RALLY MEXICO KRIS MEEKE C
CITROEN’S STAR MAN “Leaving after the recce was a strange feeling” oming off the final stage of the recce turning left towards the airport and not right to Leon was a pretty strange feeling last Wednesday afternoon.
And the week continued in the same vein – not that I had too much time to dwell on it: my wife was working, so I was looking after the children. I tried to introduce them to split times and tell them how interesting it was that Sebastien Ogier was taking four soft tyres on the first loop on Friday; it would be a bit of an overstatement to say they were riveted…
This wasn’t the first time I’ve done the recce but not the rally, so it wasn’t too strange for me to be honest. I arrived in Mexico on Sunday, did a bit of bike riding on Monday and then got on with the recce on Tuesday. Regardless of whether you are doing the rally or not, the preparation in the recce for Paul [Nagle, co-driver] and I is exactly the same. OK, we’re not talking in depth with the engineer at the end of the day about what we might or might not do with the car set-up, but for Paul and I it was like we were starting the rally.
The stages in Mexico are lovely, there’s no doubt about that. And spending 1h45m in the 50-miler through Guanajuato was incredible. We’d never driven those roads in that direction, so to all intents and purposes it was the first time we’d seen it. It was a monster, a proper stage and one that I would love to have driven on the rally.
A few folk have been asking me if it was frustrating not to be starting the rally, but it’s honestly not. As the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team, we know what we’re about this year and this year’s all about next year.
It’s the same when David Evans asked me where I thought we’d have finished – that’s not a question I could answer. Instead, I told him to ask me where I thought we’d be finishing next year; the answer to this one is that I hoped to be beaten on this rally in 12 months time – that will mean we’ve gone to Mexico in the lead of the championship and first on the road. I’ll take that!
Stepping back slightly and looking at the event from afar, you can’t help but be impressed with what VW does. The pace was incredible; Jari-matti Latvala and Seb [Ogier] were on a different planet.
Both of them were very impressive: Latvala made the best of what he’d got, while Ogier was masterful at the front again. He’s had a fair bit of practice running first on the road and he’s become very, very good at it.
Last week was about the start of the British Rally Championship on the Mid Wales Stages and the launch of the Circuit of Ireland a few days before. With 30-plus R5 cars likely for the Circuit and a great start to the BRC, rallying’s looking good in the UK.
Another thing I was impressed with was the WRC+ service on wrc.com. Being a bit of a spectator at the weekend, it was great to be able to watch so many onboards on the website. That’s not something I intend to make a habit of though! Continued from page 27
Michelin’s rally manager Jacques Morelli admitted he was surprised by what he saw.
“This soft tyre is exactly the same – the same compound and construction we are using in Wales,” he said. “And the temperature is not like this in Wales in November!”
The explanation involves the high altitude and low temperatures, but there are two further facets: the depth of gravel and down-on-power engines.
Mikkelsen explained: “When you are early on the roads, there’s a lot of loose on the surface, so you’re not actually giving the tyres any work to do because we’re not scratching through to the base of the road. And, of course, the power is not the same because of the altitude.”
Morelli was keen to see some of the credit going the way of his team in Clermont- Ferrand. “We introduced this new soft tyre in Finland two years ago,” he said. “We could see straight away the chemistry in the rubber and the construction of the tyre was good – it made it much more durable. That’s what we’ve seen here.” Saturday’s Ibarrilla stage) Eric Camilli’s Fiesta was delivered to the stage finish seventh fastest and still with tread beneath it.
The anticipation of Guanajuato was huge, the challenge apparently even greater.
Fifty miles through a stage that varied greatly in character and tempo, going for miles with the cars bouncing off the limiter in top to sections so technical and tight they were reminiscent of the pitilessly twisty Motu Road stage in New Zealand, complete with overhanging vegetation and accompanying varying grip level. There were drainage ditches, cobblestones and peaks nudging 9000 feet. But the part that really caught the imagination was the competitive use of Derramadero. Usually reserved for a road section, it was the chance of a lifetime to see the cars literally flying into the village, landing on cobbles and then threading their World Rally Cars down the main – only – street between the houses.
Waiting to talk to the crews at the end of the stage, there was no chance for me to partake in such a sensory assault. Colin Mcmaster, the man who took most of the pictures you’re looking at, did make the journey.
“I’m not over-egging it when I say it was unbelievable,” Mcmaster said. “They were down through the houses at over 100mph. Fantastic. You’d have loved it!”
The story at the stage end wasn’t anything like as dramatic.
In fact, 50 miles in 50-odd minutes didn’t really do much for anybody. There had been talk of cars coming to the finish with wheels hanging off, punctures galore, drivers on the verge of collapse. In fact, the zero car was the only one of the frontrunners demonstrating any kind of impact, with its rear bumper hanging off.
Ogier admitted it had been a nice stage; Latvala only wanted 60km (probably in the hope that his brakes would last that long) and Ostberg? “I didn’t enjoy it at all. Why should I? It’s too long. OK, there were some nice sections, but it’s just so long. You end up just doing the same, the same and the same again. We need rally stages, not endurance. I understand the argument, but it’s not for me.”
None of the drivers looked desperately out of shape at the finish, but Paddon was one of the most fresh-faced. “I’d quite happily turn around and go and do it again,” he smiled. “I enjoyed it. For me, we should have longer stages like this in the championship; rallying’s not all about balls-out stages, it’s about tactics and stages like this make you think a little bit more.”
Ultimately, the long stage failed to deliver the expected drama. On the surface, the same could be said for Rally Mexico in terms of pure competition. But, as ever, from the underground stage and frankly bonkers reception from the locals in the city of Guanajuato on Thursday night to the WRC’S longest road in three decades, this event provided something different. Something different, not least, because it was a rally Ogier didn’t win.
Latvala won and wore the winner’s cowboy boots on Sunday afternoon.
More importantly, he got the T-shirt too… ■
Jari-matti Latvala (FIN)/ Miikka Anttila (FIN) Sebastien Ogier (Fra)/julien Ingrassia (FRA) Mads Ostberg (NOR)/OLA Floene (NOR) Dani Sordo (ESP)/ Marc Marti (ESP) Hayden Paddon (NZL)/JOHN Kennard (NZL) Ott Tanak (EST)/ Raigo Molder (EST) Martin Prokop (CZE)/JAN Tomanek (CZE) Lorenzo Bertelli (Ita)/simone Scattolin (ITA) Teemu Suninen (FIN)/ Mikko Markkula (FIN) Valeriy Gorban (Ukr)/volodymyr Korsya (UKR) Benito Guerra (MEX)/ Borja Rozada (ESP) Eric Camilli (FRA)/ Nicolas Klinger (FRA) Andreas Mikkelsen (Nor)/anders Jæger Synnevaag (NOR) Thierry Neuville (BEL)/ Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL)