Everybody knows how strong WRC2 is this season.
With entry lists often three or even four times as large as the Rally1 field out front – and packed with arguably no less quality on the driving front – attention on the so-called ‘support’ championship is almost as high as on the fight to be world champion at the top level.
And WRC Promoter recognizes this, giving WRC2 its own dedicated highlights program and increased air time on its live broadcasts too.
So the last thing anybody needed then was for the fight on Rally México to be shortened with not one, not two, but three scrubbed stages on Saturday morning for all WRC2 crews.
Across that loop of four tests, Rally2 drivers only got to complete 2.2 of the planned 38.9 miles, taking on just the Las Dunas spectator stage. That equates to just 5.65% – and left WRC2 crews losing 19.87% of Rally México’s total mileage.
The Rally1 field meanwhile went through all four stages as normal. The only mileage they lost all weekend was the second pass of Ibarrilla.
It all stemmed from Esapekka Lappi’s crash on the day’s first stage.
Lappi’s Hyundai, the last Rally1 car onto SS11, was considered a danger given it was not only blocking the stage but had caught fire, all while an electricity pole was resting on top of the car.
As leader of WRC2, Gus Greensmith was the first car to reach the crash scene and he gave Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm his fire extinguisher as the engine bay of the i20 N Rally1 had caught alight.
Adrien Fourmaux also started the stage in his M-Sport Ford and therefore stopped at the scene, but the stage was canceled in time for him and his old team-mate Greensmith to be the only Rally2 cars to make it in.
They were given a notional time of 9m47.2s, along with the rest of the WRC2 field.
All of that is standard practice on a WRC event in such situations, but what would normally happen afterwards is the field would be re-routed to the next stage and continue from there.
But in México, none of the WRC2 drivers were able to start the El Mosquito or Derramadero stages and instead only attacked Las Dunas in anger.
Greensmith – who ultimately went on to win the class – called it “one of those” situations but equally acknowledged that “also it’s not great” for drivers or fans alike.
“A lot of the fans have come here, have spent a lot of their hard earned money to go and watch the stages, and it’s not great when you wipe out a loop,” Greensmith told DirtFish.
With the other classes missing out too, it meant only nine cars in total tackled SS12 and SS13.
“But thankfully they got to see the WRC cars, which is what really matters for the fans,” Greensmith added
“So that was good, but for sure they also lost another 10 cars. So yeah, we would hope to… I think we could have definitely got to Derramadero if we’d have handled it quicker, but the problem is nobody had any coverage of where we were and nobody could get hold of anyone.”
Oliver Solberg, who had planned to use that morning loop to reel in those ahead of him after a Friday afternoon puncture, admitted it was “frustrating” while second-placed Emil Lindholm added: “Obviously it was [frustrating] because we’re here for the driving and it happens and we have to cope.
“But I guess it was because of the extinguishers of the cars in front, so I would hope there would be some other solution for that than canceling all the stages. But if it was the only choice there was then…”
As it happens, it was the only choice available to the Rally México organizer.
FINDING LAPPI’S CRASH – AND THE ADVENTURE OF GETTING THERE
DirtFish's journey to Lappi's crash site
WRC Promoter’s event director Simon Larkin told DirtFish: “The nature of this event is that when we started coming… I mean this is the 19th edition of this event, these roads literally didn’t exist [before].
“These roads were built for this sport and for this championship so there are no alternate road books. This isn’t Wales, this isn’t France, this isn’t somewhere else where you just take the next available road through a forest or anything.
“So I’m afraid the scale of Lappi’s accident – not just with his car blocking the road but with the pole as well – meant… selfishly, if we’d held the entire field up, we would have missed all of our live TV slots from yesterday [Saturday] and I’m afraid from our point of view that can’t be allowed to happen.
“Every stakeholder needs those TV slots, including ourselves but also including Rally México might I add.
“And you’ve even seen this year that WRC2 is increasingly benefitting from our live TV slots as well from the exposure that they’re getting.
“Anyone who takes a look at the map can see that the time that it takes to turn those WRC2 cars around, get them all the way around and to try to catch up with WRC1, was absolutely impossible.
“I was in race control the whole time with Timo Rautiainen, with the clerk of the course, going through every scenario possible.
“It’s unbelievably unfortunate for the field of WRC2, but every attempt was made – including we offered our helicopter to come back and get the fire extinguishers for Gus and what we thought was Adrien who may have used his as well, to keep things on the road. We tried everything.”
Rally México manager Gilles Spitallier said “we worked as fast as we could” to clear Lappi’s crash – which he revealed left two communities without power in their homes – but nothing could be done to salvage the mileage for the WRC2 crews.
Had Greensmith, Fourmaux, Solberg and co. started the El Mosquito and Derramadero stages, they would have been so far behind the rest of the rally that the entire schedule would have been in disarray.
“Exactly, exactly,” Spitallier said. “We have alternative routes but not everywhere so to be able to recompact the rally we had to do it like that. So they jumped all the way to the Dunas stage.”
Unfortunate, absolutely. But as Greensmith said, it was just one of those things.
2023 Rally México classification [Rally2]
1 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (Škoda) 3h28m40.9s
2 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hämäläinen (Škoda) +32.9s
3 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda) +1m06.2s
4 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Škoda) +3m25.1s
5 Martin Prokop/Michal Ernst (M-Sport Ford) +6m24.6s
6 Carlos Salas Jr/Jaime Zapata Ortega (Škoda) +11m31.5
7 Ricardo Cordero Jr/Marco Hernández (Škoda) +14m36.7s
8 Jorge Martinez Fontena/Alberto Alvarez Nicholson (Škoda) +15m35.4s
9 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +18m21.6s
10 Alejandro Mauro Sánchez/Diego Sanjuan de Eusebio (Škoda) +23m39.4s