How Rally Mexico could define the 2019 WRC

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Ott Tanak is on the verge of World Rally dominance (Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing)

Ott Tanak is a man in impeccable form at the moment. The Estonian star leads the World Rally Championship for the first time in his career, and depending on his performance on round three, this could just be the start of his dominance.

Rally Mexico is up next for the WRC circus. Held on roads high up in the mountains, the gravel event poses a completely unique challenge for the crews as the high altitude saps significant power from the engines.

It’s also the first gravel rally of the year – the surface the majority of the season is run on – which means the true pecking order will begin to be established after the winter madness of Monte-Carlo and Sweden.

Toyota driver Tanak heads into the stages first on the road after winning in Sweden last month, which means he will face the worst of the conditions as he sweeps away the loose gravel from the stages for those behind.

Tanak’s chief rivals, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Citroen’s six-time and defending world champion Sebastien Ogier, start second and third on the road this weekend, making them favourites to win and claw points away from Tanak.

However such a suggestion is to belittle the confidence Tanak oozes right now. Rally Mexico could be a real turning point in the Estonian’s relatively short career.

Nobody is expecting a Tanak victory for two key reasons: he is sweeping the gravel which he has never had to do in his career, and his Toyota Yaris has been prone to suffering engine issues on the Mexican stages in previous years.

However Tanak is in his absolute prime and right now he is the out-and-out fastest man in the World Rally Championship.

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Tanak has won more stages than anybody else this season (Credit: McKlein)

If anybody is capable of overturning the odds, it is Tanak. The graphic above shows the control the Estonian can have over his rivals.

Since last summer he has been almost untouchable. He has won four of the last seven rallies on all three surfaces (tarmac, gravel and snow) and is almost guaranteed to be winning multiple events as the season progresses if he maintains this form.

A win in Mexico would be devastating for his rivals. It would move him into at least a 14 point lead in the championship, but more than that it would leave Tanak with limited chinks in his armour.

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Tanak has a seven point championship lead over Neuville (Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing)

World champion Ogier is busy adapting to his Citroen C3 after moving from M-Sport Ford last season, while Neuville is pushing the maximum out of his Hyundai i20 that isn’t looking quite as competitive as the Toyota Yaris.

If Tanak can win on a rally where he is seemingly at his weakest, ultimately the only thing stopping him thereafter would be himself.

The World Rally Championship has enjoyed some scintillating championship battles over the last two years, but the 2019 race could be over before it has even begun if Tanak is standing on the top step of the podium on Sunday.

The first proper stage of Rally Mexico, El Chocolate, starts at 16:18 UK time this afternoon. Stages will be live on BT Sport throughout the weekend.

Citroen’s Esapekka Lappi currently leads the rally after last night’s 0.7-mile city centre stage.

Equine flu brings horse racing world to standstill

The British Horseracing Authority has banned all races in the UK after an outbreak of equine influenza.

The ban has effected Musselburgh Races, which was set to host a fixture on Sunday with eight races and a £160,000 prize – the biggest ever prize pot at The Races.

Musselburgh Racecourse general manager, Bill Farnsworth, said:

“We are naturally disappointed at losing our richest jumps racing fixture this weekend (Sunday 10 Feb) but the racing community is working together to minimise the spread of equine influenza and the decision by the BHA to cancel racing is without doubt the correct one.

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The £160,000 prize fixture will not be going ahead on Sunday. (Credit: Ryan Traynor)

“The industry does prepare for scenarios such as these and I am confident that the stringent procedures which are in place across the UK will ensure that racing is back and up running as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Vaccinated horses typically have mild short lasting symptoms, but this new strain is effecting vaccinated animals. The BHA said that the disease was typically not serious:

“Symptoms may include a raised temperature, a cough and nasal discharge. It is highly contagious. Humans are not at risk from the virus, though can spread the virus on clothes and equipment.”

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All the horses are in quarantine and the stables are deserted. (Credit: Ryan Traynor)

“All of the trainers who had runners at the fixtures at Wolverhampton, Ludlow and Ayr this week have been informed that their yards have been placed under a temporary hold which means that they will not be able to make any declarations until their horses have been tested and cleared.”

Symptoms typically take three days to appear which means that the full extent of the problem won’t be known until Sunday.

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The prestigious race course will lose betting revenue because of the cancellation of Sunday’s event. The BHA say they are sympathetic, but must impose the ban. (Credit: Ryan Traynor)

Bill Farnsworth hoped that the disruption to Musselburgh would be minimal:

“A decision will be taken on Monday by the BHA as to when racing will resume, and if our next meeting scheduled for Wednesday (13 Feb) goes ahead as planned, there will be free admission for all.”

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The disease is airborne, but not harmful to humans. (Credit: Ryan Traynor)

The BHA only makes decisions on race horses but encourages all horse owners to seek professional advice and to get their horses vaccinated if they have concerns.

 

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