The Wildest Moments in WRC Rally Mexico History
There aren’t many events on the motorsport calendar that can rival the harsh and unpredictable stages of Rally Mexico.
Rally Mexico started life as a local rally on the high altitudes and dusty roads of South America. But when it was adopted by WRC in 2004, it evolved into a highlight of the global motorsport calendar — bringing with it a distinct atmosphere and energy.
Since becoming a part of WRC in 2004, Rally Mexico has tested the mettle of some of the sport’s greatest drivers, including world champions Sebastien Loeb, Marcus Gronholm, Petter Solberg, and Carlos Sainz. Even Australia’s own Chris Atkinson has experienced the harshness of this unique world rally.
As Rally Guanajuato Mexico wraps up for another year, we take a look at some of the rally's most infamous stories.
Spinning in top gear
M-Sport's Markko Martin won the inaugural 2004 Rally Mexico, recovering after a massive spin whilst travelling in top gear. On a narrow stage, Martin barrelled towards a corner and lost control, sending him sideways along the road. Strangely, he didn’t hit a thing.
Martin claimed the rally win for M-Sport, marking success for the team’s 100th WRC event.
Getting in trouble with the cops
The 2005 rally saw Sebastian Loeb run into issues for the second year in a row. With suspension and wheel damage, his co-driver Daniel Elena climbed over him to hang outside the driver’s window — desperate to shift weight in the stricken car.
(Despite their efforts, Petter Solberg won.)
Battling with the FIA (and winning)
Thanks to engine issues, Loeb couldn’t reach the pre-rally shakedown stage of his 2008 rally. This kick-started a series of official FIA and Rally Mexico hearings — and Loeb copped a five-minute time penalty before the race began.
Citroen fought hard, and eventually overturned the penalty.
Will someone please open those gates?
It’s common to encounter stages with property gates closed — blocking the road for drivers. Closed gates on stages have been a constant issue through Rally Mexico’s history. In 2013, then-Volkswagen driver Sebastien Ogier’s fight for victory was hampered when he and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia came across a closed gate on the Otates stage. Ingrassia was forced to leap out of the car and re-open the gate so they could finally complete the stage. Nevertheless, Ogier went on to win the rally, kick-starting his dominance of the WRC event in coming years.
(This year, Mikkelsen too fell victim to a closed gate in the Guanajuatito stage.)
How to fix your car with beer
Hyundai’s Theirry Neuville’s car suffered from a leaking radiator in his 2014 rally. In a bid to manage this technical breakdown, Neuville poured a spectator’s beer into the radiator as a substitute for water. The beer did the trick, and Neuville made his way to the WRC Service Park — going on to claim third position overall in the rally.
The accident that earned Ott Tanak the nickname “TiTanak”
Rally Mexico made global headlines in 2015 as M-Sport’s Ott Tanak took an infamous off-road excursion on the Los Mexicanos stage. After a nasty front-right compression on the approach to a tightening left-hander, Tanak was unable to steer the car properly, plunging down a short embankment and into a lake. Tanak and then-co-driver Raigo Molder managed to scramble and swim their way to safety, only seconds before the car was completely submerged.
In a remarkable feat of persistence, M-Sport recovered the water-logged Ford Fiesta WRC and within three hours rebuilt the car, allowing Tanak to continue in the rally the following morning.
His underwater experience earned him the nickname TiTanak.
Watch out for the bull
Mexican wildlife has also played a part in the treacherous stages of Mexico. In 2016, then-Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier narrowly missed a herd of cattle while speeding along the stage.
(The decade earlier, two-time world champion Marcus Gronholm also had an encounter with a herd of goats on the road.)
How (not) to win a rally
It was another gripping Rally Mexico event in 2017. Then-rally leader Kris Meeke was on the last stage of the rally, approaching the end of the El Brincho Power Stage. Meeke had just cleared the infamous in-stage jump, and was hurtling towards certain victory. With a healthy lead, his approach to the second-last corner was visibly quick — too quick. The car slid sideways, hit a bump in the road, and projected the Citroen C3 off the road and into the undergrowth.
Meeke, completely without bearings, struggled to understand where he had landed as his rally lead was being eaten away. Luckily, he managed to spot the road just in time, and he rejoined the stage to navigate through the flying finish with safety tape flailing from the rear spoiler — and a 13.8-second advantage.
Return of the “old master”
Last year saw the surprise return of Sebastien Loeb to the WRC. Coming out of what appeared to be a retirement from WRC, Loeb landed a drive with Citroen for Rally Mexico and returned at the top of his game for the 2018 event.
Referred to by his WRC peers as “old master”, Loeb was not just immediately at home in the new-generation WRC cars, but was setting the fastest stage times. At one point, Loeb led the rally outright, but not before a puncture deflated his chances of a miracle return win.
Where are we now?
This year’s event was filled with turmoil as half the WRC field fell victim to the tough stages and reliability issues plagued their cars. You can read all about the winners, losers, and controversies right here.
Rally Mexico looks set to remain a staple of the championship, always promising drama, surprises, and great racing
Christopher Leon Rushworth is a Tasmanian-based motorsport enthusiast and journalist. He has participated in motorsport since the age of 12, including Targa Wrest Point and circuit racing. Chris now writes as a freelance journalist while working in ICT at the University of Tasmania.