WRC Hirvonen set to defend WRC lead in Corona Rally Mexico

CORONA RALLY MEXICO, February 29th-March 2nd 2008

2008 FIA World Rally Championship, round 3

For immediate release
Wednesday, February 27th, 2008




World Champion Loeb aims for third successive Mexico win

Suzuki Swift duo aim to start J-WRC campaign in winning style


LEON (Mexico): The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team will defend a 10-point lead in the FIA World Rally Championship’s Manufacturers’ title race, when the Corona Rally Mexico gets underway with a ceremonial start in Guanajuato, east of the rally base in León, on Thursday evening.


Finnish team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala have taken one win and two second places between them so far this season in Monte Carlo and Sweden and head to the testing gravel special stages of the Mexican round of the series in confident mood.


Hirvonen holds a six-point advantage over his team mate in the Drivers’ Championship – courtesy of two second places - but the Ford duo are mindful of the fact that Frenchman Sébastien Loeb has won the North American round of the series for the last two years and is a formidable force on gravel surfaces. He is chasing a hat-trick of successes in León.


His Citroën Total World Rally Team currently lie fourth in the Manufacturers’ series behind the Stobart VK M-Sport and Subaru outfits. Monte Carlo winner Loeb gave the Citroën C4 WRC a winning gravel debut in Mexico in 2007, but Hirvonen’s best result in Mexico was third overall the same year and the Finn may suffer somewhat from being first on the road for the opening day’s eight gravel stages. Dani Sordo will again run in the second official C4: the Spaniard was 11th in Monte Carlo and sixth in Sweden.


Mexico is the first of seven consecutive gravel rounds of this year’s 15-round series and was reinstated into the global championship following the withdrawal of Rally Australia. It is the first of three consecutive rounds outside Europe and the majority of the special stages are over 2000 metres above sea level.


"First on the road isn't the best place to be in Mexico because there will be loose gravel and stones on the road surface," said 27-year-old championship leader Hirvonen. "It's better to be further down the order where the roads will be cleaner but I don't mind putting up with that if it means I lead the championship.”


Latvala finished seventh last season, but arrives in Mexico fresh from becoming the youngest driver in history to win a round of the WRC – in Sweden. The Ford team prepared for the rally with a four-day test in France, where Pirelli’s new Scorpion hard compound gravel tyre was tested for the first time.


The Subaru World Rally Team has a good record in Mexico. Petter Solberg won the event in 2005 and finished second overall in 2006, but the team have not won a WRC event since Rally GB three years ago and need a top result in Mexico. They have started the season brightly though: Australian Chris Atkinson finished third overall in Monte Carlo, where Solberg was fifth and the Norwegian was fourth in Sweden.


Four other Ford Focus RS cars will start the rally: Italian Gigi Galli and Britain’s Matthew Wilson have been nominated for points by the Stobart VK M-Sport team, while the Munchi's Ford World Rally Team will make its season debut with Norwegian Henning Solberg and Argentina’s Federico Villagra.


The factory Suzuki team will be making its first appearance in Mexico with the SX4. Finland’s Toni Gardemeister has suffered one retirement and a seventh place so far this season, but has already scored Manufacturers’ Championship points for ‘Monster’ Tajima’s Japanese team. Sweden’s reigning J-WRC champion Per-Gunnar Andersson will drive the second SX4 in which he finished an excellent eighth overall in Monte Carlo.


The Japanese manufacturer will also be keen to defend its J-WRC title, with Estonia’s Jan Molder and Poland’s Michal Kosciuszko entering the first round of the Junior series in a pair of Swift Super 1600 cars. Both drivers intend to run in Mexico, Jordan, Italy, Finland, Spain and France this season under the Suzuki Sport Europe banner.


“Mexico is going to be a big learning curve for me,” said Molder. “Suzuki has contested the event before in 2005 as part of the Junior Championship and the cars were first and second. I hope that is a good omen.”


Seventeen drivers under the age of 28 will tackle this year’s J-WRC, but the Suzuki duo face fierce competition in Mexico from the likes of Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach, Czech Martin Prokop and Germany’s Aaron Burkhart in a trio of Citroën C2 S1600s. Other front-runners should include Sweden’s Patrick Sandell (Renault) and Ireland’s Shaun Gallagher (Citroën).


Mexican driver Ricardo Trivino leads the home contingent at the wheel of his Peugeot 206 WRC, although the likes of Benito Guerra (Mitsubishi) and Rodrigo Salgado (Mitsubishi) should entertain the home crowds. No less than 41 cars grace the provisional start list for the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.


This year’s Mexican route is virtually identical to 2007 and is the shortest ever for a WRC event, covering a mere 830.83km, of which 43% is competitive. The highest of all the stages will be the Ortega test at 2,737 metres above sea level.


The event gets underway with the ceremonial start in Guanajuato at 20.00hrs on Thursday evening. The opening two days on Friday and Saturday comprise two identical loops of three stages before two passes over a super special stage at León's race circuit. The track also hosts a double run on Sunday morning to bring the rally to a close.  Drivers tackle a total of 20 stages covering 353.75km.


Leading starters

1. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)         Ford Focus RS WRC 07

2. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN)        Ford Focus RS WRC 07

3. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (MC)                 Citroën C4 WRC

4. Gianluigi Galli (I)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I)                 Ford Focus RS WRC 07

5. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB)                        Subaru Impreza WRC 2006

6. Chris Atkinson (AUS)/Stéphane Prevot (B)           Subaru Impreza WRC 2006

7. Daniel Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E)                              Citroën C4 WRC

8. Toni Gardemeister (FIN)/Toni Tuominen (FIN)            Suzuki SX4

9. Per-Gunnar Andersson (S)/Jonas Andersson (S)        Suzuki SX4

10. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N)                Ford Focus RS WRC 07

11. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Scott Martin (GB)                  Ford Focus RS WRC 07

12. Federico Villagra (RA)/Jorge-Perez Companc (RA) Ford Focus RS WRC 07


FIA World Rally Championship – positions after round 2:


1.  Mikko Hirvonen                        16pts                                   

2= Jari-Matti Latvala                    10pts                                   

2= Sébastien Loeb                        10pts                                   

4.  Gigi Galli                                      9pts                                   

5.  Petter Solberg                          9pts                                   

6.  Chris Atkinson                          6pts           



1.  BP Ford Abu Dhabi            26pts

2= Stobart VK M-Sport            16pts

2= Subaru                                    16pts

4. Citroën Total                        15pts

5. Suzuki                                      5pts


For further media information:
Corona Rally Mexico Media Centre, Poliforum Expo Centre,
León, Mexico, Tel: + 52 (477) 7114421 or + 52 (477) 7713070, E-mail: media@rallymexico.com or ndppublicity@compuserve.com







Date issued: 27/02/2008

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