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Old 03-02-2006, 07:02 PM
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Preview: Corona Rally Mexico

The 2006 FIA World Rally Championship heads to Mexico this weekend, for the only round on the North American continent.

Three weeks after leaving the snow-bound forests of Sweden, Mexico will be a complete contrast, with much warmer and sunnier conditions.

Based in the city of Leon, Mexico will also play host to the second round of the Production Car WRC.

With no stages further than 50km away from the single rally HQ in Leon, the route for the Rally Mexico is one of the most compact in the championship. Commencing on Thursday March 2 with a ceremonial start in the World Heritage town of Guanajuato, the route will cover 17 special stages and 359.54 competitive kilometres.

The stages remain largely unchanged from 2005, but this year the route includes a Superspecial stage, constructed at the nearby Puebla motor racing circuit.

Special notes:

After two specialist asphalt and snow events - in Monte Carlo and Sweden respectively, Mexico sees a return to gravel roads and is often regarded as the first 'proper' rally of the year.

The medium to high speed gravel roads climb up the side of spectacular valleys, with some peaking at over 2,700 metres above sea level. Now in its third year of inclusion in the WRC calendar, the route takes crews to the highest stages of the season.

The hard-packed roads vary in character and call for a versatile car set-up that gives drivers sure-footed handling in all conditions.

The high altitude brings additional challenges for engineers as the thin air saps power from engines. As a result, average speeds are far lower than on rallies run over similar terrain.

FIA World Rally Championship news:

Marcus Gronholm extended his early lead in the 2006 FIA World Rally drivers' championship following his second victory in succession in Sweden. The Finn leads reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb, who has twice finished second, by four points.

Ford meanwhile heads the Constructors' with 26 points, 2 up on the Kronos Total Citroen WRT.



News from the Manufacturers' teams:

Manufacturer 1.

Kronos Total Citroen:

[Sebastien Loeb, car #1 and Xavier Pons, car #2]

Having been forced to play second fiddle to Marcus Gronholm on the opening two rounds of the WRC season, Sebastien Loeb has his sights set on reclaiming the #1 slot this weekend – even though Mexico is an event that hasn't been kind to the Frenchman in the past.

"It's true that we haven't been really lucky here so far!" Loeb admitted. "However it is quite high in my personal rankings. The stages are not narrow and I like this as it gives you the choice of driving line. The stages are all different, sometimes very fast and sometimes very technical. The weather is usually very nice, the landscape beautiful and people are warm and friendly.
"The main concern remains the stones which have caused problems during shakedown in the past. I also retired in 2004 after the sump broke on an impact on one of those stones. The solution? You need to remain extremely focused during the recce to locate as many of them as possible.

"In 2004 and 2005 the Xsara has always performed well in Mexico. I hope it will still be the case and that we could fight for a win. It would be the best way to reach our target number one: don't let Marcus keep us at bay in the championship."

BP Ford:

[Marcus Gronholm, car #3 and Mikko Hirvonen, car #4.]

Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm will be looking to make it three wins from three this weekend after making a perfect start to the season.

Gronholm has scored points on his two previous visits to Mexico and heads to the event looking to become the first person to start the WRC season with three consecutive victories – although he will face the challenge of running first on the stages on day one thanks to his current position as championship leader.

"I don't remember how much of a difficulty it has been in previous years," the Finn admitted. "But Sebastien Loeb, who is our closest rival in the championship, starts only one car behind us so he won't have much of an advantage if there is loose gravel. However Petter Solberg could benefit a lot because he will start well down the order. It will only affect us for three stages on Friday morning because the afternoon stages are repeats.

"Mexico is quite a normal gravel rally. It's not particularly technical but has a good combination of fast and slower sections. The stages are held on a good surface, which is quite smooth, but cars tend to pick up quite a bit of damage and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's a combination of high speeds and stones coming through the surface during the second run over roads. Testing has gone well and I'm confident the car will be as competitive on gravel as it has been on asphalt and snow. I have a few small things to sort out with the brakes, but that's because I left-foot brake a lot."

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile will drive the second car and after a two-day test session in Spain the Finnish driver is confident of a strong performance.

