Mexico’s high-altitude rough gravel stages return to the WRC for the first time since the COVID-shortened event in 2020. The rally will also mark the first gravel round of the 2023 season and a maiden run for the Rally1 hybrid cars at significantly high altitude.
Due to a ban on testing outside of Europe, WRC teams Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport Ford have been preparing for the rally by trying to best simulate the hot and high altitude conditions in Spain.
Teams have also been focusing on the hybrid unit, which could offer a real advantage if used correctly in Mexico. This is because its effectiveness won’t be affected by conditions, whereas the internal combustion engine will suffer a drop in power due to altitude.
Neuville believes the 100kW Compact Dynamics-designed hybrid unit will play an increasingly more significant role at the 16-19 March event.
“There will be more power for instances, like always the hybrid never last for very long, but it does its job and it will be more effective in Mexico than in any other rally,» Neuville told Motorsport.com.
“It will not affect the driving style more than on any other rally. But whatever settings you choose for the hybrid unit will be crucial, so that is the key point for the event.”
Neuville was a delayed 16th in Mexico when the WRC last visited in 2020 after electrical gremlins struck his Hyundai
Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport
Although difficult to simulate the conditions crews will face in Mexico, Neuville was happy with the work achieved following his test outing on Tuesday.
“We have had a good pre-event test,” he explained.
“Obviously we can only simulate Mexican conditions, so it is really hard to say whether we have gone in the right direction or not. It has been three years since we were last in Mexico, but generally I think we have done a good job today.
“In the Mexico test you always run different power to simulate the real conditions with low power, so you can’t really feel a difference with the new aero.
“But generally the car felt good and a nice improvement from last year and now it is about making the right choices for the rally.”
Mexico will also see eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier rejoin the WRC for the second round of his partial programme, after winning the 2023 opener in Monte Carlo in January.
Ogier joined the Toyota team for its pre-event test in Spain this week, completing a first run on gravel in this year’s GR Yaris on Monday. The Frenchman also believes the use of hybrid power will be critical.
“We tried to simulate that [the hot and high altitude] conditions with the team but it is not easy,” said Ogier.
“Finding similar conditions as Mexico in Europe in February is kind of impossible so we are trying to simulate that as much as we can.
“For sure, it is going to be interesting to see how the hybrid can help the lack of power with the altitude, as the electric power won’t be influenced by the altitude.
“It will be nice to have this benefit and I think more than ever it will be important to use it as efficiently as possible, as it can make a big difference in the performance.”
Ogier is expected to be among the favourites in Mexico, having won the rally a record-equalling six times (2013-2015, 2018-2020) and it was also where he claimed a maiden Junior WRC victory in 2008.
In addition to his previous success in Mexico, Ogier will be equipped with a favourable road position, starting fifth in the running order.
“It is where everything started for me and I have a lot of good memories and lots of success, so the ambition is to try and do that again,” he added.
“I will also have an interesting starting position so we have to try to make the best of that.”