From the snow and ice of Norway to the sand and sun of Mexico – what a different terrain facing rally drivers this weekend in the latest stage of the world championship.
The Mexican round is the first of the year’s “gravel” events and will require a completely different set of skills and car preparation than the previous event in Norway.
There, Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen pipped fellow countryman Marcus Gronholm to win, but this weekend he faces a stiffer challenge from such acclaimed gravel masters as Gronholm or France’s reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb.
Going into the fourth round of the championship, the driver’s standings see one win apiece for Loeb, Gronholm and Hirvonen. These may be early days in the championship but drivers and their teams are keen to put down an early marker where it counts – on the leader board.
Rally Mexico, one of the shorter events in the world calendar, covers 850km and is based in León, 400km north of Mexico City, otherwise known as the country’s shoe-making capital. It is the highest round in the series, with the opening day’s Ortega test climbing through mountains to 2,737 metres.
The event began on Thursday evening with a fiesta-like ceremonial start before scores of thousands of fans in the town of Guanajuato, a Unesco-designated World Heritage Site, famed for its beauty and underground network of roads.
The first two legs each comprise two identical loops of three stages before two passes over a super special stage at León’s race circuit. The track also hosts a double run on Sunday morning to bring the rally to a close.
The term “breathtaking” will have some literal significance, as the oxygen thins when the rally climbs to its higher altitudes. This will also have a knock-on effect on the crews and the cars, which will need a different set-up from the wintery slopes of Norway.