"The feeling with the Focus was very good and provided a huge boost ahead of Mexico," he said of the Spanish test. "In fact, I was quite surprised just how good it felt considering this was my first test in the car on smooth gravel. Before this week I had only driven the Focus on rough gravel and that was a reliability test. I developed a good base setting from which I can work for all the gravel events. I will work with the engineers to concentrate on the small details and to fine-tune the settings.

"Mexico has a little of everything. It's surprisingly fast and I remember driving flat out for long sections. The surface can be abrasive and as the temperatures will be quite high, I think it could be hard for tyres, but I'm sure that BFGoodrich will be well prepared. It's my first gravel rally since Japan last year but I've competed in Sweden and tested in both France and Spain on the loose so I don't see any problems in returning to the surface in competition."

555 Subaru World Rally Team:

[Petter Solberg, car #5 and Chris Atkinson, car #6.]

Subaru have endured a difficult start to the 2006 World Rally Championship, and as such SWRT sporting director, David Lapworth has been forced to relinquish his position at the head of the team, a move which was confirmed last week. He will be replaced by Paul Howarth.

Sporting director Luis Moya is hopeful though that Solberg will be able to fight for the win - on an event that is usually a good one for the Banbury based squad.

"The season started with two extremely specialised events, so in many respects the proper rallying starts now," he noted. "Mexico will be the first gravel event with the new car and, after such different rallies, will be much more indicative of performance levels.

"Mexico has traditionally been a very good rally for us, playing to both the strengths of the car and the tyres. In 2004 we led for the majority of the rally and then won in 2005. This year we want to repeat that run of success to lay the ghosts of the Swedish Rally to rest. There's no escaping the fact that Sweden was disappointing, but the post-event analysis was very thorough and we have a very good understanding of the root causes. Petter will come back with renewed enthusiasm and confidence in Mexico. He won last year and I see no reason why he can't repeat this again in 2006."

Solberg meanwhile, after failing to secure points in either of the opening two events, due to mechanical problems, knows that he needs a change in fortune.

"Well, we'll try again in Mexico!" he added. "We'll try very hard to get some points by finishing on the podium, but winning is the goal. I hope everything will be in good shape - the car, the tyres and me. We've got a good starting position and I hope we can go well on all three days. The team is very confident and we had a good test in Sardinia. There's so much more to come from us."

Manufacturer 2.

OMV Peugeot Norway WRT:

[Manfred Stohl, car #7 and Henning Solberg, car #8].

The OMV Peugeot Norway WRT lies third in the manufacturers' rankings after the opening two events of the season, having already scored ten points and their goal this weekend is to defend that position.

Prior to leaving for Mexico, OMV carried out a string of gravel tests close to Bozian Racing's headquarters in Lyon, with Manfred Stohl particularly happy with the way the 307 handled.

"It was exceptional," he enthused, "We've really got a grip on the Peugeot now - and we are much further on than we were at this point last year. I'm sure that Bozian Racing has prepared the Peugeot 307 WRC perfectly, and we will be able to compete with the best. My two fastest stage best times in Monte Carlo have given me confidence, and I want to compete right at the top."

Henning Solberg meanwhile is on a high buoyed by his recent success on the WRC candidate event - Rally Norway. He is confident that he can add to the single championship point already gained this year.

"We already had a pretty good grip on the car in Sweden, and then we won Rally Norway, where we gained further experience," he explained, "I'm really looking forward to this rally, despite having never yet competed in Mexico, as gravel is among my favourite surfaces. Everything is highly professional here. I can focus solely on driving, which makes each kilometre almost count double. The Peugeot performs admirably on gravel, which will be a great advantage in Mexico."
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Old 03-02-2006, 07:03 PM
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Stobart VK Ford:

[Matthew Wilson, car #9 and Luis Perez Companc, car #10]

Stobart VK driver, Matthew Wilson faces yet another new challenge this weekend, however a small test prior to the event alongside former works Ford driver Roman Kresta has given him a boost.

"I did a two-day test before this event, with both my rally engineer and Roman Kresta," he said. "Both of them were fantastic, so much help. I worked on all sorts of settings for the car through the two days, and then on each afternoon, Roman got in the car with me and helped me with my driving. We were doing the kind of stuff you just can't do on a rally – things like going through corners on totally different lines to see which was the quickest, it was really interesting and tremendously helpful to be able to compare the data."

