Following the freezing temperatures of Rally Sweden, the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) will next see M-Sport World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak tackle the gravel tracks of Rally Mexico – another unique event in pursuit of a confidence-building result.

27 February 2015

The Mexican fixture might mark the first of six loose-surface rounds, but the rally has an individuality which sets it apart from the more traditional gravel events.

The opening street stage through the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site of Guanajuato is a must see – fireworks illuminating the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRCs as they navigate the cobbled streets and tunnels which once formed a part of the region’s mining industry – but the route itself also offers a distinct challenge which never fails to excite.

Traversing the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains to the north and east of León, road position is a tricky affair. Those at the head of the field are forced to sweep a clean line for the cars behind, but hanging dust can often make visibility an issue. Should the dust clear, M-Sport’s crews must make the most of their advantageous road position – attacking before the conditions become more consistent for all competitors on the second pass.

Of course road position is not the only factor to contend with. The stages are fast and flowing – interspersed with more twisty, technical sections – and play host to some of the highest temperatures and altitudes of the year; all of which place substantial stress on man and machine alike.

Air temperatures linger around the 30°C mark, but those inside the cockpit can rise as high as 50°C. Both driver and co-driver need to be in peak physical condition to contend with the sweltering heat and maintain focus through the long speed tests – the longest of which is a mammoth 55.82 kilometres.

The route also reaches more than 2,700 metres at its peak which places significant strain on the engines. The oxygen-starved air can see performance fall by as much as 20 per cent and although the team have made extensive use of Ford’s environmental test laboratory to best simulate the expected conditions, the crews must adapt their driving style to account for the reduced performance.

Braking points differ from those on more familiar gravel events and the smallest of mistakes become more difficult to recover. A precise driving style with perfect pacenotes is essential, and that is exactly what Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt delivered on their debut last year.

The British pairing secured their best WRC finish of fourth overall – the result of an intelligent drive on what was only their fourth outing with the Fiesta RS WRC.

Returning to Mexico for a second time, Evans will be keen to build on last year’s performance – coupling his risk-free strategy with an increase of speed. If the Welshman can deliver on this strategy, a strong result won’t be far away.

In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Tänak and co-driver Raigo Mõlder have the speed and potential to go far in Mexico. Focussing on his own event, the spoils could be there for the taking as the Estonian continues to build confidence on his return to the WRC’s top flight.

There is no doubting Tänak’s speed on all surfaces. The M-Sport man posted the second fastest time on the event’s opening stage last year – just 0.3 seconds adrift of the lead with his Ford Fiesta R5. If he can combine that pace with the reassuring performance he delivered in Sweden, anything is possible behind the wheel of the Fiesta RS WRC

As the team prepare to launch the latest evolution of the top-specification Fiesta, confidence is everything. Both drivers have completed an extensive test in the lead-up to the event and a strong result with some top stage times will see them well placed to impress as the season continues.

Elfyn Evans said:

“I’ve got some good memories from Mexico. Last year was a bit of a surprise result for us. It’s a tricky event and a lot of people had problems which we were able to capitalise on. It’s important to keep out of trouble and if we can do that again whilst showing an increase in speed it could be another good event. We’re keen to carry the performance forward from Monte and Sweden, just without the mistakes!

“We’ve not rallied on dry gravel since September last year so it’s a bit of a strange feeling initially. We were able to do two full days of testing this week though and the feeling is more or less back so that’s good.

“The heat is a big part of this event, and when you combine that with the high altitude you have to be in peak physical condition. It can be a bit of a shock to the system so we’ll head out a little earlier to do some fitness training and get fully acclimatised.

“The climate affects the car too. There’s a significant reduction in power so you have to be really smooth and not so aggressive with your driving style. Mistakes are harder to recover. If you scrub speed before a long straight or sequence of fast corners the engine doesn’t have the power to carry you through and you can lose a lot of time. It’s really important to keep momentum and have a good rhythm; you can almost compare it to driving a front-wheel-drive car like the [Ford] Fiesta R2.”

Ott Tänak said:

“I’m looking forward to driving on gravel again and Mexico is a great event. The stages are really nice and smooth and the atmosphere means that it’s always a lot of fun.

“We had a two-day test this week and it was good to see that we were able to get back up to speed fairly quickly. It’s always a bit strange going back to gravel after so long, but it felt good and we are feeling well prepared.

“We also try to prepare as much as possible for the heat and altitude but that is not always so easy. I have a sauna every night but that’s not quite the same, so we’ll head out to Mexico a little earlier than usual to get used to the conditions.

“The altitude is the hardest part. It’s hard on the crews but it’s also hard on the cars. There’s a lot less power so you need to think about that when you’re in the stages. You need to be very clean and precise and make sure that you keep the speed up all the time.

“The stages on the first day are quite tricky so it will be important to make it through them cleanly without any problems. Then, if the feeling is there, we can look to push a bit more. The main thing is to keep everything clean and tidy – if we can do that and gradually build the speed then it could be a good event for us.”

Once again, M-Sport’s range of Ford Fiesta rally cars account for the bulk of the entry with six Ford Fiesta RS WRCs lining up alongside three Ford Fiesta RRCs, four Ford Fiesta R5s and one Ford Fiesta ST.

The Fiesta RS WRCs of Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak may be the only top-specification Fiestas in the M-Sport service area, but they will be joined by three WRC 2 contenders – the Fiesta RRCs of Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Yuriy Protasov and the Fiesta R5 of Nicolás Fuchs.













Anna Rudd
Media M-Sport WRT

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