Showdown at an altitude of 2,700 metres.
The Mexico Rally sets itself apart from all other world championship runs in one particular respect – the altitude. The gravel roads sometimes lead up to almost 2,700 metres above sea level. While it makes hardly any difference to the drivers, the 300 hp, 1.6-litre turbo engines can quite literally run out of puff due to the low oxygen levels in the air. At this altitude, the World Rally Cars lose up to 20 per cent of their power. In this situation, the engineers are asked to compensate for this deficit as best they can. However, the only world championship run in Central America is an important setting for the teams; ultimately it is the first of a total of eight rallies held solely on gravel in the course of the season.
Date: 4 till 6 March 2016
There’s a group of people who are often overlooked during a rally, and that’s the co-drivers. They are, of course, unjustly overlooked, because rallying is a team sport, and without a co-driver’s very quick instructions, it would be impossible for a driver to drive a WRC vehicle at high speed. After all, you’re sure to run into trouble if you’re driving at 160 km/h without any idea of whether you need to steer left or right after the next corner.
Julien Ingrassia about the Rally Mexico.
What’s different about Rally Mexico?
It’s one of my favourite rallies. The atmosphere there is simply amazing, because the fans really get excited and push you – even though they don’t even know you. And they all want an autograph, even though a lot of them don’t have a pen or a piece of paper on them. So you write your name on their jeans or on their skin and you’re rewarded with a big smile. There’s also always a good fireworks display and supporting programme in Mexico. And the underground stage in the old gold mine is fascinating too.
What do you have to pay particular attention to in Rally Mexico?
The high altitudes that go up to almost 2,800 metres. This means the engine can take in a lot less oxygen, so its power output is lower. Setting the engine up right is obviously a big challenge for the engineers. And the drivers run a huge risk here: a minor mistake can cost you a lot more time here than in other rallies, because you simply have less power under the bonnet, so making up for lost time is more difficult.
What has been your finest moment in Rally Mexico?
That has to be the 2013 rally. Not only did we win – on the penultimate day, there was an odd moment when we suddenly found ourselves in front of a closed gate. So I had to jump out of the car to open it again. That’s the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like that. And fortunately, the extra time it took was knocked off our overall time at the end.
And what about your worst moment in Rally Mexico?
That was in 2011. We were in the lead ahead of the final special stage. But we drifted a little too far on a corner and damaged a wheel rim on a rock. So we had to pull out of the stage and we then lost the rally over the last few metres.