LEÓN (MÉXICO): The history and heritage of Rally Guanajuato México began well before it joined the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time in 2004.
Formerly known as Rally America, the event was created way back in 1979 through cooperation between Club Automovilistico Francés de México (CAF) and the Rally Automovil Club (RAC) and ran in the State of México until 1985.
The event was reintroduced in 1991 and followed a route between two of México’s largest volcanoes. After a year’s sabbatical in 1992, a revised rally was organised by Gilles Spitalier and his team in 1993, with victory falling to Giuseppe Spataro and Jean-Noël Valdeliévre in a Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Rally America became an international project in 1996 and the CAF teamed up with promoting partner Rallymex for two years to run an event that was based out of Ensenada, close to the border with the USA. The event was then moved to León in 1998 and a plan was hatched to push for inclusion in the WRC.
At the turn of the century and with interest beginning to rise in seeing North America return to the WRC calendar for the first time since the USA’s Olympus Rally in the late 1980s, the event was under observation by the FIA in 2001-2003 and became known as Corona Rally México. Victories on those three occasions fell to Perú’s Ramon Ferreyros, Finland’s Harri Rovanperä and Argentina’s Marcos Ligato.
The 17th event in 2003 was a major success with the introduction of the Poliforum Expo’s facilities in downtown León, the quality of the compact route and gravel stages and the glamorous start in Guanajuato. This gave rally organisers the lift-off they needed and the event was confirmed for inclusion in the 2004 WRC.
The first event attracted 44 crews, including Juniors, and victory went to Estonia’s Markko Martin and his late British co-driver Michael ‘Beef’ Park in a Ford Focus RS WRC. The Subaru World Rally Team picked up its only Méxican win the following year, courtesy of Norwegian Petter Solberg and his co-driver Philip Mills.
Sébastien Loeb had won the world title with Citroën in 2005 but the Frenchman’s first success in México didn’t come until 2006 and so began a successful partnership with Daniel Elena that saw the duo claim the top step of the podium on six occasions (2006-2008 and 2010-2012). The NACAM Rally Championship had been created in 2008 and the León-based event became an integral part of the calendar for this series as well.
Loeb would have taken six consecutive wins in México had the event not been on a WRC calendar rotation. It was not included in the 2009 WRC calendar. During the gap-year, it ran as the International Rally of Nations and victory fell to the Austrian duo of Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
After being called Rally Guanajuato Bicentenario in 2010 – to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Méxican Revolution and the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence – the event became knows as Rally Guanajuato México from 2011 onwards.
Sébastien Ogier had made his debut as a Junior in México in 2008 and took over the mantle of the man to beat in the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains in 2013 after six years of Loeb dominance with Kronos and then the Citroën Total World Rally Team.
Volkswagen Motorsport had become the emerging force in the WRC and was using its success on the special stages to support its marketing strategy in a vital automotive car sales region. Ogier and Julien Ingrassia claimed a hat-trick of victories from 2013-2015 with a Volkswagen Polo R WRC and flying Finn Jari-Matti Latvala teamed up with Miikka Anttila to add a fourth success for the German team in 2016.
Perhaps the most dramatic of all victories occurred in 2017, when Ulsterman Kris Meeke and Irish co-driver Paul Nagle left the road on the final stage, took a frantic detour through a spectator car park and still managed to reach the top step of the podium in their Citroën C3 WRC.
It was business as usual for the next three years (2018-2020) for Ogier and Ingrassia and the duo claimed their fourth, fifth and sixth successes to match Loeb and Elena.
Win number four came with the M-Sport Ford team in a Fiesta WRC, 2019 success was earned in a Citroën C3 WRC and the sixth success on the Covid-19-shortened 2020 rally was the first for Toyota Gazoo Racing and the Yaris WRC and the first for the brand since Ferreyros’s success in 2001 with a Toyota Celica GT-4.
With the WRC calendar thrown into chaos by global travel restrictions, lockdowns and general uncertainty, the event ran in 2021 and 2022 but was not a round of the WRC.
Under the guise of FIA NACAM Rally Guanajuato, success in 2021 fell to Ricardo Cordero Jnr. and Marco Hernández in a GHR Rally Team Citroën C3 Rally2.
Last year, rally officials decided to kick-start interest with the view to returning to the WRC and used a similar concept to that used in 2009. Rally of Nations Guanajuato 2022 was a big success with Team Norway’s Mads Østberg and Swedish co-driver Johan Johansson claiming the win in a Citroën C3 Rally2.
Positive news received from a FIA World Council meeting in 2022 saw Rally Guanajuato México return as the third round of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.