Youth to the fore

Teenage stars of the future Kalle Rovanperä and Marquito Bulacia face off against each other for the first time in WRC 2 at Rally Guanajuato Mexico (8 - 11 March) this week.

The season’s opening dirt road encounter marks a big step for the 17-year-olds. It is Rovanperä’s first WRC 2 outing as a nominated Skoda Motorsport driver and a world championship debut for Bolivian Bulacia, who is four days older.

Finn Rovanperä, whose father Harri won Rally Mexico 16 years ago, has already made his mark in the category. He won last season’s final round in Australia before signing up for a full campaign with the Czech manufacturer in a Fabia R5.

By contrast, Bulacia admits his first WRC 2 steps in a Ford Fiesta R5 will be tentative.

“In my country there were no R5 cars in competition last year, so I had to look outside for experience,” he explained.

“We competed in Italy with the Fiesta and secured two podiums, but out of all the drivers in Mexico I will have the least amount of experience and will need the necessary kilometres to know what level we can be on.”

Marquito Bulacia makes his WRC debut

Both must look out for reigning champion Pontus Tidemand, team-mate to Rovanperä, who won in Mexico 12 months ago. The Swede is fourth in the points after finishing second in Sweden last month and could vault into the lead as those above him are absent.

“This is a rally that has everything, fast sections, narrow and technical hairpins and corners. The climb up the mountains is rough on the engines and if you make a mistake you quickly notice it costs more than usual,” he said of the high-altitude event.

Another likely frontrunner is Jari Huttunen, who drives an i20 R5 under Hyundai Motorsport’s driver development scheme. Despite losing four minutes buried in a Swedish snowbank, the Finn finished sixth on his team debut there.

Local hero Benito Guerra’s hopes of a strong start to his season went up in flames during a test on Monday. He had completed several runs of the stage in his Fabia R5, noticing a burning smell during the last one. When he returned to the service area it caught fire and was destroyed. Guerra has no replacement. Watch here.

Spain’s Nil Solans starts his first prize drive in a Fiesta R5 after winning the Junior WRC last year while Chile’s Pedro Heller and Briton Gus Greensmith have their sights set on a podium in similar cars. Russia’s Radik Shaymiev completes the entries.

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