Mexico : Preview
Six of the registered manufacturers and competitors from 22 countries have signed up for Rally Mexico, the fourth round of the World Rally Championship.
Reigning World Champions Sebastien Loeb
and Daniel Elena will hope that they can repeat their
last year win in Mexico, the first gravel event of the season, and that the rally will be kinder to their CitroŽn C4 than it was to their Xsara, after having a string of mishaps in previous years.
They will be accompanied by Spaniards Dani Sordo and Marc MartŪ, who will have to put in a good performance in the high and dry stages of the only North American round of the Championship if they want to repeat their Monte Carlo result.
Teamwork in the CitroŽn camp will be crucial, especially against the concerted efforts of no less than nine Ford Focus World Rally Cars, led by the Flying Finns, Marcus Gronholm
and brother-in-law Timo Rautiainen, who will certainly be driving to win. They will be closely challenged by Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in the second Focus of the BP Ford World Rally Team. They have put in some fantastic drives over the past several months and certainly look very strong for the gravel stages of the Guanajuato mountains.
Making up the rest of the Ford pack, an international squad of Argentineans, Brits, Finns, Norwegians and Irishmen look set to take over the leaderboard and defend the honour of the Blue Oval.
Among these, we find a second familial tie in the father and son team of Austin and Gareth MacHale, co-driven by Brian Murphy and Paul Nagle, respectively. Another repetition of last names comes in the form of the Perez Companc brothers, entrusted with the Munchi's Ford World Rally Team cars.
Luis Perez Companc and his co-driver, Josť MarŪa Volta, have gained loads of experience over the past three years and will surely be a big help to fellow Argentineans Juan Pablo Raies and Jorge Perez Companc, who will take 2007 as a year for gathering experience.
Another crew that openly admits that they're still in the learning phase of their careers in the WRC is the duo of Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr. Running under the banner of the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team, they show great promise and lead the new generation of British rallying talent. Partnering them are Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila from Finland and the Norwegian duo of Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud, who are new to the Focus but appear to be having a fantastic time learning to extract the most from its performance.
This is all irrelevant to the very popular Petter Solberg and Phil Mills, who are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the 2007 Subaru Impreza, set to debut in Mexico. They are on new tyres, supplied by BF Goodrich, and they have picked up the pace dramatically this year. They have always been very strong in Mexico, so we all expect a good fight at the top. Rounding out the manufacturer's entries we come to the Australians, Chris Atkinson and Glenn Macneall, who astounded everyone with their pace in Monte Carlo. After the World Rally Cars, we find 17 PWRC contenders, where Toshi Arai and Tony Sircombe will be, for the third time in Mexico, engaged in a three way battle with, not only Fumio Nutahara and Daniel Barritt, but also Nasser Al-Attiyah and Chris Patterson, promising a thrilling contest.
Of course, they won't be left to fight amongst themselves, with the likes of Mark Higgins and Martin Scott, Kristian Sohlberg and Risto Petilšinen, Leszek Kuzaj and Jarek Baran, Pavlides Spyros and Denis Giraudet, Andreas Aigner and Klaus Wicha, on maximum attack on every stage. There are some very impressive names in that list, highlighting the growing popularity of the Production World Rally Championship.
Testing the waters of that popularity, Travis Pastrana and Christian Edstrom, along with team-mates Ken Block and Alessandro Gelsomino, will represent Subaru USA and wade right into the fray. A flock of Group N Lancers and Imprezas from Mexico and USA will make sure we are kept on edge throughout the three days of competition.
The local Peugeot 206 Cup will bring out 7 of its best competitors to gain valuable experience at this, the highest level of rallying in the world.