Forget Benito Guerra vs Matthew Wilson battling Harri Rovanperä against Adrien Fourmaux taking on Mads Østberg.
This week’s Rally of Nations Guanajuato is about México vs United Kingdom battling Finland against France taking on Norway. And that’s just the start, with incredible teams also coming from USA, Japan, Italy, Spain, Europe, Latin America and Ecuador.
Based out of León, this week’s Rally of Nations Guanajuato will mirror the itinerary of México’s round of the World Rally Championship as the event looks to close on a full WRC return in 2023.
That said, the event will run to a three rather than four-day format. But the challenge of the world-famous roads remains the same.
Points will be on offer for each of the 16 stages and the team with the most points on Sunday afternoon will take victory and national pride home with them. The crews are running a variety of different cars, but the Rally of Nations Guanajuato organizer have organized a co-efficient within the timing to equalize the performance and give meaningful results.
The event gets underway with the usual spectacular ceremonial start in the center of Guanajuato, before diving beneath the city streets in what has to be the most recognizable superspecial stage anywhere in the world. That’s this evening (Friday) at 7.58pm local time.
The mainstay of the action comes through Saturday and Sunday, when the crews tackle classic tests like Guanajuatito, Otates, Alfaro and Derramadero-El Brinco.
Finn Harri Rovanperä – father of current World Rally Championship leader Kalle – is a former winner of Rally México (2002, WRC candidate event) and he’s looking forward to competing for the first time since 2010.
“It’s been a long time out of the car for me,” he said. “Getting used to making the pacenotes again was not so easy, but I’m sure it will be good. The recce has been actually quite a long day, but these roads are fantastic. It’s always nice to be in this country and with these people.”
Local hero Benito Guerra is competing for Team México with a familiar team-mate – his father Benito Sr. Both emerged from Thursday’s recce eager to get into stage mode.
“The roads are in fantastic condition,” said Guerra Jr. “In some of the places the road is so smooth we will put rubber down on the surface – it’s going to be amazing. It’s so nice to be back in competition and to have my father in the same team on his first international rally. I’m really proud for both of us to be representing México!”
Current World Rally Championship star Fourmaux makes his Méxican debut this week. The Frenchman admitted the stages lived up to his expectations.
“The stages are really beautiful,” he said. “In some places they’re really twisty, but then they’re also really nice and flowing as well and sometimes quite crazy fast! The landscape is so nice here, I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of fun this weekend.”
Fourmaux’s Team France team-mate, former World Rally champion Didier Auriol, is making his second visit to Rally of Nations having tackled the first one back in 2009.
“It’s really nice to be back,” said Auriol, who drives a Subaru Impreza WRX. “The recce was interesting. These roads will not be easy. There are some very fast places, but also some places with crests and narrow sections. You have to really listen and commit to the notes.
“It’s really nice to drive with Adrien as well – it’s important for him to come here and to drive these stages to take experience. But also, I think he’s the driver who can win this race.”
Wilson and Tom Williams make up Team UK. Both have competed in Guanajuato before.
Wilson said: “It’s good to get the recce done. We’ve been powered by Tunnock’s Tea Cakes today thanks to Stu [Loudon, Tunnock’s biscuit maker] co-driving. Seriously though, it’s been really good. The roads are looking nice, no punctures on the recce car and we’re ready to get going now.”
Østberg leads Team Norway with friend and neighbor Eyvind Brynildsen competing alongside him.
“It’s brilliant to be back,” said the one-time world rally winner. “When I got the call about competing here, there was no doubt for me: I had to come! The whole atmosphere of the place is just fantastic. The people are so friendly and enthusiastic, but it’s also a little bit about the ego of the rally driver – to come here and be recognized is excellent!
“It’s a lot of fun to be driving for Team Norway and really nice that I come here from the same district in Norway with my team-mate Eyvind.”
You could be forgiven for thinking the gravel roads of Mexico would be quite alien to Østberg. Not so. Despite a 40-degree temperature difference, finds them remarkably similar to winter stages in Norway.
“Competing here in México does remind me about the snow – I get surprised by that every time I come here – maybe that’s why I like it! The similarity comes from the massive grip change from the inside to the outside line.
“In the snow, you go from a good ice base on the inside to the loose snow on the outside and here you go from a good line to the sandy stuff on the outside which is really slippery.”