The sun in Mexico can make the rocks littering the picturesque gravel stages so hot that it hurts to pick them up – and yet the roads are higher than you would find on many ski slopes in Europe.
With a peak altitude of nearly 2700 metres and temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Centigrade, Mexico does not just make the drivers breathless, but also their cars and tyres. With little oxygen to feed the engines, power can drop by up to 60 horsepower: a significant percentage given that a World Rally Car puts out around 300 horsepower at its peak.
The thin atmosphere also means that the air pressure inside the tyres decreases, a bit like being in an aeroplane. So the Pirelli Scorpion control tyres that the World Rally Championship uses get worked harder – and crews have to keep a careful eye on the all-important tyre pressures as they head into the challenging stages.
Pirelli has an impressive track record on Rally Mexico, having won the event the last time it was on the World Rally Championship calendar, with Sebastien Loeb in 2008. Two years later, Loeb has repeated his victory after a strategic rally that revolved around those little rocks on the stages that are too hot to pick up.
The first car on the road has the unenviable task of sweeping the stage clean, and as a result it loses a lot of time by sliding on loose gravel. The situation progressively improves for all the drivers following behind; just as a normal road would become easier to drive on after several cars have passed when snow has fallen, for example.
Citroen privateer Petter Solberg took advantage of the situation to lead at the end of the opening day, but rather than drop time in the closing stages to run further down the order on Saturday, he chose to stay out in front. This brave decision paid off as he claimed second place after a thrilling battle with Sebastien Ogier, but in the meantime Loeb pulled into a commanding lead that he was never to lose. Like all the other competitors, Loeb ran on hard compound Pirelli Scorpion tyres; which bear a very close relationship to the Pirelli Scorpion tyres that you can buy for road use.
“It was an extremely tough but very enjoyable rally,” said the six-time World Champion. “We had a great day on Saturday during which we could build up our advantage, and our car as well as our tyres were perfect. We had no problems at all.”
Mario Isola, Pirelli’s rally manager, has a unique insight into the Rally Mexico as last year – when it was not a round of the World Championship – Isola swapped his yellow Pirelli shirt for some driving gloves, to take part in the event himself.
“It was an amazing experience, and a fantastic way to get first-hand knowledge of the stages in order to be in the best possible position to advise our drivers,” he said. “Once again, our hard compound Pirelli Scorpion tyres performed impeccably over all 22 stages despite the heat and the altitude. Although there was a huge variation in the amount of grip available as the roads cleaned, all the drivers were grateful for the consistency of our tyre – which permitted them to extract the maximum grip possible from the gravelly stages. As well as ensuring a well-deserved victory for Sebastien Loeb, Pirelli tyres also allowed Petter Solberg to claim second place despite running first on the road throughout the longest day of the event.”
Mexico was also a round of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship and the Production car World Rally Championship, which are both supplied by Pirelli.
Spaniard Xevi Pons won the SWRC in a Ford Fiesta S2000, while Portugal’s Armindo Araujo claimed PWRC victory at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer.