Rally Mexico will again feature smooth-surfaced gravel stages topped with slippery loose gravel in high altitudes plus numerous super specials. However, one classic part of the rally has been changed for this year.
Rally Mexico is one of the newest events on the calendar, having been contested only since 2004. The center of the rally is in the city of Leon and the stages are driven very close in the mountains and valleys around it, as well as the nearby city of Guanajuato. However, multiple super specials see the cars spend much time in the cities as well.
The gravel roads of the rally are typically very firm based and don’t get too rutty on second passes. However, there’s a slippery layer of sand, loose gravel and/or rocks on top of the base making it difficult to be first on the road and increasingly beneficial to start at the back as a clean line is brushed onto the road.
The key element about Rally Mexico is the high altitude, which makes the engines work with less power in the low-oxygen air. This and the hot climate combined with tight corners and high ascensions on long stages also makes the engines, brakes, differentials and dampers overheat easily.
View the whole route at rally-maps.com
The short loop of Llano Grande near the city of Leon has been in shakedown use for quite many years. It is quite narrow for the most part and even rough at places, but technical only at times. In fact, it’s mostly quite fast with some surprising tight bends. The final 700 metres are then driven on a very wide road. The whole stage is also situated over 2100 m of elevation and has a 150 m ascension during a 1.5 km stretch. A couple of water splashes finally ensure it represents the rally route well.
The actual rally opens again with the Guanajuato Street Stage just like last year. The stage is infamous for running through a tunnel network, before it concludes with a roundabout donut. Last year the amount ran in the tunnels was extended, but this year it’s back to its shorter 2017 format, meaning also that the cars don’t return to the tunnel after the roundabout.
Friday heads East of Leon, starting with the same stages as last year, which were driven as one long stage back in 2017.
El Chocolate is one of the most well known stage titles of the rally. It is also the second longest stage of the rally. It starts with quite narrow roads ascending almost all the time, often through tight hairpins. During the first 10 km the stage elevates a total of 550 m.
The roads are a bit rougher-looking than generally in the event. There are a number of big rocks sidelining the road. One of them got into the middle of the road infront of Kalle Rovanperä last year, ruining his rally at the very beginning.
At 10 and 14 km there are particularly narrow and tricky sections, reminiscent of Rally Turkey. At 15 km a junction turn makes the road a bit wider and firmer, but very technical at first. In fact, these corners were too tricky for Esapekka Lappi last year, going off down a ravine here. Also, soon after that comes a tricky bridge which took Teemu Suninen by surprise last year.
At 22 km another steep ascend begins. Towards the finish the stage is again narrower and rougher here and there, but the width and surface seem to vary from corner to another. The very ending is actually pretty straightforward, where you can go fast if your car is still working after 30 kilometres of strain.
El Chocolate was last year among the slowest proper stages of the rally, but Ortega was one of the fastest ones. It’s not hard to see why – most of the route is quite wide, fast and flowing with a firm surface. The drivers can use the top gear numerous times for extended periods of time.
One of those fast sections at 11 km has a surprising bump which last year caused a high-speed roll for Elfyn Evans, resulting in an injury for co-driver Daniel Barritt.
Thierry Neuville also crashed on these fast roads in 2016 about 4.9 km from this year’s stage start.
However, the highest altitude of the rally is found from Ortega. About midway through the stage it exceeds 2.7 km, almost 100m more than El Chocolate. Another notable hazard is a water splash at 3.5 km.
In the middle of the day we have a run over one of the most futile super specials of the season, Street Stage Leon, a stage with some artificial turns and jumps on a parking lot and then a short street section. Last year Thierry Neuville had an engine issue here, costing valuable time. Meanwhile, Kris Meeke ran over a plant pot, almost turning the car over.
The third proper stage of the day is last year’s power stage Las Minas, starting East of Guanajuato towards the city and driven only on the afternoon loop. The stage will return on Sunday as the power stage. This unorthodox arrangement is reminiscent of Sweden’s repeating of the Torsby stage.
Las Minas has three changes of rhythm from fast and flowing to somewhat technical and back. Most of the roads are very wide and firm with some narrower parts in between, ending on a cobblestone and tarmac part. Last year Sebastien Ogier touched a chicane just before the finish line, receiving a time penalty and generating a lot of fuss in the rallying community. For this year the chicane is removed to avoid controversy.
The day finally concludes with two runs on the Autodromo de Leon twin-car track situated on a motorsport circuit. In contrast to other such stages, most of this one is driven on tarmac with only short excursions onto gravel. For this year the last corners have been made tighter. In 2014, Robert Kubica proved here the old saying you cannot win anything but you can lose everything on stages like this.
The Saturday stages are driven North-East, this time closer to Leon.
The day starts with Guanajuatito, now 5 km shorter from the end than last year. It’s another typical Mexico stage hard to characterize because it changes its nature all the time, from narrow to medium wide, from rocky to clean to slightly rough, and from technical to fast-flowing. The stage contains a couple of long straights, one in particular at 12 km where a chicane has been built by making a detour into a bus stop or such to break a 1.2 km flat-out section. Just before that straight, a junction seems to have a different road line than last year, possibly because of a damaged road reconstructed.
