SWRC preview: Rally Mexico
Opening round of the season
The second Super 2000 World Rally Championship season kicks off on Rally Guanajuato Mexico later this week with a five-car entry packed with pace and potential set to take part.
A total of eight drivers have currently signed up to contest the WRC’s fastest support championship for normally aspirated two-litre machines, which was won in its inaugural season by Xevi Pons in a Ford Fiesta S2000.
With the deadline for entries not expiring until 14 March, it’s possible that other competitors could yet register, although Pons is set to focus on a Spanish championship assault in 2011 rather than a SWRC title defence.
Crews must contest seven of the eight SWRC events scheduled for this year with Nasser Al-Attiyah, Juho Hanninen, Karl Kruuda, Martin Prokop and Ott Tanak all electing to start their bids to become the second SWRC champion in Mexico.
Young stars Eyvind Brynildsen, Hermann Gassner Jr and Bernardo Sousa will compete from the Jordan Rally in April onwards.
Nasser Al-Attiyah, who took part in the inaugural series in 2011, returns to the SWRC in a Barwa World Rally Team Fiesta alongside Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini. The Qatari arrives in Mexico on the back of winning the Dakar Rally cross-country event in South America at the start of the year. He also took victory on his home round of the Middle East Rally Championship, the Qatari International Rally, in early February. Al-Attiyah has previous experience of competing in Mexico to call upon and is a favourite for the title.
Juho Hanninen won the SWRC division on Neste Oil Rally Finland last July after being handed a wildcard entry for a one-off appearance in the series. Co-driven by fellow Finn Mikko Markkula, Hanninen is the reigning Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion and will join Gassner Jr in the two-car Red Bull Skoda operation run by the respected Austrian Raimund Baumschlager.
Unlike Al-Attiyah, Hanninen has never competed in Mexico before but he has a proven record on gravel events. His factory-assisted Fabia S2000 will feature uprated suspension and differentials, which he tested for the first time in Italy two weeks ago and which could hand him an edge on the Leon-based rally.
Rising prospect Karl Kruuda graduates to the SWRC from the Junior World Rally Championship. The Estonian teenager will drive a Skoda Fabia for the Czech JM Racing operation.
Countryman Ott Tanak is also new to the SWRC for 2011 after impressing in the Production Car World Rally Championship last term when he was part of the Pirelli Star Driver programme. A protégé of former Rally Mexico winner Markko Martin, Tanak will drive a Fiesta S2000 and is highly rated.
Martin Prokop completes the SWRC runners in Mexico in his Czech Ford National Team Fiesta. The Czech finished third in the 2010 standings. Although he challenged for the title up until the penultimate round in France, he failed to claim a class win last season, something the former Junior world champion will be determined to do this year with co-driver Jan Tomanek by his side.
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