Viva La Mexico: Getting Filthy At Wrc Leon

Even after I’ve had a week to soak it all in, all I can say is holy *#&^ing $#@*! world-class rallying, is there anything more glorious? As a petrol head, it seems virtually obligatory to be interested in Rally and like many of you, I’ve admired the WRC from the sidelines for some time. While it is slightly embarrassing that it took so long, I’ve finally managed to attend my first WRC event.

To be fair, WRC Leon was an amazing event to cut my teeth on! At the end of 2011 Speedhunters put together a very in-depth survey asking all of you what you liked and didn’t like about the site and car culture. When asked what you wanted to see more of on Speedhunters there was a resounding “RALLY!” that came back time and time again, so it’s with great pleasure that I have been able to contribute to your appetites.

The appeal of Rally is quite obvious – it’s fast, it’s dirty and it’s extremely dangerous. But there is so much more to be appreciated when you go and see it live, and while I use the expression often, I think my mind was honest-to-god-fully-blown in Mexico. This was a weekend that no amount of YouTube clips or spec sheet analyzing could have ever prepared me for.

In fact, I learned so much and saw so many incredible things that trying to even get all the thoughts racing around in my brain out into a post is going to be difficult. I mean really tough, to the extent that I’ve decided to split my coverage into three separate posts starting with a basic overview of the event today.

For starters, the rally is based in a very beautiful part of Mexico, deep in the heart at the very center of the country. This is proper Mexico, not the border towns or tourist trap coastal areas most Americans are familiar with. The race begins in the city of Guanajuato, an amazing mountain town made up of many brightly colored hillside houses.

When night falls it brings with it the largest opening ceremony crowd in all of WRC! Even with a media vest, getting to the driver introductions is borderline impossible without being staged hours before the sun goes down. For the first stage the drivers make their way through the city via an impressive tunnel system and eventually make their way…

To a giant roundabout next to a hillside that must have had at least 20,000 spectators alone. After a cancelled flight and another eight hours of travel followed by an hour drive in extreme traffic, popping out of a Suburban to this was something I’ll never forget! There were people climbing walls, standing on RVs and crawling into abandoned buildings to get a better view. This was a mind altering experience to say the least.

I was shocked to see how strangely European the middle of the city looked. Take this frame for example, if you didn’t know better you might think you were looking at something medieval. What an incredible way to kick off a long three days of racing.

The next morning I woke up before the crack of dawn to head to the first of the gravel stages which take place high in the mountains overlooking the city. Although there would be stages even higher into the hills later in the day, I think this view sums up the region nicely.

This is where WRC Leon really becomes its own, and I was itching to get some brutal shots of cars tearing ass through the stages. When I heard the first car approaching off the in the distance my heart started racing.

The roads up in the hills were equally as breathtaking as the city below. By the time the first cars appeared I had chills running down my spine. This was it, proper rallying at last!

What I didn’t really account for was just how fine and copious the dust from the rooster tails would be. If you were on the outside of a corner, you were going to get trashed – period. In most cases filthy gear was about the least of your worries, when those rocks go flying they have to land somewhere and you’re just hoping it’s not your head!

I had been saving up for a new camera to use specifically for the start of the motorsport season, which for me started here in Leon. By the end of the first stage my brand new body looked like it had been through a decade of shooting. While some people would have probably been quite upset I had a huge grin on my face; this was, after all, what I got it for. The payoff for such abuse is oh-so-sweet.

I decided I wanted to go ahead and get a little closer to the action. I crossed the stage between cars and found a good spot on the inside of a corner where I had seen the cars making pretty aggressive ditch hooks and set up camp. Funny enough, I miscalculated just how close the cars would actually get and ended up with my camera less than a meter (3 feet) off the front bumper! The photo above was shot at 17mm and the whole car would barely fit in the frame!

Before I knew it, the last of the top level WRC cars had made it through and it was time to move on to another stage. Although I knew coming into the event that I would be spending more time in transit between stages than actually shooting, it was still a pretty shocking experience to wait a half hour and shoot a hundred frames then run back to the car.

But I think it’s something I could get used to! It’s certainly a stark contrast from the circuit racing I’ve shot in the past, but completely worth it. In fact, just making it to the stages is a task unto itself, something I’ll discuss more tomorrow. The beautiful and vast changes in scenery definitely make the effort worth while.

