Which flag? Which cowboy boots? Rally of Nations Guanajuato manager Gilles Spitalier smiled at the irony of his Sunday afternoon. He’d wanted the closest possible battle to thrill the fans across three days. Careful what you wish for Gilles…
With two of the event’s 16 stages remaining, Team Europe overhauled long-time leader Team Norway and ended the rally on the top step of the podium.
Team Norway’s plight wasn’t helped when Eyvind Brynildsen’s Mitsubishi refused to start leaving parc fermé on Sunday morning. A puncture for mads Østberg on the final stage sealed the deal in favor of Team Europe stars Nikki Schelle (Ford Fiesta Rally5) and Sebastian Barbu (Renault Clio).
Like their Team Norway rivals, the Team Europe challenge was halved when Barbu retired on the penultimate stage with a technical fault. Fortunately Schelle held it all together with a scorching run through the El Brinco powerstage to cement a 110-point victory.
“I feel like a youngster again!” said the German. “I think I’ve got the bug again. The car has run really well and it’s been so nice to come here and compete with these guys. The stages have been amazing and the atmosphere the same. To take a victory on the Rally of Nations Guanajuato is really something special.”
Even if the Nations win wasn’t possible, Norway’s Mads Østberg continued to blaze a trail through the early Sunday stages. His winning run was halted when Team France’s Adrien Fourmaux edged him by 0.1 seconds through the stunning-but-short Los Tepetates test on the edge of León. The only other stage he failed to win was SS16, when a puncture cost him close to two minutes.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Østberg. “Of course it would have been nice to win for Norway, but this was always going to be tough after Eyvind’s problem this morning. But for me, it was good to come here and win so many stages – and by such a big margin. It was especially nice to do this against Adrien [Fourmaux], who is obviously in the world championship.”
Team France sealed a third-placed podium with Adrien Fourmaux demonstrating both pace and patience as he learned the Méxican way.
“The roads were really interesting,” said Fourmaux, “and for sure I learned a lot through this event. I was happy with the way the speed was coming and I feel really more ready if this rally is coming back to the WRC next season.”
Team France’s Felipe Suberville, who stepped in for Didier Auriol, was delighted to join Fourmaux on the podium, saying: “This is like a dream! To have the chance to compete with a driver like Adrien is incredible. I will be telling my grandchildren about this moment!”
Team México 3 (Emilio Velazquez, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX and Patrice Spitalier, Renault Clio) were fourth while Team Ecuador (Javier Serrano, Ford Fiesta Rally5 and Diego Serrano, Renault Clio) claimed fifth.
The top six was rounded out by Team UK’s former World Rally Championship driver Matthew Wilson (Ford Fiesta Rally2) and current American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National frontrunner Tom Williams (Ford Fiesta Rally3).
Local hero Benito Guerra’s hopes of flying his national flag highest on Sunday afternoon were dashed by an engine problem which forced his father Benito Sr out on Saturday. Guerra Jr took some consolation with a superb third in the overall standings aboard his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo.
Winner of Rally México 20 years ago and father of current World Rally Championship points leader leader Kalle Rovanperä, Harri, partnered Roope Korhonen in Team Finland, but just missed out on a top-10 national placing with 11th.
Rovanperä said: “I definitely forgot how hard work it is to drive a rally car in these temperatures! It took me a little bit of time to get used to having some pace notes in English and some in Finnish, but it was a lot of fun!”
From a packed ceremonial start on Friday night through to Sunday’s finish in the center of a stunning new service park in León, fun was a watchword for fans and crews alike.
And with his flags and boots sorted, it was time for Gilles to relax.
“I am so happy with the event,” said the man behind the Rally of Nations. “When we decided to do this event, we did it to bring a different style of competition between countries.
“Big congratulations to Team Europe, but we also did it to say hello to the world of rallying and the World Rally Championship. We wanted to show the WRC what it’s been missing. I think we did that.”