El Magnifico. The WRC Llega a (arrives in) Mexico.

March 22, 2023

Written by: Chris Hosie

Image Credit: wrc.com

After an action-packed return to Sweden, the stars of the WRC make the trip across the Atlantic to Mexico. Where dusty and high-altitude stages await the world’s finest drivers and cars. Ott Tanak is the Favourite, but can Toyota and Hyundai gain back some lost pride.

Ford entered the event on a high after Tanak’s victory on the ice and snow of Sweden in February. However, Toyota and Hyundai would be hoping to put the M-Sport Pumas back in their place on the fast and dusty tracks of Mexico. With the WRC2 battle further heightened by the arrival of former M-Sport star, Gus Greensmith. The former WRC class competitor taking to the stages in a new, 2023 spec Skoda Fabia Rally2. He, along with the Toksport team, having one thing on their mind. A win in the WRC’s premier development division on the third different surface in three events.

The rally began of Thursday night with two blasts through the iconic and incredibly popular street stage in the town of Guanajuato. And by the nights end. Sweden winner Tanak had the lead of the rally after winning both runs through the streets. In WRC2, it was defending champion Emil Lindholm who delivered the first blow. Taking the overnight lead in class with wins on both the opening tests.

Friday soon arrived and it would see the teams and cars of the WRC compete the first of three days on the fast and high-altitude gravel roads of Mexico. With plenty of jumps and imposing natural hazards for the crews to be wary of.

It would be a day of all out disaster for the Ford camp. With all three Puma Rally1 machines retiring on the first stage of the day. Which was also the third of the entire rally. Jourdan Serderidis, Tanak and Pierre Louis Loubet all retired from the day in eerily similar fashion. Tanak would, eventually, get back underway. But would be way down amongst the battling WRC2 contingent. Also having a bad rally was Takamoto Katsuta. He crashed out on SS5 and severely damaged his Yaris, adding to the already high attrition rate the Mexican stages were now producing.

Tanak’s demise allowed for an epic clash for the lead to ensue throughout the day. The first stage of the day was El Chocolate and it seemed to have given Hyundai star Esapekka Lappi a case of sweet tooth. He stormed into the lead of the rally after setting an incredible time on the opening test. However, returning 8-time champion Sebastian Ogier was not to be deterred. He hounded the Finn all through the day. Exchanging fastest times like Hollywood cowboys exchanging Colt 45 shots. At the end of SS6 the gap was 2.2 seconds in the Fins favour. However, at the end of SS7 that gap had been cut to just 0.3 seconds. The Hyundai would manage to hang on to the lead, but not without holding off the hard charging Frenchman.

In WRC2, it was a Skoda 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. With Lindholm leading teammates Nikolay Gryazin, Gus Greensmith, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Oliver Solberg. The fight for the front became an all-out brawl amongst the Skoda Fabia’s with Lindholm losing his lead and dropping down to fourth. Greensmith battled hard all morning and by the early afternoon was in command of WRC2. His teammate Solberg was up into the podium spots, despite a spin on the third stage of the morning.

M-Sport was represented by Adrien Fourmaux, now the teams only official points scoring driver thanks to the Rally1 retirements. He started the day in seventh in WRC2, but was soon up to second by the afternoon and was breathing down former teammate Greensmith’s neck for the class lead. However, the Brit would see his lead remain intact at days end. With the M-Sport star and Malcolm Wilson winner in second. Oliver Solberg would finish the day in fifth with 5 stage wins to his name from the days seven tests. Lindholm was in third place with Kajetanowicz and Martin Prokop rounding out the top six.

One driver who would have a very bad day in WRC2 was Gryazin. He crashed out heavily on the days second test, luckily, he and his co-driver were able to escape unhurt. WRC3 saw Diego Dominguez leading the way, despite being the only contender in the class scoring championship points. It was an all Renault affair in the non-championship Rally5 with Patrice Spitalier, Emiliano Retama and Rafael Maggio being the top 3 in Rally5.