Some of the stages were so remote and difficult to get to that we actually missed them altogether, but I suppose that’s just a part of rally.  Fortunately, when you do make it to a stage you’re in for a treat, you just have to be ready to shoot at the blink of an eye.

The end of each day was marked by what the WRC call a Super Special Stage that was held at a local race track, or Autodromo. Obviously this was a very different experience than the wild-west-live-fast-die-probably stages earlier in the day.

Here the cars run a course more similar to what you’d see in Rally Cross, except each car has a separate circuit. It begins and ends with a drag race down the long front straight.

After that each car goes its separate way down a course littered with dirt, jumps and water. From the main grandstands the audience can likely see the entire track, which makes for killer spectating.

There’s one part where the cars will cross in an over-under fashion that will align them to run the opposite circuit for lap two. While most photographers were focusing heavily on the massive jump (for good reason), I found the light on the car running through the tunnel to be exquisite.

Then again, the light pretty much anywhere during sunset was breathtaking. There’s a certain quality to the sun when you’re in the tropics that I can’t quite explain, but it’s magical. I’d kill to do a photoshoot here some day.

With the last stage of the day finished it was time to return to the convention center where the service areas and Parc Ferme await. It was at this exact moment that it dawned on me that WRC cars have to transit on public streets. There’s something completely bonkers about driving through a city then hearing the familiar roar of anti-lag coming down the road! One of these things does not belong.

Back inside the Poliforum the teams were busy prepping the cars for the next long day of torture. I had originally hoped to get up close and personal with some of the cars to bring you guys a joy of machine post, but the strict guidelines and short amount of time the teams have to repair the cars before they’re locked away prevented me from doing so. I will however take a further look into service tomorrow.

When it was time to wake up for day two I thought I was go ing to die. The previous day I suffered from car sickness when we got lost on our way to one of the stages and was stricken with a gnarly headache from the altitude. Some of the stages are above 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) which robs the cars of about 20% of their power…

I think that the same could be said of me. Although I’d consider myself to be in pretty good shape, carrying two cameras and another twenty or so pounds (9kg) of gear up and down the gravel lined hills was pretty taxing. Speedhunters problems I suppose.

At one point we made our way to a hill overlooking a stage with a series of switch back turns. The vantage point for the spectators was amazing as you can see from this crowd-shot image. But once again, if you have a photo vest you might as well get in close…

Which is precisely what I did. One thing I kind of regret is that there wasn’t more time or more cars, and not because I feel like I needed to make better photos. On the contrary, I was so busy shooting the cars that I never really got a chance to just sit back and watch them make a run. It wasn’t until I got home and sat down to review the images that I felt like I had experienced the fury of the cars.

The middle of the second day was punctuated by a “city stage” which was really more like an autocross course setup outside the Poliforum. While it might be a little boring compared to the savage gravel stages, it is a good opportunity for fans to get close to the action without making the ridiculous trek out to the mountains.

The sides of the street funneling the cars into the circuit was lined with people, so I climbed up to the top of the Monster Energy rig in hopes of a better view.

As you can see, the Mexican fans are pretty extreme when it comes to their love of this event; in fact most drivers say that the fans here are their favorite of any rally in the season. They were packed in several rows deep jousting for the opportunity to get a blurry phone pic or a shaky video of their favorite drivers.

Another killer photo-op for fans is waiting for the cars as they leave Parc Ferme in the morning on their way to the first stage. It’s also a good opportunity for you Speedhunters out there to intercept the cars during transit, but I’ll talk about that more later.

The third and final day is a favorite for fans and drivers alike. It all begins with the longest stage of the rally, and one of the longest in all of WRC. The Guanajuato stage is 54.85 km (34.7 miles) of pain for both man and machine.

But the real reason the last day is a fan favorite is because of one jump, or rather the jump: El Brinco, which is of course Spanish for “The Brinco.” All bad jokes aside, when it comes to fans losing their minds, I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed anything quite like this. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen so many machine-gun equipped police at an event either!

With cars reaching distances of over 30 meters (100 feet) it’s completely understandable why people camp out in droves for this section. The amount of air the cars get is almost comical, I still can’t look at this photo without laughing. It literally looks like Mads Ostberg is coming into the atmosphere from outer space.

