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.

Circuit rallying comes to Scotland

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Circuit rallying is unique, and visits Scotland this weekend (Photo Credit: Luke Barry)

The Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship is heading to Knockhill Racing Circuit this Sunday for the third round of the 2018/19 season.

The championship is one of the fastest-growing in the country and has witnessed some of the best rallying battles in recent memory in its short three year history. Defending champion Chris West heads Sunday’s entry list in his Peugeot 306 Maxi, with Scottish heroes Alan Kirkaldy, John Marshall and Donnie MacDonald taking the battle to MSN Championship regulars West, John Stone and Tom Blackwood.

Now in its fourth season, the MSN Championship heads to various different race tracks across the UK, in a hybrid format between racing and rallying.

Rallying – where drivers race against the clock to set the quickest possible time – traditionally takes place in forests or on closed public roads whereas racing occurs on race tracks with a bunch of cars battling each other for position.

Circuit rallying mates the two disciplines together. The special stages are all set within the confides of a race track, but it’s a rally so each car sets off at 30 second intervals and races each other on the time-sheets and not the circuit.

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Fair (right) finds circuit rallying more relaxing than stage rallying (Photo Credit: Luke Barry)

This provides a very different viewing spectacle for onlookers and a unique challenge for the competitors. Cameron Fair regularly competes with double Scottish rally champion Jock Armstrong, but is sitting beside Alan Kirkaldy in his Ford Fiesta R5 on Sunday.

“Circuit rallying is quite relaxed for a navigator compared to a circuit event,” Fair said.

“There are no road sections which for me are the most stressful part of a rally. There’s also no route notes, just a map. Spitting out a description of the road to the driver at rally pace can be difficult. The map is more vague so there’s only so much you can tell the driver, and after multiple laps he knows the lay of the land so it’s a good opportunity just to watch the driver do his thing.

“Alan and I are going into the rally looking for a strong result, as Knockhill is a place we both know very well. We’ve finished on the podium in the past so it’d be wrong to say we aren’t looking for another top three this weekend.”

Fair is aware that the competition from the regular championship competitors will be tough, even if he and Kirkaldy have the home advantage.

“Chris West in the 306 is very quick, he drives that car very well.”

“John Stone has a new WRC [Ford] Fiesta which he won with at Rockingham last weekend so he’ll be on the money. There’s also a lot of top Scottish boys that will be there or thereabouts and wanting to make an impact. It’s certainly all to play for!”

Championship co-ordinator Darren Spann is enthusiastic to be heading to Fife for the second year in succession. Hear his thoughts ahead of the event below.

 

 

A full entry list for the Cobble Shop Knockhill Stages can be viewed here, while further information on the event can be found on the circuit’s website.

Scottish Government launches closed road motorsport consultation

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Motorsport events could be held on closed public roads in Scotland (Photo Credit: Luke Barry)

Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government have launched a public consultation on proposals to enable motorsport to be held on closed public roads.

Legislation currently exists in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that allows car clubs and organising teams to run a motorsport event on public roads at the discretion of the sport’s governing body, Motorsport UK.

The same legislation has been stalled in Scotland due to a joint Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) looking into the deaths of spectators on the 2013 Snowman and 2014 Jim Clark rallies.

The legislation allows event organisers to close off sections of road for a period of five hours and also suspend the speed limit on them, meaning they can be driven at competition speed.

A public consultation has now been launched to gauge whether it’s feasible for events of this nature to be held on closed Scottish public roads. The consultation is open until January 28, and can be completed here.

Closed road events have been held in Scotland before, with the Jim Clark Rally in the Scottish Borders running annually since 1997. Following a fatal accident in 2014 however, the event has ceased to run as investigations were launched into the incident. The rally previously held its own unique Act of Parliament but event insurers have been unwilling to support a return under the old legislation.

Tom Purves, the Chairman of Scottish Motor Sports (SMS) is looking forward to events like this returning to Scotland.

“This is an important step on the road back to closed road motorsport in Scotland,”

“It is now vital that the Scottish motorsport community gets behind this consultation and delivers a clear message of support for these proposals, which would allow us not only to revive world-renowned events but also to take different forms of motorsport to new parts of our country.”

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