Saturday was another bright and sunny day in the Mexican wilds. However, the brightness wouldn’t do Hyundai any good as they had a nightmare of a morning. Dani Sordo, who was running in the top five had to navigate the days first stage with dust flooding his car. He had picked up damage during the stage and it was allowing a thick fog of dust, sand and gravel spill into the I20 Rally1. At least he got to the end of the stage and the morning. As rally leader, Esapekka Lappi, saw his lead and his chances of a rally victory come to a sudden and damaging stop. His car crashed into a telephone pole and that was the end of his bid for a win in Mexico. Thankfully, he and his co-driver made it out in one piece. 

And so, for the second time in as many days, the rally lead changed again on the opening test. This time it was Ogier and he would set to work building a commanding lead over the remaining Rally1 contingent. His teammates Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanpera would be promoted to second and fourth respectively. With Hyundai’s super-fast Belgian, Thierry Neuville chasing the Welshman down in third place. Sordo was still in fifth hoping to just make it to the end come Sunday. Ott Tanak was the sixth Rally1 car still running and he would end the day in 13th, having ended the previous day at the lower reaches of the top 20. However, he would need a miracle if he was to salvage any points from this event. 

In WRC3, Dominguez still headed the Rally3 squad. Followed in second by the Canadian star Jason Bailey. Rally5 was still and all Renault affair with Spitalier still leading the pack. In WRC2, it was Greensmith who led he class by a very comfortable margin ahead of Fourmaux, Lindholm, Kajetanowicz, Solberg and Prokop with Carlos Salas Jr leading up the Mexican contingent in seventh place.

A bright Sunday dawned and with it, signalled the final day of what had been a very dramatic and carnage filled Rally Mexico. And it would be a day that Gus Greensmith would remember as one of the greatest days of his career. He would lead the WRC2 field home to claim a fabulous victory on his first event back in the class, his first event of the season and the first event he has competed with a Skoda Fabia Rally2. It was truly a fantastic and exhilarating performance by the former M-Sport WRC contender.

Skoda would see yet another bountiful score in WRC2 with Fabias in five of the top six positions. Lindholm, Solberg and Kajetanowicz rounded out the top four with Mexican star, Salas, finishing sixth. Salas would also win the NACAM championship section of the class. Leading home fellow Mexican drivers Ricardo Cordero Jr and Alejandro Mauro Sanchez.

Ford would be represented by privateer Prokop, taking fifth in class. However, drama would strike M-Sports’s Adrien Fourmaux as he would drop from second to ninth place. Despite this and a wild scare on Saturday, it had been an incredible performance and drive from the young and talented Frenchman.

Diego Dominguez would claim victory in WRC3 and the Rally3 contingent overall. With Canadian driver Jason Bailey claiming second in class. Rally5 would see Spitalier take the win with the Renaults of Retama and Gustavo Uriostegui rounding out the podium in the non-championship scoring division.

Back up front, it would be another dominant and effortless drive by 8-time world championship Sebastian Ogier. He would cruise home to take a record equaling seventh Mexico win. His teammate Elfyn Evans would claim would spend the day battling it out with Neuville for second. However, the Welshman’s stubborn defence couldn’t last forever and on the last stage of the rally, the Hyundai driver stole second from the Welshman leaving Evans to settle for third. Rovanpera and Sordo would round out the top five with Ott Tanak taking ninth place overall and being the sixth Rally1 car to score points. Katsuta, Loubet and Serderidis would also make it to the end having restarted on Saturday, but would be outside the points scoring places. 

And with that, ends another historic and dramatic chapter of the 2023 World Rally Championship. Mexico proving to be one of the most attritions filled venues of the season thus far. No doubt more is to come. And with the title fight still wide open, a guess as to a clear title claimer is still in the air. Right now, the question facing the teams is What will the next event bring. Find out when the WRC returns in April with the first proper tarmac event of the season. The Rally of Croatia. 


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