Everybody loves Rally Mexico because its a rally of highs and even more highs. Theres the high altitude, theres the high temperatures, theres the high speed and then theres also some of the highest jumps. In true Mexican fiesta style, the organisers place great emphasis on the spectator experience. The route is very compact for WRC standards and the spectator access is generally very good, offering a wide choice of viewing potential. All the main access roads can be driven in a normal road car, meaning that it is not necessary to hire a 4×4 vehicle.
For the first time in the rallys history the event will visit the capital city of Mexico DF for the ceremonial start and opening super special stage. This street stage will have a dramatic backdrop as it is being held in Zocalo, Mexico Citys main square, which was used for filming the opening sequence of the last James Bond movie Spectre.
Rally Mexico is also a tale of two cities: León and Guanajuato. The Service Park and colourful ceremonial podium finish are both based in the thriving city of León, famous for being a world centre of the shoe industry. Much of the Day 1 action is centred around Guanajuato, a historic and picturesque town now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There is plenty of accommodation available in either León or Guanajuato, with most regular rally people opting to stay in one of the many hotels in León. Mexicans love their food and in León you are spoilt for choice. La Estancia, an Argentinian steakhouse, is the most popular venue for the WRC drivers and media, however for something more local there are several traditional Mexican restaurants near the big hotels on the main boulevard through town.
The best advice for overseas visitors to Rally Mexico, particularly those from the northern hemisphere, is to put the winter months behind you, pack your shorts and sun-cream, and get ready to party.
Shakedown: Llano Grande, Near León 5.31km
The road used for the shakedown stage comprises of a fast circular loop, which starts and finishes in more or less the same location. The best viewing spots are to be found along the first kilometre of the stage, where the cars plunge downhill towards a small river crossing. After watching a few cars you can then walk back to the start area where you will see the top WRC drivers doing their final preparations ready to re-start the stage. If they are in a relaxed mood they may well be happy to sign autographs and pose for selfies.
SS1: Street Stage CDMX 1.71km
This is a brand new start for Rally Mexico and the first occasion on which the WRC visits the capital city. The stage will be based in the citys main square of Zocalo. Before that gets underway there is first the best ceremonial start in the whole WRC to enjoy. For over two hours before the stage the atmosphere will build up with a Mexican fiesta of entertainment, including dancing in traditional costume, gauchos demonstrating rope skills, clowns clowning and of course some mariachi bands performing classic Mexican style music. Straight after all the ceremony the competitors drive down the start ramp more-or-less straight into the stage start.
SS2/4: El Chocolate 54.9km
What a way to start the proper action, with a mammoth 54.9km test. The first section from 0.5km – 2.0km is a great area to watch on this stage, with easy access close to the start. Here the landscape is completely open and on a clear day you can see for miles. However beware; the road is very dusty. At 0.6km there is a left hand junction where the road access comes in, after this corner the cars blast uphill through a series of wide hairpins. The views from higher up on the hillside are amazing and offer a great place to watch the action.
Seasoned hardcore rally fans may wish to venture further and lock themselves into the stage at 40.5km. At this location there is a high-speed river crossing, which can look dramatic for photographers. Usually there is also some deep water to be found at 33.9km.
SS3/5: Las Minas 19.68km
In Spanish Las Minas means the mines and one of the fascinations of this stage is that it passes through some old silver mines. As a stage Las Minas has everything except good access roads for spectating. There are tight twisty sections in a forest, then the road widens over a top-speed section, some uphill climbs, downhill descents and a huge jump. If you are going to Las Minas the best plan is to drive into the stage early before the road closure time and park up in the vast open area at 8km. Here you will see the cars in action for over a kilometre. Alternatively if you continue to 10.3km you can easily park off the stage and you will see one of the biggest jumps in the entire WRC championship.
SS6: Street Stage Guanajuato 1.09km
One of the highlights of the rally is the night stage through the streets and tunnels of Guanajuato. Its a wonderful atmosphere which all first-timers to Rally Mexico should go and see and there is a great viewing spot for the action close to the finish. Here the cars must do a full 360° loop around a wide roundabout in front of a massive cheering crowd.
SS7/8/15/16: Autodromo de León 2.3km
This short super special stage is a run on a small asphalt racetrack close to León where the cars race against each other two at a time. You can see most of the track from the various vantage points around the circuit exterior. One main highlight is the jump on top of the crossover bridge.
Food and drink:
After the stage finishes the fiesta continues with many parties in the town centres numerous bars. Guanajuato is well served by hotels and restaurants, catering for all budgets, with La Trattoria de Elena, being a McKlein favourite. A trip to Guanajuato would not be complete without a stop at one of the cafés or bars surrounding the picturesque square beside the magnificent Teatro Juarez (Theater).
SS9/12: Media Luna 27.42km
There is one spectator location on Media Luna which stands head and shoulders above the rest. The section from 13-16km into the stage is a very fast wide road in completely open countryside with stunning long views. You can gain access to this area following a gravel road from the west. When you reach the stage you park in the fields and walk to your chosen spot. First there are two jumps, the one is flat out over a cattle grid and then the second is a couple of hundred metres further, beside some curios giant wigwams. This one is a man-made ramp and the cars do fly here in spectacular fashion. From the second jump there are a series of corners downhill before the stage begins to climb again.
SS10/13: Lajas de Oro 38.31km
Lajas de Oro is a new name for a stage that uses a combination of old Rally Mexico roads. The stage climbs north uphill for 12km, then runs up and down a mountain pass before descending in a southerly direction to the finish. Traditionally this is not a great stage for spectating. For something different you could drive into the stage to around 3.8km. At this point there are a series of consecutive uphill hairpin bends, which presents the opportunity to see the cars in action up close, for a relatively long time. Car parking off the stage is possible 200 metres after the last right hand hairpin.
SS11/14: El Brinco 10.11km
If there is one single location which captures the full atmosphere of Rally Mexico then it must be the jump at the end of the El Brinco stage. This is a stage-side party for the fans who have great views of the cars flying over a (now famous) compression and bump. For a complete overview you can climb up the hillside and find a spot in between the cactus plants. To experience the raucous atmosphere best then one must find a spot closer to the stage, where fans are often seen signing and dancing whilst the stage is running. Access to the El Brinco jump could not be any easier and the parking is very well organised by local farmers. You will find all sorts of street food available as you walk in from the car park, so why not treat yourself to a pre-stage taco? El Brinco has everything to stimulate the senses: feeling, sights, sounds, smell and flavours, its a quintessential experience.
SS17: Street Stage Feria de León 1.33km
This is just a short blast on the asphalt roads around the Leóns Poliforum service park. There is not that much to see as it is quite dark and much of the track is lined with metal fencing.
The final day of Rally Mexico is a relatively short one on the stages but a big one for the podium ceremony in León.
SS18: La Calera 32.96km
The first 7.5km of this stage are identical to those of SS11/14 Lajas de Oro, with the same opportunities for viewing as before.
If you go to the end of this stage you will have an interesting Mexican experience. You pass through a traditional old mountain village called Nuevo Valle de Moreno, onto a cobble stone road. Drive on the cobbles to the stage finish, park up and if you walk in for 2.6km you will come to a really big jump which the drivers take flat out in sixth gear.
SS19: Derramadero 21.94km
Derramadero is the Power Stage for Rally Mexico and what a stage it is. Its predominantly downhill and mega fast, ending at the famous El Brinco jump. The access is fairly limited because if you do go to spectate on this stage you ideally need to find a location from which you can leave quickly in order to get to the fantastic ceremonial podium finish in León.