK had nominated its hard compound H3 tyre for the event and it stood up well to the high stage distances, which were typically around 80km between services. The new tyre exhibited increased durability and was a significant step forward from last season’s hard compound.

In addition to the well-known gravel classics high in the hills around the rally base in Leon, the event featured a popular mix of super special stages including the asphalt street stage through the colourful town of Guanajuato – home of one of the best ceremonial rally starts. The rally also hosted the mammoth 54.85km Guanajuatito stage which made up the bulk of today’s final action.

Both DMACK-supplied world rally teams performed well. Prokop powered his Jipocar Ford Fiesta RS WRC to ninth overall after a solid weekend of gravel driving saw him punch in a string of top-10 stage times. The result sees him occupy a comfortable eighth overall in the drivers’ championship.

Michal Kosciuszko from the Lotos WRC Team had a frustrating Rally Mexico. He set some strong times in the Motorsport Italia-run MINI WRC but suffered from a transmission problem on Saturday and then retired with a broken alternator belt today.

Meanwhile Peruvian Nicolas Fuchs dominated the Production Cup category within WRC2 to take victory by over eight minutes and was full of praise for the new DMACK rubber.

Dick Cormack, DMACK motorsport director, said:
“The event really demonstrated the progress we’ve made with our new hard compound tyre – it’s a big leap forward in terms of durability. Some of the drivers used the alternative compound S3 tyre as well and, because it’s more of a medium compound, we’ve got the advantage of having quite a wide performance window. DMACK is certainly getting closer and we know we’ve still got some work to do. But having two WRC cars on every rally is extremely beneficial in terms of feedback and technical development.”

Victory in Mexico – Volkswagen and Ogier in a league of their own

Posted: February 1, 2014 10:05 PM

16 stage wins and a lead of three and a half minutes: Sébastien Ogier (F), at the wheel of the Volkswagen Polo R WRC, won the third round of the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Altitude, heat, hundreds of thousands of fans – alongside co-driver Julien Ingrassia (F), Ogier dominated the Rally Mexico from start to finish to claim his second win of the season, following the duo’s success at the Rally Sweden. The Volkswagen pairing won all but seven of the 23 special stages and demonstrated remarkably consistent speed: thanks in no small part to the Ogier factor, the number 8 Polo R WRC was among the fastest four cars on every stage. The icing on the cake was Ogier’s victory on the Power Stage, which earned him a further three points towards the World Rally Championship.

Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) in the second Polo R WRC also proved their undoubted driving prowess. After incredible misfortune forced the Finns to retire from day two’s action just metres into the first special stage of the day, they took advantage of the Rally 2 regulation to rejoin the rally with a bang on Saturday and Sunday. The duo finished in the top three on six of the ten special stages held on days three and four in their number 7 Polo R WRC. Latvala’s tour de force came on the Power Stage: despite having to clear the route for everyone else, as the first man out onto the dirty route, he still managed to clock the third-fastest time to earn himself a bonus point towards the World Rally Championship.

Challenge 1 – the heat: man and machine come out on top in Mexico

Temperatures reaching around 30 degrees Celsius mean that Mexico is not only one of the hottest rallies of the World Championship season when it comes to sporting action. The route profile, with long descents from high altitudes, and searing temperatures not only heat the brake fluid to boiling point, but also ask huge questions of the driver himself. In these difficult conditions, the Volkswagen Polo R WRC once again demonstrated its durability, while the Volkswagen drivers benefitted from their excellent fitness.

The route of the Rally Mexico took its competitors through central Mexico, around the cities of León, Guanajuato and Silao. The character of the stages was defined by fine gravel and dusty sections. The 23 stages took place at altitudes of between 2,671 and 1,795 metres and covered a total 394.88 kilometres against the clock.

Challenge 2 – the altitude: Polo R WRC powerful in the extreme conditions in Mexico

Special stages at almost 2,700 metres above sea level result in a loss of up to 30 per cent of an engine’s performance. The Volkswagen engineers prepared meticulously for this particular challenge, and modified the 315-hp engine in the Polo R WRC to cope with the altitudes it would face on the special stages. In doing so, the Motorsport department demonstrated the performance of Volkswagen engines at a special location. In January 2013, Volkswagen opened the group’s 100th plant in Silao, in close proximity to the special stages themselves. The plant produces engines – predominantly for the American market.

