Rally Mexico (MEX), Thursday 28 February, ceremonial start, Guanajuato
Suzuki off to a colourful start in Guanajuato
The Rally Mexico, round three of the World Rally Championship, got underway this evening with a spectacular ceremonial start ceremony in the town of Guanajuato
a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its brightly-coloured houses and network of underground tunnels that traverse the town centre. In front of thousands of excited fans, Toni Gardemeister and P-G Andersson drove their Suzuki SX4 WRCs over the start ramp, hoping to continue the successful run that has seen the SX4 WRC score points in both rallies it has contested so far this season.
The real action starts tomorrow at 0800, with the first of 20 gravel special stages. Mexico is the first event on gravel of the entire season, so it will be vital for the drivers to find a good set-up for the future. This work was started at the shakedown near the rally's host city of Leon this morning: an opportunity for both drivers to put the SX4 WRC through its paces on gravel for the first time. Car news Suzuki SX4 WRC n.11 (Gardemeister), n.12 (Andersson):
The SX4 WRC is running in gravel specification for the first time this year on only its third rally, so there is a lot to learn for the drivers and the engineers. Both cars ran without major problems through the warm conditions of the shakedown this morning, although Gardemeister reported a minor hydraulic glitch that was quickly fixed at service. For the 32 year-old Finn, this year's Rally Mexico is a milestone as he celebrates his 100th World Championship event after 12 years in the sport. This important anniversary was marked at a press gathering in Suzuki's service area during the afternoon.
The SX4 WRC has run on gravel once before as part of Suzuki's testing programme last year on the Rally Great Britain but the specification of the car has changed considerably since. P-G Andersson concentrated on some minor suspension adjustment to fine-tune the car for the gravelly stages, and both drivers are in confident form ahead of the 353.75 competitive kilometres that await them in central Mexico. Driver news:
Toni Gardemeister: "From the recce I can see that the road conditions look quite nice, better than they have been when I did the rally before in 2005. It's the sort of event where if we do a good job and have no problems, then for sure we will finish in the points. The last time I did this rally I was very sick, so I don't remember so much about it, but I think it will be a lot of fun this year. I would like my 100th rally to be a memorable one, after all!"
P-G Andersson: "After the disappointment we had in Sweden I'd really like to have a good result here, and so far things have gone quite well for us. The biggest problem we are going to have is inexperience, as I really don't know this car on gravel at all. Maybe that's not such a bad thing though, as it means that I am going to take my time to find the right pace and not push hard until I have enough confidence. Often, that's the best way of getting a good result." Team news:
Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima, Suzuki World Rally Team principal: "Mexico is going to be a very challenging event for us, as it is our first test on gravel this year and neither of our drivers know the rally well. Another important factor is the altitude, which can take away a lot of the power. We have no idea how our car will react in these conditions but that is why we are here to learn. The Mexican fans have given us a very warm welcome at the start in Guanajuato, so we hope to entertain them on the stages tomorrow!"