Route preview: Rally Mexico 2018

Rally Mexico, the home of long gravel stages in high altitudes putting strain to the engines, and numerous Mickey Mouse stages doing the same for the drivers. For this year it’s mostly the same format with familiar roads cut up and pasted in new sequences. 

The super specials

The 2017 Rally Mexico opened with big show and drama. The opening stage was arranged in the glamour of Mexico City, far from the rally center of Leon. The backdrop of the James Bond -approved Zócalo square was amazing, but basically the cars were just doing donuts around barrels!

The Mexico City super special provided also an interesting piece of rallying trivia: Sebastien Ogier made the fastest time on SS1 but after SS1 Juho Hänninen was in the lead, with no penalties issued for Ogier. How was this possible? The Street Stage CDMX was run twice, with the first run that Hänninen won being actually SS0!

The rally cars were transported back to Leon by trucks for the Friday stages. They got badly stuck in traffic, forcing the opening leg of Friday being cancelled.

The same should not happen this year, since the Mexico City stage has been dropped. Instead, there’s a 2,5 km Street Stage GTO, a version of the familiar street stage in Guanajuato for the opening day. The route has been revised for this year, with an increased amount of kilometres in the tunnels!

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 8.29.08

Both Friday and Saturday are concluded with two runs on the Autodromo de Leon twin-car stage, with Saturday adding also a run on the Street Stage Leon, making it six super specials in total for the rally. The super specials need to be treated with respect. You can hardly win anything, but easily lose everything, proven by Robert Kubica in 2014

The gravel stages

The first proper stage is Duarte – Derramadero, a new stage name for the rally, but actually most of its 26 km are familiar from previous years.

The first 700 metres are new. The next 8 km haven’t been driven since 2011, back then on a stage called Duarte. Out of the current drivers Latvala, Ogier and Loeb did the stage then, so they could have a slight advantage.

The next 6 km bit after passing a junction is the ending of last year’s Lajas de Oro. This is where Sebastien Ogier spun and Stephane Lefebvre got his Citroen off the road into Rally2. Also, Thierry Neuville crashed here in 2016 for the second time in the rally, resulting in a retirement.

The following 10 km after a junction turn to left are from the 80 km Guanajuato stage from 2016. Then there’s another junction to a new road – for 1 km – driven in 2011 as Comanjilla (like the previous 10 km), but the last junction turn and 400 metres are again undriven before.

Duarte – Derramadero 2018
Duarte – Derramadero 2018

This year’s El Chocolate contains the 31 first km of the last year’s stage, whereas Ortega has been left with the 17 last kilometres, leaving a bit of last year’s stage as liaison. The Ortega part contains the corner where Thierry Neuville had his first off in 2016 putting him into Rally2.

Saturday opens with a reworked Guanajuatito stage. Like Duarte – Derramadero, it’s mostly a new combination of old roads. The first 1.6 km are from the 2011 version, starting a bit later than then. After that it joins the 2015 version. At 12.7 km there’s a turn to undriven roads for 8.7 km. After that the ending is the same as 2015 Ibarrilla, ending a bit earlier.

Guanajuatito
Guanajuatito 2018

Otates is basically Lajas de Oro from last year with 6 km trimmed from each end with the final junction turning on to the same road driven the day before as Duarte – Derramadero. The road near the end took Andreas Mikkelsen as its victim in 2016, whereas last year another road driven on Lajas de Oro caused a roll for Lorenzo Bertelli.

El Brinco is also familiar, being the only unchanged gravel stage. Last year it was clearly the fastest stage of the rally with Ott Tänak’s winning average speed on the second run being 112.7 km/h whereas most gravel stages had only 80-100 km/h.

Here’s an onboard from 2015 when the stage was a bit longer, but the onboard is timed to begin from this year’s start line.

El Brinco contains the now infamous corner near the end where Kris Meeke had his heart-stopping car park moment when it was a part of the Derramadero power stage in 2017. Jesus Christ Kris!

Sunday opens with Alfaro. Title-wise, it’s the only single-run gravel stage of the rally, but it shares the first 4.5 km and a later section of 3 km with Otates from the previous day, giving them actually their third run. The final 4.5 km meanwhile are the same as La Calera from the year before. The 2016 version of Otates also contains the first 18 kilometres of the stage, and actually all of the stage was contained within the 80 km Guanajuto stage from 2016, but in the opposite direction. Like before, familiar roads with a new sequence.

Alfaro 2018
Alfaro 2018 (red) consisting of Otates 2018 (turquoise), 2017 La Calera (green) and 2016 Otates (brown).

In 2012 Evgeniy Novikov crashed heavily on the 54 km Guanajuatito stage. Latvala drove the stage after him, wasn’t warned properly and rolled as well, was able to continue, only to be disqualified because of damaged rollcage. The place where this happened is included on this year’s Alfaro stage at 7 km.

Las Minas – a stage driven typically on the opening day – is this year’s power stage, driven twice consecutively at the end of the rally. It starts now 10 km later than last year but the ending stretches almost 2 km further, ending on paved roads, making things interesting for sure in front of live television cameras.

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 9.51.07
Google Street View near the Rally Mexico 2018 finish. Lots of places for a “car park moment”

In conclusion, the only never before driven roads (at least in the last 10 years) are the first and last bits of Duarte – Derramadero, the 8.7 kms in the middle of Guanajuatito and the last 2 kms of Las Minas, as well as one kilometre near the end of Alfaro which hasn’t been driven in this direction. The roads from years back are the 8 km bit in the beginning of Duarte – Derramadero and first 1.6 km of Guanajatito, which are both from 2011.

See the route in greater detail at rally-maps.com

The road order

Rally Mexico is one of the worst events to start first on the road with lots of loose gravel to be swiped but the road remaining smooth for most cars afterwards. We have seen often starting from the back giving a considerable advantage, like for Jari-Matti Latvala in 2016. This year, it will be championship contenders Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier clearing the path for others behind.

The last two WRC factory cars on the starting order will be Dani Sordo and Sebastian Loeb, two drivers with lots of experience on this rally. They could end up high up the leaderboard after Friday. Other surprises could come from Elfyn Evans or Teemu Suninen, starting just before the aforementioned two.

The altitude

A special thing about Rally Mexico is that the stages are driven in high altitudes. With engines getting less oxygen, they are losing up to 20% of their power. Overheating can also be a problem, not only for engines, but also for differentials, dampers and brakes for instance.

Jost Capito told that when VW were developing the Polo R WRC in 2012 they took the cars to Mexico for a test and none of them would even start in the altitude. It was a good thing they did that a year before they started competing!

Last year it was the first time in the altitudes for the new 2017 WRC cars and almost all of them suffered some sort of issues on the first long run through El Chocolate. In fact, the technical problems slowed the cars so much that no one even mentioned the road conditions or having to sweep the loose gravel!

There was only one crew who didn’t have either problems – Kris Meeke started as the last WRC car and finished the stage without any problems, a good way to start the journey towards a maiden victory for the Citroen C3 WRC. This year Meeke’s starting position is again good, but it’s questionable which team has improved best the durability in the altitudes. Also, the gravel stage of the rally won’t be as long as last year.

 

Bonus

Ott Tänak can sigh of relief, the Los Mexicanos stage with the lakeside corner hasn’t been driven since his watery incident and isn’t included this year either.

If you want to get well into the mood of Mexican roads, sit back and watch this full onboard of Ogier on the mighty 80 km Guanajuato stage in 2016

 

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