Challenge 3 – the service: perfect team performance

The victory at the Rally Mexico is one for the entire Volkswagen team. Engineers, mechanics, logistics – every cog fit perfectly into place within the Volkswagen outfit, as they took on the third rally of the season with the Polo R WRC. Each of the team’s eight services, which are temporally restricted by the regulations, ran like well-rehearsed choreography and provided Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala with perfect material throughout the rally.

The fourth round of the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship will take place in Portugal from 11th to 14th April. Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier will be joined in the Volkswagen team by Andreas Mikkelsen, who will also drive a Polo R WRC.

Quotes, Day Four of the Rally Mexico

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #7
“No sooner had the rally started than things took a turn for the worse for us. We had to give up after a matter of metres on Friday, due to suspension damage we received when we hit a stone. After that, we tried a few things with the car and I worked on my driving style. By the end of the rally, I felt more comfortable than ever in the Polo. I now have a better understanding of the handling characteristics. That gives me a lot of motivation ahead of Portugal. Winning a point on the Power Stage was obviously a nice way to finish.”

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #8
“What a fantastic feeling. The Polo R WRC was perfect for every single minute of the Rally Mexico. I can only thank my team for that. This victory at our debut on gravel is very special and will always have a special place in my heart. We will definitely celebrate it in style tonight. We take every win as it comes. This morning I took an extremely cautious approach on the first special stage and steered around every stone. However, from midway through I put my foot down again. We obviously have a big lead now in the World Championship, but there are still another ten rallies to come.”

Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director
“To be honest: never in our wildest dreams did we expect this kind of success at our very first gravel rally with the Polo R WRC. We prepared meticulously for the World Rally Championships, and left nothing to chance in the run up to the Rally Mexico. As such, the win in Mexico is a success for the entire team, which worked together perfectly this weekend. Not only on-site, but also at home in Hannover and Wolfsburg. It is impossible to overrate Sébastien Ogier’s performance: the Ogier factor was what made the difference here. It allowed us to challenge for the win right from the word go. Respect. Jari-Matti Latvala’s performance was no less impressive. He was really unlucky right at the start of the rally, but fought back magnificently and was rewarded for his efforts with the World Championship point he won on the Power Stage. Again, respect. The suspension damage he suffered has shown us that we can still improve with the Polo R WRC.”

And then there was ...

... a surprising moment for Julien Ingrassia after the Rally Mexico. The Volkswagen Motorsport team not only welcomed Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia to the celebrations for the second win of this season’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) with a hearty round of applause, but also donned wrestling masks. There was method behind this madness: “Mister Mysterio” is a running gag in the WRC, which sees Julien Ingrassia and journalist Jerome Bourret incorporate surprise appearances in wrestling masks into everyday WRC life. Wrestling enjoys cult status in Mexico. You can find out more about “Mister Mysterio” at www.facebook.com/elmistermysterio

And then there was also ...

... the only set-back for Sébastien Ogier at the Rally Mexico. On his way to the podium, the winner of the event in Mexico failed to spot that a sliding door was only half open. The result was a painful cut above his left eye. The wound was treated immediately by Volkswagen team doctor Jan Ole Eilers and his counterpart at Citroën, Philipe Dury. Ogier arrived at the presentation ceremony a few minutes later than expected.

Atkinson secures sixth in Mexican round of World Rally Championship

Posted: February 1, 2014 10:03 PM

Gold Coaster Chris Atkinson has finished sixth in the latest round of the FIA World Rally Championship - Rally Mexico.

Despite losing three and a half minutes and dropping outside the top-15 on Day 1 after hitting a rock and damaging his steering, ‘Atko’ put on a rallying clinic to climb right back up the leaderboard and secure a handy haul of points for the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team.

Atkinson showed he still has the pace to mix it with the best of them, often matching stage times with the factory Citroën, Ford and Volkswagen drivers.

Unfortunately the rally got off to a horror start for the Queenslander when he broke the power steering of his DS3 WRC on SS3. This forced he and Belgian co-driver Stephane Prevot to make emergency repairs to replace a damaged bolt in the steering before the start of the next test.

The repairs meant Atko would check into the start of SS4, 21 minutes late, handing him a 3m30sec time penalty but the resilient Aussie fought back over the next two days with a raft of top-5 stage times to secure another fine result in what was his 75th WRC event start.

Atkinson was given the opportunity to race the factory Abu Dhabi-backed Citroën DS3 after being personally selected by the team’s regular driver Khalid Al Qassimi who was unable to contest the event due to clashing commitments.

Quotes from Atko
“I’m stoked on finishing 6th on this really tough and testing event!”

