So it is all over. The first gravel test of 2011 and an all too familiar ending for fans of the WRC. Sebastien Loeb claimed victory south of the border and in pretty dominant fashion. The weekend was not without its issues however. Here are a few points I was able to take away from Round 2.
Michelin had a rough showing this weekend. While the brand has been away from rally’s top flight for sometime, there were a number of punctures on the hard rocks of Mexico. The Ford teams were hit hard by the failing tires as Michelin continues to come to grips. This looks as though it will continue to play an interesting wild card in this year’s championship. It seems as though no one is protected from the potential of a puncture. Seeing as a majority of the rallies will be on gravel, this may have something to say about the championship.
So I understand the FiA has been known in the past to be sketchy. That is a gimme for any fan of Formula 1. This weekend, we actually seen it poke its head up during the rally. Before the service break in the middle of Saturday’s leg, there was set to be a 20 minute regroup point where the cars could get into service together. Ogier took a wrong turn and went right into service and missed the controlled regroup point all together. This would mean exclusion from the rally…however, the FiA decided that Ogier would not be penalized for his error. The fans were never given a clear answer as to why he was aloud to continue. Further more, the FiA decided to relaunch the investigation and aloud Ogier to continue again! We need the transparency of what happened as fans. What happened that made it ok for Ogier to cut the course? Interesting to say the least.
Wow…that is all I can really say about that. The French marque put their stamp on Mexico again by showing they had way more pace than Ford for this event. Loeb, Ogier, and Solberg were the class of the field all weekend hands down. Citroen usually kills Ford in Mexico and it looked as though the gremlins that haunted Ford in the past were still present in the new Fiesta (punctures aside). The issue appeared to be this weekend that reliability issues are present with the DS3. Solberg suffered engine problems and whether you can believe it or not, a piece in Loeb’s transmission actually broke causing him to be late. We can credit these issues to the lack of testing they were able to do in the DS3. Unlike the C4 before it, the DS3 has really been rushed through development. This is in part more of the FiA’s issue with the late release of the technical regulations. Regardless of that, the DS3 proved this weekend it is not bullet proof. Citroen’s title hopes may hang on whether or not Ogier can keep the car on stage. Given the fact he can challenge Loeb openly without fear of team orders, (again…believe what you want) may see the Frenchman take some unnecessary risks that could end up hurting in regards to the manufacturer’s title. Ford have a clear position that it will be Mikko going for the title again. Couple that with a very consistent performance by both Hirvonen and Latvala, and Citroen may be in a bit of trouble. The season is still early however.
Looks Good Hirvonen
One of my story lines for Mexico was how well would Mikko Hirvonen perform on the heels of his victory in Sweden? Last year, Mexico was the start of an awful year for Ford’s number one Finn. I was pleasantly surprised to see Mikko’s poise inside the car this weekend. We did not hear much of him this weekend, but he kept the car on stage and secured a podium finish. On top of that, he was able to take the power stage win and bag three crucial points. So along with a runner up finish, credit three crucial points to Mikko and his chance for his first title.
So there we have it. Mexico is in the books and not only does Mikko retain his title lead, but Ford actually stretched their manufacturers lead over Citroen. Loeb’s pace however proved to be rather menacing and shows that even with a new formula, we are still in for much of the same. Stay tuned as Rally Portugal is around the corner and who knows what may happen!