M-SPORT READY FOR MEXICAN FIESTA
M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg and Éric Camilli could make FIA World Rally Championship history next week as the team are on the brink of securing a record-breaking run of 200 consecutive point finishes. But before the celebrations can begin, the team must master the challenges of Rally Mexico.
Traversing the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains to the north and east of León, the Mexican fixture is the first of six consecutive gravel rallies but has an individuality which sets it apart from the more traditional loose-surface events.
In stark contrast to Rally Sweden, air temperatures can linger around the 30°C mark – with those in the cockpit as high as 50°C. The high temperatures require both driver and co-driver to be in peak physical condition to maintain focus through endurance stages – the toughest of which being the championship’s longest stage since 1983 at a mammoth 80 kilometres.
The route also reaches more than 2,700 metres at its peak which places significant strain on the engines as oxygen-starved air can see performance fall by as much as 20 per cent. The team have made extensive use of Ford’s environmental test laboratory to best simulate the expected conditions, but the crews must adapt their driving style to account for the reduced performance and conducted a comprehensive pre-event test in the hills north of Barcelona this week.
Braking points differ from those on more familiar gravel events and the smallest of mistakes become more difficult to recover. A precise driving style with faultless pacenotes is essential and that is exactly what Østberg and co-driver Ola Fløene have been perfecting.
The Norwegian has form in Mexico. He finished second at the event last year and the last time he took to the wheel of a Fiesta, Sebastian Ogier singled him out as his main rival for the win. The World Champion had good cause to fear Østberg in 2013. The Norwegian led the event and battled for the win until an electrical issue forced him down the standings.
As the third car on the road, Østberg could be disadvantaged by road position, but if everything goes to plan he and Fløene have a strong chance of challenging for another podium result.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Camilli will be experiencing the Mexican stages for the first time. The Frenchman will have a lot to learn and it will be important for him gain as much experience as possible as he builds confidence ahead of the European events.
In order to achieve his goals, he felt it important to introduce some familiarity and will be joined by former co-driver Benjamin Veillas. The pairing have a strong relationship having competed behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta R5 last year and it’s hoped that the familiarity reignites his season.
Preparations certainly started well for the rookie as he was awarded a podium place at a ceremony that celebrated Nice’s most accomplished sportsmen and women earlier this week.
Mads Østberg said:
“This is one of my favourite events and we have done well there in the past. We finished second last year, and the last time I was behind the wheel of a Fiesta I was leading the rally and challenging for the win.
“This will be my first time driving the latest version of the Fiesta RS WRC on gravel, so there will be an element of getting to grips with everything. Having said that, we had a good test earlier this week and I would hope that we will be able to get up to speed fairly quickly.
“It’s one of those events where you have to be 100 percent focused. The high altitude means that the engines have less power. It’s the same for everyone, but if you make a mistake it is very difficult to get the time back as you can’t get back on the power as quickly as you can at other gravel event.
“Your pacenotes need to be absolutely perfect if you’re going to challenge for the top results, so it’s good that the relationship between Ola and myself is progressing really well. It feels as though we have been sitting together for years, and that’s the sort of confidence you need to do well in Mexico.
“My road position won’t be quite as good as it was last year, but if everything else goes to plan then I think we can still be competitive and hopefully challenge for another strong result.”
Éric Camilli said:
“This will be my first time at Rally Mexico and I am really looking forward to my first gravel event with the Fiesta RS WRC. It’s another new rally so I know that there will be a lot to learn and I’m aware that Mexico is not a typical gravel event.
“The high altitude reduces engine performance so you need to alter your driving style to suit these conditions. There are also some exceptionally long stages – longer than anything I’ve ever experienced – so it will be important to keep focused throughout the weekend.
“I know it will be another big challenge, but we had a good test in the lead up and I’m confident that I’ll be able to get my season back on track.
“I was happy with the speed that we were able to show in the first two rallies, but they didn’t turn out as we had hoped. Now, I need to focus on having a clean run and finishing the next two events so that I can build my confidence ahead of the more familiar European rounds.
“To achieve this, I felt it was important to have some familiarity in the car so Benjamin will join me in Mexico. We worked together last year and established a really good relationship so I hope that will help me achieve my goals next week.
“I must thank Nicolas [Klinger] for his work in the first two rallies. He has a lot of rally experience and I learnt a lot from him in the early part of the season.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
26th February 2016
“Mexico has become something of a special event for us. We secured a one-two finish when we went there for the first time in 2004, and challenged for the win with Mads in 2013. Last year also saw us achieve the seemingly impossible by raising the ‘TiTanak’.
“This year, it could become the scene of another major achievement for us as we close in on Ford and M-Sport’s 200th consecutive points finish.
“Mads has good form at this event and if everything works in his favour then I think he can be challenging for another strong result. The last time he was here in a Fiesta, Ogier singled him out as his main rival and with good reason. He might be disadvantaged as only the third car on the road, but if everything goes to plan then he has every chance of challenging for another podium.
“For Eric, it will be another steep learning curve. I was impressed by how quickly he was able to get up to speed at both Monte-Carlo and Sweden, but the priority for this event will just be to finish and gain experience. It’s important for him to get two solid finishes under his belt before we head back to Europe where he can start showing his speed on events that he is more familiar with.”