“I’d like to thank Khalid Al Qassimi and the Abu Dhabi Citroën team for giving me the opportunity to drive in Mexico. Hopefully, my performance will allow for future chances with the team, so that I can build on this experience.

“I hit a loose rock on the opening gravel stage on Friday and we were really lucky the damage didn’t put us out of the event altogether, it was a real testament to the strength of the Citroen. If we hadn’t lost all that time on Friday we would have achieved our goal of a top-5 finish so I’m really happy with my performance and glad to get the job done for Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team.

“Rally Mexico is one of the most colourful events on the WRC calendar and this was once again the case in 2013. There were an incredible amount of spectators at the start in Guanajuato and out on the stages, and it’s great to see all the smiling faces out there enjoying our sport with us.”


Posted: February 1, 2014 10:01 PM

Thierry Neuville is celebrating his maiden podium in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) today after he piloted his Ford Fiesta RS WRC to a sensational third place on the 2013 edition of Guanajuato Rally Mexico. Similarly impressive, fellow Qatar World Rally Team driver Nasser Al-Attiyah secured his best ever performance from the event with fifth place overall.

Embarking on the last day of competitive action, the Qatar M-Sport quartet faced the final, and what is arguably the most daunting, test of the weekend. Coming in at a monstrous 54.85 km and climbing over 2600m above sea level, Guanajuatito (SS21) places huge demands on driver and co-driver alike. A strong time demands peak physical fitness, some 90 pages of pacenotes and near perfect concentration. Needless to say, this season’s longest stage has claimed many victims over the years, but that was not to be the case for the Qatari-liveried Fiestas.

Finding the perfect balance between pace and control, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul had little difficulty taming the challenging stages. Leading the rally in its early phase, Belgium’s latest protégé showcased his growth as a world class driver – his mix of speed and composure resulting in a maiden WRC podium, a stage win, and ten top-three stage times.

However, seemingly emulating his friend and team-mate Al-Attiyah, Neuville had something of a Dakar moment through Guanajuatito (SS21). With a gap of just 7.5 seconds, the youngster was all set to push Mikko Hirvonen for second place and was taking time off the Finn on the opening splits. But after braking late and going wide 15 km into the stage, Neuville took the mature approach and backed off the pace to consolidate what became a fantastic result on only his second venture to the Mexican event.

Rally Mexico also proved fruitful for fellow Qatar World Rally Team driver Al-Attiyah. Taking his best ever result from the event, the Qatari continually challenged the WRC regulars as his times overshadowed those posted on last year’s event. Indeed, navigated by Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernnachini, Al-Attiyah blitzed his previous times by as much as half a minute.

Taking a cautious approach through Sunday’s final three stages, Al-Attiyah consolidated his fifth place – an excellent result on his debut with the team.

In the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team camp, it was all about minimising the impact of early misfortune. Having lost time when a rock pierced the underfloor of his Fiesta RS WRC on Friday’s opening test (SS3), Novikov was disadvantaged running third on the road. But with the calming aid of co-driver Ilka Minor, the Muscovite made an impressive comeback – climbing from 22nd to tenth and securing a World Championship point in the process.

Elsewhere, Mads Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson came back strongly on today’s points-paying Power Stage. Having had to retire his Fiesta RS WRC with an electrical issue the previous day, the Norwegian refocused and set a sensational second fastest time – claiming a further two points for his championship campaign. Considering his road position – sweeping the dusty gravel for the cars behind – the 24-year-old’s impressive pace heart-achingly demonstrated what could have so easily been a superb result.

Thierry Neuville (3rd) said:
“It’s been a very good weekend for us – we had a lot of things to deal with and I think we coped with everything really well. On the first day we tried to push, then on the second day we hit something on the stage and developed a steering problem which we had to manage.

“We learnt a lot and we agreed with the team that we would push this morning because we thought, even if we get no podium here, we will definitely get one at another rally. So we certainly tried to push Mikko [Hirvonen] for second.

“All in all this is an absolutely fantastic result for us. I want to say a big thank you to the team because they did a really great job all weekend. Everything worked really well for us, and even when we damaged the car a bit, they repaired it perfectly.

“I hope this is not the last time you will see us here! We’re hungry for more podiums and one day I hope that it will be the top-step that we are standing on.”

Nasser Al-Attiyah (5th) said:
“We didn’t take any risks today because we were very happy with fifth position. I am so happy with our result on this rally because it really is a very difficult event. Last year we finished sixth and this year we finished fifth which just goes to show how hard the team are working to make everything happen.

