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WRC Volkswagen aims to extend WRC lead as series switches to Mexican gravel

RALLY GUANAJUATO CORONA 2014, March 6-9, 2014
2014 FIA World Rally Championship, round 3

For immediate release
Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

VOLKSWAGEN AIMS TO EXTEND CHAMPIONSHIP
LEAD AS WRC SWITCHES TO MEXICAN GRAVEL

· Finn Latvala arrives in León with five-point Drivers’ Championship advantage
· Hyundai Motorsport aims for finish on first Mexico start for new i20 WRC
· Ukraine’s Protasov takes useful WRC 2 advantage into Mexican stages


LEÓN (Mexico): Mexico’s 11th Rally Guanajuato Corona gets underway on Thursday evening in Guanajuato and is the first of six successive gravel rallies in the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship.

Volkswagen Motorsport showed in Monte Carlo and Sweden that it will be the team to beat for a second successive season, but picking a winner of the Drivers’ Championship may be a little more difficult this time. Frenchman Sébastien Ogier won in Mexico last year and went on to claim an emphatic championship victory.

Jari-Matti Latvala’s win in Sweden has given the Finn a five-point advantage in the championship after two rounds and he and Ogier should start as the favourites to win in Mexico. “The win in Sweden was a special moment for me and has given me an extra dose of confidence,” said Latvala. “We used tests in Spain to prepare for Mexico. The scrapping of qualifying means I, as championship leader, have to be first out onto the route in Mexico. This is a handicap, but rules are rules. It could still be possible to win, but my goal is to finish in the points. A place on the podium would be great.”

Volkswagen surprised many by winning on their first visit to Mexico last year and Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen adds strength in depth to the new team with a third car in a second factory team. This is the first time that Mikkelsen has tackled the Mexican event and he will be hoping to benefit from a favourable starting position over the opening gravel stages on Friday.

The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team has a new driver line-up for Mexico this season. Ulsterman Kris Meeke impressed many with his two performances in Monte Carlo and Sweden and the DS3 WRC driver has worked on gravel notes in Mexico before. Team mate Mads Østberg had been as high as second overall before electrical gremlins ruined his challenge in 2013, but he and Meeke will be pushing for the podium on this occasion.

The French manufacturer has won six of the nine Mexican rounds of the series held since 2004 and the team is confident of a repeat performance this year. “It won’t be the same as the last rally, where I had to get used to driving on snow,” said Meeke. “This time, it’s on gravel and should be easier because I have a fair bit of experience on this surface. Mexico requires a different set-up.

“I have worked on the videos and listened carefully to advice from Mads and the team. The drop in power output could be an advantage for me because I have experience competing in cars with normally aspirated engines. You need a slightly different style. I have a good starting position for the long first day. The aim is to score as many points as we can on the overseas events. I’d be pleased with a top five finish.”

Mikko Hirvonen has considerable experience in Mexico and finished as runner-up to Ogier in 2013. The Finn teams up with the talented young Welshman Elfyn Evans in the M-Sport World Rally Team and the Ford Fiesta R5 WRC duo will be hoping to challenge the Volkswagen Polos over the 22 Mexican gravel stages that rise to nearly 2,800 metres above sea level in the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato hills.

Poland’s defending WRC 2 champion Robert Kubica and Mexican driver Benito Guerra also drive a pair of M-Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta R5s. Czech driver Martin Prokop is also entered in a Ford Fiesta R5 running under the Jipocar Czech National Team banner.

Mexico will be a baptism of fire for the new Hyundai Shell World Rally Team. The Frankfurt-based team collected just eight points from the first two European rounds of the series and the lack of real experience of the intense heat and altitude of the Mexican gravel stages has stacked the odds against both Chris Atkinson and Thierry Neuville from challenging for the podium in the Hyundai i20 WRC. A points’ finish is the realistic target for the Korean manufacturer. Neuville and Atkinson were third and sixth with other teams in Mexico last year.

“Mexico is a fantastic event which I really like and enjoy every time I come here,” said Neuville. “It’s also a special rally for me after the first podium of my career here last year. The main challenge is the altitude and the car losing engine power. You need to carry more speed into the corners. We drove the i20 WRC on gravel recently at a test session and I had a good feeling. It is important that we finish the event to continue our development process.”

Eight drivers are entered in the WRC 2 category, where Yuriy Protasov has a nine-point advantage over Italy’s Lorenzo Bertelli after two rallies. Ukraine’s Protasov tops the list in the absence of last year’s Mexican category winner Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, while Estonian Ott Tanak (Ford), Peruvian Nicolas Fuchs (Ford), Italian Gianluca Linari (Subaru) and Bertelli (Ford) are amongst the challengers.

The rest of the 28-car entry is made up of Mexican drivers and solitary entrants from Peru and Equador, with rally regulars Ricardo Trivino (Mitsubishi) and Rodrigo Salgado (Ford Fiesta) topping the list.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) crews complete their reconnaissance of the timed stages that will decide the outcome of this year’s Rally Guanajuato Corona 2014.

The event gets underway with a ceremonial start in Guanajuato from 20.00hrs on Thursday evening and this is followed by the first short Monster street stage at 20.09hrs. There are five special stages over 43km in length in a total route of 1,038.19km, off which 399.93km (39%) are competitive. The event finishes in León on Sunday afternoon from 14.30hrs.

FIA World Rally Championship – positions after round 2
Drivers

1. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) 40 pts
2. Sébestien Ogier (FRA) 35 pts
3. Mads Østberg (NOR) 30 pts
4. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) 24 pts
5. Bryan Bouffier (FRA) 18 pts
6. Kris Meeke (GBR) 17 pts
7. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) 13 pts
8. Ott Tanak (EST) 10 pts
9. Elfyn Evans (GBR) 8 pts
10. Henning Solberg (NOR) 6 pts. etc

Manufacturers
1. Volkswagen Motorsport 72 pts
2. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 56 pts
3. Volkswagen Motorsport II 26 pts
4. M-Sport World Rally Team 22 pts
5. Hyundai Shell World Rally Team 8 pts
6. RK M-Sport World Rally Team 4 pts
7. Jipocar Czech National Team 0 pts

Ends

For further media information:
Rally Guanajuato Corona 2014, Media Centre, Poliforum Expo Centre, León, Mexico, Tel: + 52 (477) 771-4274 or + 52 (477) 771-4671, E-mail: eugenio@rallymexico.com, mauriciog@rallymexico.com or ndppublicity@googlemail.com

www.wrc.com
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Date issued: 04/03/2014

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