Unusually for a co-driver, Scott Martin was lost in the moment.
Leaning against the rear wing of his and Elfyn Evans’ Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, the phone was out. The picture was taken. The smile couldn’t be hidden.
“Once we get to this point we’re a little bit more relaxed, but getting here,” he chuckled, “there’s a bit more pressure on – making sure you go to the right tunnel, keeping on the right road.
“The atmosphere’s amazing. The whole rally I really enjoy, and this is special. It’s a nice stage, it’s iconic – and look at the fans here, you don’t see this in too many other places in the world that we go to.
“It’s special and it’s great to be back.”
Dear DirtFish reader, I’m going to let you into a little secret.
El Chocolate, Otates, Las Minas, Ortega, El Brinco, the fantastically-named El Mosquito – you could keep them all as far as I was concerned.
As soon as I found out I was fortunate enough to be making the trip to Rally México for the very first time this week, this was what had got me truly excited.
A 0.7-mile spectator stage.
Controversial, right? Except I’m not talking about any old spectator stage – I’m talking about the best spectator stage in the whole of the World Rally Championship: Street Stage Guanajuato.
Famous for its vibrance, its color and its energy as the sun goes down but the rally lights up.
And let me tell you, it’s even better than you think it is. The TV pictures don’t do it justice. Being there, embedded in the carnival atmosphere as México reminded the rallying world what it had been missing for the last three years has to go down as one of the best couple of hours of my entire working career.
I’d found Martin buried in amongst heaves of fans at the first holding area of 2023’s third round.
Lined up in the center of Guanajuato, I could barely move. Lines and lines of people had flooded the streets to catch a glimpse of their heroes. Sébastien Ogier was barely visible as the passionate crowd formed a huddle around him and his Toyota.
Patiently making my way through the queue to get to Thierry Neuville, even when I’d got close enough to grab a quick word with him – he was still signing autographs and posing for selfies!
“This is the one we are always looking forward to the most,” Neuville offered. “There’s lots of people, it’s always crowded.”
But yet somehow, apparently what I was standing in wasn’t even scratching the surface.
“However, it’s much less than it has been in the past, that’s for sure,” Neuville explained, “obviously after COVID everything has been a bit less.
“But it’s still great and I think people are happy that we are back as well.”
I’m with Thierry on this one. This was great. And if this was what ‘less’ looked like, I’ve got to come back next year to experience ‘more’.
Soundbites captured, the jog began. I’m not really a runner (take a look at my physique and that should be fairly obvious!) but I simply wasn’t prepared to miss the real show that lay further down the road.
The ceremonial start.
Again, not normally the destination at the top of the to-do-list on a rally, but when it’s like this it’s simply a no-brainer to get yourself there.
No other rally, anywhere in the world, does it like México. Local arts performers warm the crowds up hours before the rally cars appear – and that’s when the show really hits top gear.
Adrien Fourmaux was the first gladiator to enter the ring, guiding his Ford Fiesta Rally2 up onto the rotating start-ramp and into full vision of the capacity crowd.
Ever the showman, Oliver Solberg was next and in full entertainer mode.
Climbing out of his Škoda to a cloud of confetti and facing the interviewer’s mic, the 21-year-old geed up the crowd.
“Make some noise!”
The beauty of the Guanajuato start is you're spoilt for choice
And they didn’t need asking twice. In fact, they didn’t need asking at all.
But the love for Solberg was nothing compared to his old Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo, whose rapturous reception was interrupted only by the thunderous clap of Fourmaux’s Ford bouncing off the limiter and officially getting Rally México 2023 underway.
From here you really could see it all. The lights, the ceremony, the donuts in the small arena and then the actual stage-start. But the beauty of the Guanajuato start is you’re spoilt for choice, so with that I was off once more, seeking my next assault on the senses.
The first corner of the stage, that would do nicely.
Literally just a few steps and I was in position, making the most of my media pass to stand over the first entrance into the famous tunnels – that, touchingly, featured a brand-new mural this year in tribute to the late Ken Block.
Off the line, handbrake tugged, Takamoto Katsuta got the adrenalin pumping. Immediately greeted with a face full of lights as Katsuta threw gears at it down the hill, the bark of his Yaris was as raw as it was engrossing.
Within seconds, Katsuta was out of sight – underneath the city and on his way into the rally.
It was an all-you-can-eat buffet that never made me feel full. I just felt so lucky and privileged to be there.
As ever with a written feature like this, I’ve sent it in worried that my words haven’t conveyed the majesty of the experience. It was all so visceral – everywhere I looked there was something to get lost in.
I’m not one that usually gets excited – at least I’m not very good at showing it. But I couldn’t disguise my joy last night. This was everything I had hoped it would be and more.
They say never meet your heroes, but I met mine in Guanajuato.
Oh, and Ott Tänak was fastest both times. Not that I’d particularly noticed.