Last year this stage also marked the rise and fall of the Maestro as Sebastien Loeb made his first stage win of 2018 on the first run taking the rally lead – and fell victim of a puncture on the second run. Also, a water splash near the start of the stage caused an annoying stall for Thierry Neuville.
Otates is the longest stage of the rally at 32 km. It begins with an interesting spectacular technical section and becomes fast-and flowing until 4.5 km where a tight hairpin junction takes the route onto one of the most technical sections of the whole rally. This narrow, rough and twisty road continues for 10 km after which the stage becomes suddenly very fast, with some jarring hairpins in between. And without further warning, at 19 km the stage becomes again quite technical.
At 26.2 km another hairpin junction crosses the previous year finish line, but now the stage has been extended with 6 more kilometres of last year’s Duarte-Derramadero – or Lajas de Oro from 2017, which also borrows its finish location for Otates. This bit of road was also treacherous to Thierry Neuville in 2016.
Last year Otates was the slowest non-super-special of the rally with only 77 km/h of stage winning average speed and it’s not hard to believe with the long narrow and technical sections. The added section at the end could increase the average speed slightly but the nature of the stage remains similar.
The classic El Brinco stage has a significant change for this year – the popular jump which gives its name for the stage has been abandoned and replaced with a new artificial jump on a new section near the end of the stage. The organizers took advice from Rally Finland on constructing the jump, but instead of replicating the original El Brinco, they created a jump which could send the cars up to 50 metres long.
Last year El Brinco was the fastest stage of the rally with 110 km/h of average speed from Sebastien Ogier. All in all it seems like a very straightforward stage with no tight bends – before this year’s additions there were even no junctions. However, now a tight left junction and a smaller road section is introduced before the new jump, which will for sure make the stage a bit slower, although the jump at the finish line is preceded by a 200 metre straight acceleration.
The aforementioned section, 1.75 km in length, is the only completely new road of the 2019 Rally Mexico. It also means that the Kris Meeke carpark corner won’t be driven again. We can now only reminisce this classic moment.
As darkness falls on Saturday evening the afternoon loop is completed by the third and fourth runs of Autodromo de Leon and the second run of Leon Street stage, making it seven super specials in the whole rally, a third of the whole stage count.
Sunday is mostly repetition of sections or stages from Friday and Saturday, but 60 competitive kilometres make it a proper day of rallying. It’s also remarkable that no sections of road are repeated within the day.
For the second year in a row, Sunday begins with Alfaro, repeating two parts of Otates. Thus, although the stage and most of its parts are driven only once during the rally, some sections are actually tackled for the third time. This must make the grip levels vary during the stage with the amount of loose gravel changing from section to another.
Near the beginning, where Otates would turn onto the very small road, Alfaro continues straight on the fast-flowing part. A bit more technical corners start appearing around 7 km mark, alternating with faster parts. For this year, one junction turn has been omitted by going through a shortcut
At 15 km the stage joins again Otates at a fast section for 3 km before a turn to a smaller road separates the stage again onto a single-run route. Another junction turn makes the road again wider, descending from a mountain, including a tricky cobblestoned left hander where Kris Meeke put his car on its side last year.
Finally the stage concludes with a jump-equipped long straight. This just adds up to the fast nature of the stage, especially compared to the technical Otates.
A new stage name appears in the form of another single-run stage Mesa Cuata, but again it’s a partial third repeat, this time using the beginning of El Chocolate from Friday. At 18 km the stage turns right onto a road which was the beginning of El Chocolate in 2013-2015, back then driven to the other direction. The ending seems quite wide with a good surface but quite technical, having also a couple of narrower and rougher parts. Just like on Alfaro, the amount of loose gravel will for sure make the ending of the stage more slippery.
The Mesa Cuata ending is actually the longest section of road which wasn’t driven last year in the rally. Actually, it’s the only one in addition to the new El Brinco ending and a couple of minor alternations here and there.
As mentioned before, the rally is concluded with the second run of Las Minas. The drivers will have refined pace notes from Friday, but the stage won’t be in their short-term memories anymore, like it would be if the stage was run twice during Sunday.
Road conditions and starting order
It’s well known that Rally Mexico has one of the worst road cleaning effects of the whole season. Since the roads don’t deteriorate much, the stages just keep getting faster with each car. In the past year’s we’ve seen the first starter suffer majorly, although last year Sebastien Ogier managed to secure a win starting second on the road, but it was assisted by later starters being unlucky with punctures, technical problems and crashes.
This year the Rally Sweden winner Ott Tänak will have to do the sweeping job. It’s not going to be an easy rally for him, knowing that the conditions have been difficult for Toyota in the past two years. His championship rivals Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier are starting right behind him, whereas for example Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala will have much later starting positions. However, the last WRC car on the road will be Dani Sordo, who’s only beginning his 2019 season in Mexico and could perform well, having done so a year ago as well.
Here’s Carlos Sainz on a Citroen Xsara WRC on the first WRC outing of Rally Mexico in 2004. The stage is called Derramadero – Chichimequillas, basically the same as the power stage in 2017 and the last third of it makes up this year’s El Brinco, except for the new section. In fact, the infamous old El Brinco jump and Meeke’s carpark corner appear at 12:35 into the video.
Cover Image by Francois Baudin
EDIT 22.2.2019: New information about Las Minas chicane removed and Guanajuatito horse racing track.