The Winners and Losers of 2019 Rally Guanajuato Mexico
Each year, Rally Guanajuato Mexico brings with it new drama — and the action-packed 2019 race was no exception.
The event kicked off with the traditional run through the streets of Guanajuato. Cars, lights and laser shows drew thousands of spectators to the city stage. But for WRC drivers, it was a rally that met almost immediate controversy from as early as the city stage.
Spectators gave a loud and warm welcome to competitors as Thursday evening’s city stage began. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing: WRC organisers quickly realised the new man-made jump at stage end was far too severe for the cars.
Just a handful of WRC cars had cleared the stage before Citroen’s Esapekka Lappi sent his Citroen C3 WRC into the jump at speed and came close to barrel rolling; albeit claiming the fastest stage time. For safety reasons, rally officials cancelled the stage and instead gave competitors a nominal time. The move would have undoubtedly sparked controversy in the WRC Service Park — thanks to these regulations, not everyone could compete with the same opportunity as Lappi.
Friday morning represented a tumultuous start to the rally proper. On first stage El Chocolate, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville picked up a rear-left tyre delamination thanks to a football-sized rock, likely dug up from the road by other competitors. But the first casualty was Rally Sweden star Teemu Suninen, whose M-Sport Fiesta WRC took an unwanted detour into the rough rockbed.
“In the middle of the stage, we were downhill braking — there was a stone, and I hit the stone [...] and the wheel went off and I hit the mountain,” a deflated Suninen said in an interview with WRC. The team later deemed the car too badly damaged to restart under Rally 2 rules.
Early rally leader Andreas Mikkelsen took advantage of his good road position, running later in the road order. He jumped into the lead early Friday but crashed out after hitting a rock on the second pass of El Chocolate.
Hyundai’s day was about to get worse as rally winner-hopeful Dani Sordo suffered electrical issues while in second place. He was between the Ortega and Las Minas stages — just two stages after Mikkelsen’s El Chocolate retirement.
Hyundai Team Director Andrea Adamo later exclaimed Friday was the “worst day of my life”.
Friday also saw the demise of Jari-Matti Latvala; for the third year in a row, the heat was too much for his Toyota Yaris WRC. Though he’d achieved fourth place after the Las Minas stage, his car failed to start just before the evening’s Super Special stages.
“El chocolate is probably the hardest stage in the championship [...] It’s really making it demanding for the alternator,” Latvala told WRC.
Latvala wasn’t the only WRC competitor to find the rally tough. Temperatures in Mexico stayed above 30 degrees celsius all weekend. The high altitude at 2000 metres above sea level also made it difficult to breathe and, with no air-conditioning, competitors were left sweltering in the heat.
Saturday saw just five WRC drivers from the premier class continue unscathed from day one. But the less-fortunate Latvala, Mikkelsen, and Hyundai’s Dani Sordo each restarted under Rally 2 rules in a bid to score whatever points they could with the remaining stages.
M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans spent the day trying to manage his lead over then-third place driver Ott Tanak. But Evans was unable to resist Tanak’s charge early Sunday morning, being overcome by the Estonian competitor on the Alfaro stage.
Evans later lamented the team’s choice of tyres for Sunday, with the team opting for all medium compound tyres, whereas Tanak chose a mix of medium and hard rubber.
Despite Tanak’s better position, he still said “this has been a very demanding event: tough for the car, tough for the tyres, and tough for the drivers inside the car”.
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.