Competitors will hit the gravel for the first time this year as the FIA World Rally Championship departs Europe and heads to the sweltering deserts of Rally Mexico for Round Three of the 2019 season.
The high temperatures and high altitudes of Rally Mexico pose a considerably different challenge to the wintry conditions that the WRC teams had endured in both Rallye Monte Carlo and Rally Sweden.
Set in the mountains of Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato, the 21-stage route begins on Thursday evening with its vibrant Super Special opener around the town of Guanajuato, and over the weekend will see competitors reach a height of 2,700 metres above sea level.
The altitude levels have a lasting impact on machinery with the thin air starving engines of oxygen, which can potentially cause some cars suffering a power loss of up to 20%.
Radiant temperatures also play a major contributing factor in how teams approach the weekend, with drivers having to adapt their driving style to suit the conditions and maximise efficiency.
This year’s rally route has received some minor adjustments in comparison to the previous year, with teams being introduced to a new stage on Sunday.
The Mesa Cuata stage is set to be the penultimate stretch for competitors, with the course using the opening half of the infamous El Chocolate stage before heading towards Guanajuato, which hosts the final Las Minas Power Stage.
The city of Leon holds a racing circuit which will be featured during the Friday and Saturday sessions, whilst the narrow mining streets of Guanajuato will host the Super Special stage.
The 21 stages total up to 1003.49km across the Mexican gravel.
Tanak Leads The Way
Ott Tanak heads into this weekend’s event with a seven-point advantage over Hyundai Shell Mobi’s Thierry Neuville following his domination at Rally Sweden three weeks ago.
The Toyota GAZOO driver confirmed his title credentials with a comprehensive victory, but as Sebastian Ogier is well aware of, heading out first into the Mexican gravel roads can be a difficult task and may potentially hinder the Estonian from secure a second successive victory this weekend.
Ogier himself will be looking to bounce back from his Rally Sweden disappointment and secure a strong result this weekend, and the Frenchman knows what it takes to be successful through the ambient Mexico mountains having won this rally on four occasions.
Kris Meeke continued his impressive return to the championship with another assured display in the Scandinavian snow and will be someone to keep an eye out for on Sunday.
Mexico has proven to be a happy hunting ground for the Brit, having been a winner here in 2017 and also finishing on the podium with Citroen last season.
Elsewhere, Esapekka Lappi is optimistic of maintaining his notable Citroen debut year after finishing second last time out, whilst M-Sport Ford will be looking to recover from their early season woes with a positive result, having seen Teemu Suninen surrendering his Sweden lead after the Finn went off the road through SS10.
Question marks have been raised over whether the M-Sport Ford Fiesta is a capable front-runner, with the manufacturer only showing glimpses of their raw pace so far this season.
Dani Sordo will make his first appearance in the third Hyundai i20 WRC Coupe, and fellow Hyundai driver Andreas Mikkelsen will be desperate to prove a point this weekend after it was announced that he would be dropped for the upcoming Tour de Corse in favour of nine-time WRC champion Sebastian Loeb.