“Thierry [Neuville] also had a very good result, and the Qatar World Rally Team is in a really good position on points now. I am very proud of Thierry and Nicolas [Gilsoul, Neuville’s co-driver] and I have no doubt that this is the first of many more podiums for them.”

Evgeny Novikov (10th) said:
“We ran first on the road for most of the event, so we were not able to show the speed we were capable of. The problem on Friday was a real shame because I think we could have had some good pace here and really challenged for a good result.

“But this is a tough rally and these things can so easily happen. It’s just a shame that we were the unlucky ones this time. But we have gained a lot of good experience for next year and managed to salvage some points for the championship – every little helps!”

Mads Østberg (11th) said:
“This rally has been very disappointing for us. Before the problem on Saturday we were setting a really good pace and on course for a top position. But that’s how it is and there’s nothing we can do about it now.

“It is for sure a shame, but as I said, we were setting a really good pace, as I think you can see from the Power Stage. Even being second on the road we managed to set the second fastest time and that is a real positive for us going forward.

“We know that the speed is there and now more than ever we are hungry for a good result so we will definitely be pushing for that in Portugal!”

Malcolm Wilson OBE said:
“What a fantastic result for Thierry [Neuville] and Nicolas [Gilsoul]! They controlled the rally perfectly and I am extremely proud that Qatar and M-Sport can be the ones to bring them the first of what I am sure will be many podiums in the WRC.

“Obviously Mads’ [Østberg] problem yesterday was a real blow for the team, but I was extremely impressed with his performance on the Power Stage. To set a time like that with the road position he had was incredible and I know that he will be back as focused and as determined as ever in Portugal.”


Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Killian Duffy brought home an impressive victory in WRC-2. Dominating the category behind the wheel of his Seashore Qatar World Rally Team Ford Fiesta RRC, the Qatari secured the win by a margin of over nine minutes.

Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari said:
“This is a fantastic result for us and I could not be happier. The victory may have looked easy from the outside, but I can tell you it wasn’t! When you have big gaps like that, it is so easy to lose concentration – especially on a stage like Guanajuatito [SS21] – so we had to work very hard all weekend. I want to say a big thanks to the team at M-Sport, and I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel. Of course there will be a lot of strong competition in Portugal, but we will try and have a clean run, like we did here, and see what happens.”


Posted: February 1, 2014 9:59 PM


Posted: March 8, 2013 2:46 PM

The 10th Rally Guanajuato Mexico has a different feel to it this year with the absence of six-time winner Sébastien Loeb, but the Frenchman’s limited WRC programme in 2013 will not detract from what promises to be a fascinating third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Starting with two short special stages in Guanajuato on Thursday evening, the first gravel round of the new season has attracted 12 Priority 1 drivers and six WRC2 teams among a 27-car entry. Teams will tackle 23 timed special stages before the finish in León on Sunday afternoon.

M-Sport and Citroën face a real challenge to continue their run of podium results over the specialist Mexican tracks with the emergence of Volkswagen Motorsport as a major force in this year’s WRC following a superb debut victory in Sweden last month. Volkswagen currently trail the French factory team by just two points in the early season race to be top of the FIA Manufacturers’ Championship.

The German team has left nothing to chance in its preparations for a first fully-blown assault at the event and altitude testing has been carried out with the Polo R WRC to ensure that both championship leader Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala are competitive from the outset. The team visited Mexico in November for a short test session and have also run the Polo’s engine in a climate chamber in Germany to simulate Mexican rally conditions.

“In Mexico, we have to complete seven special stages that are over 30km long,” admitted Ogier. “That means we must be top fit in order to stay 100% focused at all times. I also came here a few days early in order to get used to the time difference and to catch up a bit of sun on the beach in Cancún!”

Citroën’s Mikko Hirvonen finished second overall in 2011 and 2012 and has carried out pre-event testing for Mexico in the Algarve region of Portugal. “The car (DS3) has changed quite a lot since last year in Mexico and we introduced a big suspension step in Finland. The engineers have also worked on the engine and I am pleased with what we have achieved. I think we have a really good chance to win, but Volkswagen showed their pace in Sweden and I believe they will be fast here as well.”

Rally organisers have introduced two new stages to the format: a 2.6km sprint through Guanajuato’s Bicentennial Park follows the opening 1.05km Monster street stage on Thursday evening and a daunting 30.57km El Chocolate special will be repeated twice on Friday.

Liaison distances have been reduced by around 15%, but the rally still features 394.88 competitive kilometres with several sections climbing to over 2,500 metres above sea level in high temperatures. Revisions make this event one of the most compact rallies in the history of the WRC.

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