What makes Guanajuato the best?

Rally of Nations' GTO Street Stage was the perfect way to get the event underway. So said tens of thousands of fans

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Sometimes a rally-opening superspecial can feel like a slog. A box to be ticked before the real action gets underway, There have been some underwhelming examples in the World Rally Championship’s past.

One has got it just right – but isn’t even on the WRC calendar anymore.

Feeling genuine anticipation for a superspecial? That’s rare. And it’s hard to recreate. Luckily for Mexico, it was blessed with an arena perfect for the job.

Traveling down from host city León to the historic city of Guanajuato, there’s a proper sense of occasion that builds up. The moon starts to emerge on the left as you descend towards the toll gates on the edge of the city, surrounded by traffic: everyone is headed for the same place, like a pilgrimage to hallowed ground.

Superspecials are a bit like recreating ‘the big game’ in whatever stadium-based sport you may choose: spectators converge on a single location for around 80 to 90 minutes of action. In rallying, shoehorning long-format motorsport into a small space can range from a necessary evil to a proper standalone experience worth seeing, even if you were to miss the rest of the rally: Guanajuato is very much the latter.

Donuts can be a touch overused in the modern rally itinerary. Do all of them represent real action or has the spontaneity of one asphalt expert on Spain’s WRC round two decades ago been diluted too far?

That question did not seem pertinent when Mads Østberg sent his Škoda Fabia looping around at the Explanada de la Alhondiga, fireworks coloring the sky overhead.

The city is very much a tourist destination in its own right, rally or no rally. Add the pop and bang of Mitsubishi Lancers, the roar of Rally2 cars, and suddenly the party kicks up to a higher gear. Even if you don’t bother going stageside and instead mull around the queue for in-control for the main arena starting zone, you can still hear the sounds of rally cars reverberating around the tunnels beneath.

For 90 minutes the general public of Guanajuato was entranced by exotic machinery that was inches away from them, along with the opportunity to interact with the drivers.

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Getting up close and personal with both cars and drivers is incredibly easy in Guanajuato

Can you do that inside a stadium? No. The cars enter stage left, do a couple of laps and quickly disappear.

There is no way to disappear in Guanajuato. The fans will find you. There is no WRC in town this year but they still flocked anyway – the crews spent more time on selfie duty than in the stages.

Maybe super specials always will have an element of slog to them. If you’re not one for PR activities, then Guanajuato’s superspecial is not a driver’s dream. But firing a car through the mural-lined tunnels, sending it at speed through the sweeping turns that lurk in the darkness? That will excite any driver.

All the boxes are ticked in Guanajuato – but the difference is that the action is already underway.

Photography:Alasdair Lindsay