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.

Motor Sport News - - Rally Mexico - BY DAVID EVANS Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

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… ■

DRIVER/ CO-DRIVER

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)

Ost­berg in­her­ited third spot

Sordo fin­ished as top Hyundai man

VW crew had a rea­son to cel­e­brate Rally Raid ex­pert Martin Krokop re­turned to the WRC and scored good points

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