Wilson Jr. will be joined on the event by Luis Perez Companc, who also did the Swedish Rally with the team three weeks ago in a third Stobart VK backed Ford. This time though he will be nominated to score points.

"I'm really looking forward to getting back in the car after Sweden. My first snow rally was really tough. I had a small accident, which didn't help, but apart from that it was a really enjoyable event. I've never contested Rally Mexico before, either, but at least I've driven on gravel plenty of times – so I know a bit more about what to expect. It's such an experience driving the Focus on these rallies," he added.

Red Bull Skoda:

The Red Bull Skoda team are not contesting this event - as allowed by the Manufacturer 2 regulations. They will return for the next event in Spain, fielding two cars - one for Andreas Aigner and another for Gilles Panizzi.

Production Car WRC:

In the Production Car WRC all 13 drivers have opted to contest this event.

Amongst the front runners and those likely to fight it out for the class victory will be reigning PCWRC champion, Toshi Arai (Subaru Impreza STI), who returns to defend his crown, as well as Marcos Ligato (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX), Nasser Al-Attiyah (Subaru Imprez STI) and Fumio Nutahara (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) – the latter having won the PCWRC round in Monte Carlo.



Other significant entries:

Around 41 crews have entered the Corona Rally Mexico. Amongst the other significant runners Kronos Racing will enter an additional car for Junior World Rally champion Daniel Sordo, while other entrants at the wheel of a WRC car include: Gareth MacHale (Ford Focus RS WRC 05), Ricardo Trivino (Peugeot 206 WRC) and Carlos Tejada (Peugeot 307 WRC) – the latter two likely to lead the way for the 'locals'.



Schedule:

The route is virtually identical to 2005. At 1002.47km it is one of the most compact rallies of the year, with 36 per cent of the route competitive, and it never strays more than 50km from rally headquarters in León, 400km north of Mexico City.

It is the highest round in the series, with the opening day's Guanajuato stage climbing through cacti-filled mountains to a breathtaking 2737 metres.

The major innovation is the introduction of a super special stage on the edge of León which will be run in darkness at the end of the opening two legs before hosting the finale on Sunday morning.

The rally begins on Thursday evening with a fiesta-like ceremonial start in Guanajuato, which last year drew more than 25,000 fans. The town is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, famed for its beauty and unique underground tunnel network.

All the action is located north and east of León, the opening two legs comprising two identical loops of three tests before the super special stage. There are 17 tests in total covering 359.54km.

Hot tip:

Petter Solberg to bounce back from his disappointment in Monte Carlo and Sweden, to win the event for Subaru - benefiting from his position on the road, while Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb lose time early on 'sweeping' away the loose gravel. Solberg's luck has to change - surely?



Last year:

Petter Solberg won the event last year taking the victory by 34.5 seconds. Marcus Gronholm finished second, while Markko Martin completed the podium, with Sebastien Loeb and Harri Rovanpera fourth and fifth respectively. There were four 'works' retirements - namely Francois Duval, Roman Kresta, Chris Atkinson and Jani Paasonen.
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Old 03-03-2006, 02:18 PM
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Shame that Gronholm just rolled his car
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Old 03-05-2006, 02:32 AM
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Loeb is on great form again, leading after day 2
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Old 03-05-2006, 11:06 AM
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and winning after day 3. Probably a long time ago that a "private" team won a WRC rallye
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Old 03-05-2006, 11:46 AM
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Sebastien Loeb has won the Corona Rally Mexico Sunday, to take his first win of the year - and his first with Kronos Racing.

The Frenchman ended the event around 50 seconds up on Petter Solberg, who led early on for Subaru.

Manfred Stohl took the final podium place for the OMV Peugeot Norway squad, while Junior World Rally champion, Daniel Sordo, was fourth on his first event with the Xsara WRC on gravel.

Henning Solberg took fifth spot in the second OMV backed 307, ahead of Gareth MacHale in a privately entered Focus and Chris Atkinson, who re-started under the SupeRally format on Saturday.

Marcus Gronholm rounded out the top eight, also taking advantage of the SupeRally, while Production Car WRC winner, Toshi Arai was ninth, over 30 seconds up on his nearest class rival.
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