What Sweden and México have in common

There's a key similarity between Guanajuato's gravel and Swedish snow, according to former WRC driver Mads Østberg

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There’s a modern tradition in the World Rally Championship calendar. After visiting the ice of Monte Carlo and the snow of Sweden, the crews travel across the Atlantic to take on the rough gravel of México.

Not this year. México is off-calendar again, though it retains an ambition to be back on the global stage in 2025.

This transition from Sweden to México has emerged as the start of the ‘normal’ part of the WRC calendar. Monte and Sweden are specialist events with unique challenges not present elsewhere in the season.

Or at least that’s how it appears at first glance. Maybe we’ve been been looking at it wrong.

One-time WRC2 champion Mads Østberg was back in Guanajuato last week for Rally of Nations, in which he was the fastest driver but came only a handful of points away from putting Team Scandinavia on the top step.

The reason why México is seen as a ‘normal’ rally is, ironically, because it’s not normal at all. It’s got elements of everything. That’s why it became the first real benchmark of the season, to see how all the teams and drivers really stacked up against one another.

“It’s the variation of the stages,” Østberg told DirtFish. “You have everything from Rally Finland to Cyprus. It’s so narrow and rough in some places, then it opens up and it’s so fast.

“You get used to the speed of driving slow and then suddenly it’s fast; the adrenaline pumps. The feeling is amazing. It’s like starting the first stage of Rally Finland sometimes; there’s so much happening.”

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Mads Østberg gave the Guanajuato stages a glowing report after last week's Rally of Nations 

México’s WRC itinerary has a whole raft of famous stages for good reason. Those same stages were well prepared this year ahead of the Rally of Nations field descending on its gravel roads. But there was an unexpected comparison.

“The grip is also changing a lot,” explained Østberg. “It reminds me a lot of driving on snow, you have to go sideways which I obviously enjoy. So I’m smiling,”

It’s little wonder then that one of Norway’s most successful rally drivers found himself feeling so at home on the other side of the world.