CITROËN driver Kris Meeke hopes to turn his failure to finish Rally Sweden last month into advantage when he defends his 2017 Rally Guanajuato Mexico title this weekend.
PHOTO: Kris Meeke (left) and Paul Nagle won a dramatic Rally Mexico in 2017. can they do it again for Citroën this weekend? (Citroën pic)
Retirement from the previous round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Sweden means under the sport’s rules he will start in Mexico seventh on the road on Friday’s first leg and be able to make time on fast roads cleared by his rivals ahead.
Meeke should encounter less of the sand and pebbles that cover the Mexican stages and are swept away with every passing car, an important factor at one of the worst rallies in the season for loose-gravel conditions.
He won last year despite almost throwing victory away when he crashed his Citroën C3 off the road into a car park less than a kilometre from the finish.
It was one of the most dramatic and memorable incidents of the 2017 WRC as Meeke careered through lanes of parked cars searching for an escape. He crossed the finish line with a flat tyre, plastic spectator bunting streaming behind his car – and just seconds to spare.
“We need to make the most of running seventh on the road on day one – that will be key in getting a good result,” the Northern Irishman said when reviewing his prospects for this year’s rally.
“Mexico is a bit like Catalonia, one of the gravel rallies where we were pretty competitive last year. Since then, we have made further improvements to the C3 WRC, so I have high hopes that we can get among the frontrunners.
“It’s definitely an event that I like. As the full power of the cars is not available (due to high altitude), you have to be as clean as possible in your driving.”
While Meeke will start the 354 kilometre Rally Guanajuato Mexico as one of the favourites, it is set for another pitched battle between the world’s fastest rally drivers representing Toyota, M-Sport (Ford), Hyundai and Citroën.
Mexico highlights the incredible diversity of the WRC challenge. This weekend it’s gravel, heat, high altitude and an engine-starving lack of oxygen. Last month it was deep snow in Sweden and in January ice-slicked tarmac and snow for Monte-Carlo. In November, finis with warm weather on quick gravel roads at Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
It is difficult to choose a likely nner in Mexico. Meeke is a favourite, but Sébastien Ogier and his M-Sport team will be wanting to make up for a poor result – not of his doing – in Sweden, while Sweden winner Thierry Neuville will plan to extend his lead in the drivers’ championship.
Toyota newbie Ott Tänak, who starred in Sweden, or his quick teammate Jari-Matti Latvala can’t be disc ounted.
The ultimate wildcard is Sébastien Loeb. The nine-time champion is returning to Citroën for the first of three drives this season he says are just for fun.
But there’s no question that, even at 44, the fire still burns bright in Seb and he’ll want to win – as he’s done a record six times before in Mexico.
Kiwi Hayden Paddon will be sitting out this event, but Hyundai will be well represented with Neuville, Sweden podium finisher Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo.
Action starts 0n Thursday night local time with a super special stage in old mining tunnels under the town of Guanajuato, near Leon. It finishes 22 stages later, on Sunday afternoon.