Palletforce-backed world rally driver Ott Tanak is set to embark on one of the toughest events of the season when Rally Mexico gets underway tonight. The third round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) is the first gravel event of the season and Tanak rose to fame last year after a spectacular accident on the opening day sparked huge global coverage.
The 28-year-old Estonian and co-driver Raigo Molder slid off the road and plunged their Ford Fiesta RS WRC into a lake in 2015. After being fully submerged for 10 hours, the M-Sport team revived the car and Tanak went on to complete the event.
However, this year high altitudes, high ambient temperatures and high stage distances will all contribute to what's expected to be one of the toughest editions of this event. The challenge is set to peak on the final day when Tanak tackles a huge 80km stage – the longest test in WRC for over 30 years.
After the asphalt of Monte Carlo and snow of Sweden, Mexico hosts the third different surface in as many events. The stages around Leon are literally the pinnacle of the championship – reaching the highest point of the season at 2737m.
The mix of loose and abrasive surfaces, together with high speeds, delivers a real test for tyres and forces drivers and teams to manage their allocation effectively.
Rally Mexico is also renowned for the energetic ceremonial start in the stunningly colourful town of Guanajuato – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Crowds flock from afar to watch the opening street stage running through tunnels under the town on Thursday evening. Then the real action starts on Friday morning before finishing on Sunday afternoon.
"It's really nice to be going to Mexico, it's an event I enjoy and the atmosphere and energy, especially at the start, is something really special," explained Tanak. "The rally is always a big challenge. It's the first hot rally of the season and every day has got some very long stages – this is a challenge that I enjoy.
"With the long 80km stage, the final day will be something special and I'm looking forward to it a lot. We've just completed the pre-event recce and the stages look in great condition. There are some areas of loose gravel on top and our road position should be quite good with the first cars having to clean the gravel a little."