BUSTLING Mexico City will stop in its tracks on Thursday when the FIA World Rally Championship transforms the famous Zócalo square into a colourful motorsport fiesta.
Against a backdrop of ornate colonial architecture of the city’s cathedral and national palace, the CDMX Street Stage Presented by Michelin will launch Rally Guanajuato Mexico with two tests each of 1.57 kms around the square and adjacent streets.
Starting at 8pm local time (1pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time Friday), the SSS will be broadcast live via the internet on WRC+ and on Fox Sports Australia (check guides for local times).
A crowd estimated to reach 200,000 will pack the square as new-era World Rally Cars fight for tenths of a second in the heart of one of the world’s largest cities. It promises to be one of the biggest occasions in the WRC’s 45-year history.
The square is no stranger to spectacular stunts. It was in the skies above Zócalo that the helicopter fight scene in the opening sequence of the James Bond movie ‘Spectre’ was filmed.
The entire rally is being transported to the capital by air and road from the rally base in León, 400km to the south-east.
Afterwards the rally returns to León ahead of 370km of gravel special stages over the following three days in the hot and dusty mountains of central Mexico before Sunday afternoon’s finish.
Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala, by virtue of his lead in the championship after winning Rally Sweden, should have the privilege of being first car on the SSS. He’ll have to make the most of any advantage on the paved city surface, because he’s bound to struggle when the rally returns to gravel tomorrow.Latvala has said he doesn’t expect to repeat his 2016 victory in Mexico this year. Having moved on from the former Volkswagen team, he’s had unexpected success with second in Monte-Carlo and first in Sweden, but the gravel form of the Toyota Yaris WRC is unclear.
He’ll be pushing a lot of loose gravel out of the way on day one as the Mexico stages climb to 2400 metres in 35 degree temperatures, with the car’s engine straining to breathe in the thin atmosphere.
Right behind him will be Sébastien Ogier in the Red Bull-backed Ford Fiesta. The four-time champion will as always be determined to win and his M-Sport team has covered 1500 kms of gravel testing in preparation for Mexico.
Of the other contenders, Ogier’s teammate Ott Tänak, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon and Citroën’s Kris Meeke all have something to prove.
Tänak will be wanting to banish memories of his crash into a lake in 2015, Neuville to redeem himself for crashing out of likely victories in the past two rallies, Paddon because the fast Kiwi will be in his element back on gravel and Meeke because he and Citroën have failed to land any sort of blow yet in the promising C3.
The Mexico City opening has generated huge anticipation among drivers and teams.
World champion Sébastien Ogier (M-Sport World Rally Team):
“Mexican fans have a real passion for the sport and there is always an amazing atmosphere. This year’s itinerary will take that atmosphere to another level when we head to Mexico City. It has the potential to be something very special that we’ve never experienced before.”
Michel Nandan (Hyundai Motorsport team principal):
“The CDMX Street Stage Presented by Michelin gives a new flavour to the championship. It’s something we will remember and it will make WRC history. It will be a fantastic event with up to 200,000 spectators expected on the day. Bringing the WRC to big cities is always positive as it gives the opportunity for more people to see our fantastic cars in action.”
Kris Meeke (Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver):
“It’s going be a great show in the heart of Mexico City and really enjoyable. It’s always exciting to participate in a new show in big cities like Mexico with people celebrating the visit of the rally. I can’t wait to drive there in front of the big crowds.”
Championship leader Jari-Matti Latvala (Toyota Gazoo Racing):
“The start and first stage in Mexico City is great for the sport and a fantastic way to attract new rally fans. The atmosphere in Mexico has always been great because the fans are so passionate, and I think in Mexico City their enthusiasm will be on a totally new level!”
Pascal Couasnon (Director, Michelin Motorsport):
“I really can’t wait for Mexico City. The CDMX Street Stage Presented by Michelin is a wonderful opportunity for many, many thousands of people to see how exciting WRC is – right in the centre of one of the world’s largest cities. The atmosphere will be electric and Michelin felt this was a perfect occasion for us to be associated with and provide additional support in a market that is very important for our company.”