Courtesy of WRC Media Service Team
Sweden winner faces the challenge of clearing the gravel roads for his rivals.
Elfyn Evans heads the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time going into the opening gravel road fixture of the season in Mexico this week.
Toyota’s table-topping star, who grabbed the points lead with victory in Sweden last month, knows his achievement will come at a cost at Rally Guanajuato Mexico (12 – 15 March), the year’s first fixture outside Europe.
He must pay up in the mountains around Leon when he heads the start order for Friday’s first full day on roads coated in dry and slippery gravel. Those tracks become cleaner and faster with the passage of every car as the dirt is swept aside.
With temperatures topping 30°C and blue skies expected all event, Evans’ wish for rain to bind the loose gravel together looks a forlorn one.
“It was a bit of a long-shot for the rain. And it would have had to have been raining for quite a while to make that much difference because the surface dries quite quickly here,” admitted the Welshman, who is tied on points with Thierry Neuville but leads on countback.
“We’ll just get our heads down and get on with it. There’s no point thinking about it or really talking too much about it. We almost have to forget about that and just focus on the job in hand.”
Neither Neuville nor five-time rally winner Sébastien Ogier benefit that much from second and third in the order. But one man who does is Neuville’s Hyundai i20 team-mate, world champion Ott Tänak, who starts sixth.
“It’s a good place, better than the five guys ahead of me, but there are still some fast drivers who are coming behind,” said the Estonian.
One of those is team-mate Dani Sordo, who makes his first start of the year and is last of the frontrunners onto the roads. He is keen to make the most of the extra grip to put himself in a strong position for the last two legs when competitors start in reverse order of classification.
“Our road position on the first day should be advantageous but that alone is not enough. The altitude makes it a difficult event, so we have to be prepared physically and to look after the car as well,” said the Spaniard, who replaces Craig Breen in Hyundai’s line-up.
The route climbs to more than 2,700 metres, a level where engines struggle to ‘breathe’ in the thinner air and lose 20 per cent of their power. Mistakes are punished more severely as accelerating back to top speed takes longer.
Back after a rally’s absence is M-Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith. The Briton joins regulars Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen in Fiestas.
The rally starts on Thursday night with two iconic street tests through Guanajuato’s former mining tunnels. Three more days of action follow in the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains before Sunday afternoon’s finish in Leon after 24 stages covering 324.85km.
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