Yuriy Protasov carries the WRC 2 lead into Rally Mexico but Estonia’s Ott Tänak will start as most people’s favourite for honours.
Tänak returned to the WRC after more than 12 months’ absence with a stunning run to fifth overall in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC at Rally Sweden last month. Now he swaps his RS WRC for an Autotek-run R5 to begin his WRC 2 campaign with the Drive DMACK squad.
Twenty-six-year-old Tänak, who recently became a father, displayed a more mature outlook in Sweden than during a troubled 2012 season at M-Sport. His speed was never in doubt though, and a step back to WRC 2, alongside three World Rally Car outings, might be what he needs to reignite his career.
“As I've never driven an R5 car before, it will take some time in the beginning to get used to it, but the plan is to get up to speed as fast as possible and fight for the top place. We had a really good rally in Sweden, and as I've had a long break without driving it was a bit of a surprise to get back to speed so soon,” said Tänak.
Protasov holds a nine-point lead over Lorenzo Bertelli after winning in Monte-Carlo and finishing fifth in Sweden. A solid result here would ensure he remains out front but he will have to work hard for that.
Last year’s Production Cup champion, Peru’s Nicolas Fuchs, steps up to a Fiesta RRC but the surprise package could be Frenchman Quentin Gilbert. He won the WRC 3 category in Monte-Carlo and Mexico marks the start of his WRC 2 campaign.
He tested his Fiesta R5 on Monday and used the time to work with new co-driver Nicolas Klinger, who replaces regular partner Renaud Jamoul for this event. Jamoul’s wife is having a baby.
“Even if he’s 10,000km away we’ll be thinking of Renaud who’s done so much work to get this programme up and running. I know he’ll be following all our split times. However, I’m very happy to have Nicolas in the seat alongside me. We already know each other as we drove together during a test session two years ago,” said Gilbert.
Bertelli, who finished second behind Protasov in Monte-Carlo, has switched from a Fiesta R5 to a RRC version and he will be joined by fellow Italians Gianluca Linari in a Subaru Impreza WRX and Max Rendina in a Ralliart Italy-run Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Rendina and Linari share the lead of the Production Cup standings but Rendina’s last gravel rally was eight months ago and this is only his second event outside Italy. “Before Monte-Carlo I’d never competed in another country. Only two months later, I find myself in Mexico – quite a change!” he said.
The starters are completed by debutant Augusto Bestard, the Paraguayan also in a Lancer Evo X.