If my memory serves me correct, I believe this was the longest jump of the day, but my gosh what a mental landing! I’m amazed nothing was broken after this launch, a testament to just how sturdy modern rally cars have become.

Sadly the trek back from the jump was too long to be able to hit the final Super Special so we decided to head straight back to the Poliforum to catch the closing ceremonies. When I arrived I was able to catch a glimpse of the drivers chatting just before heading over to the podium…

Which was already a madhouse. I decided to muscle my way into the photo pit for a minute before deciding that I was totally over getting elbowed for a boring shot and decided to explore and people watch from a different vantage point.

This is the shot I ended up walking away with of the rally winners Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassa. They had an outstanding appearance and have set the tone as the very obvious duo to beat this year.

Hopefully I’ll be able to see them in action at least one more time before the end of the season because I think I’m totally addicted to WRC. I’ve already gone ahead and plugged Rally Finland into my calendar as a must-see event, hopefully I might make it out there and if I do, I hope to see some of you there!

Ironically I wasn’t ever supposed to cover this event, but rather was filling in for our own Larry Chen who had a wedding banquet (of his own, congrats!) to attend. I guess this, like many of life’s best experiences, was one of those happy mistakes that changed my life for the better. Can’t wait to bring you guys more from Mexico so please stay tuned!

More Rally coverage on Speedhunters

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viva mexico, no viva la mexico


Awesome shots Sean!!


@adasdadadad yep, you're totally right. It was another attempt at broken language humor.


Wow, Sean you've delivered the WRC some serious justice with these shots.. great work!  I'm looking forward to your next posts, I'm one of those people that are happy to see more rally coverage on SH.  I'm in the middle of watching the TV coverage, so it's really cool to see your take :D


Your photos are great @sean klingelhoefer You should be really proud of them, especially for your first WRC event.
Its great to see a fresh perspective on the WRC, unlike others that have fallen into the rut of following the sheep to get same cliche shots (like your podium one for eg.) shots over & over. All it takes it to step back and look for a different angle. Like your shots with the tree branches in the foreground.
I for one would like to take that freshness when I shoot events like WTAC in sydney later in the year; Rally Aust & Bahurst, hopefully even alongside Brad or another SH.


this is  "fast and furious" in the real life, thanks for the desktops @sean klingelhoefer , i love 3rd shot from the top on the right side


this is  "fast and furious" in the real life, thanks for the desktops @sean klingelhoefer , i love 3rd shot from the top on the right side


wow really good photos!


Man, the parallels between Score Baja racing and WRC Leon are insane.  So many things are so similar.  I imagine there is much more corporate support at a WRC event though.  
Were there kids running around yelling STEEEKER at the race cars?


You absolutely killed it. Love that shot through the trees!


Holy moley these are some amazing shots.  Kind of makes me wish you had taken pictures when McRae was driving his focus and Solberg was driving his Subaru.  Nice job Sean!


Oh man, and I only just changed my desktop to one of the BMW's at Sebring.
Awesome shots, I think we need more WRC coverage from Sean Klingelhoefer.


I don't know if you like shooting these types of things Sean but you need to shoot more, killed it. People that might not necessarily like WRC would still look at this event coverage, same type of effect Larry's 12 hour Sebring photos have. Yum!


This is such a refreshing take on WRC. I love that you got so close it's hurts, I can feel the dust and grit. You killed it great job.


Those guys have massive balls! Great post Sean!


Exceptional photography, well done!


@speedhunters_dino Thanks Dino!


@EFndbt Really appreciate the kind words, definitely looking forward to my next posts!


@Crossmember Thanks a lot man! I had a really good time and learned quite a bit from this experience so that if/when I make it out to another WRC event in the future I hope to make even more interesting shots. It's humbling to hear the response to these though! I find that anytime you're thrown into a new scenario you're likely to be very inspired and your work will typically show it - I'm sure your WTAC shots will become some of your favorites.


@KeithCharvonia Man I bet SCORE is insane... I really want to do Baja next year. The kids weren't yelling STEEEKER, but we did end up giving some out anyway lol.


@Larry Chen Thanks man, I'm glad you couldn't make it! :P


@Larry Chen Thanks man, I'm glad you couldn't make it! :P On a serious note, I knew I had some pretty big shoes to fill and tried my best to deliver.


@miksfield I would have loved to see those days as well. Perhaps I'll be able to shoot Petter at an FIA RX event some day.


@Brocky_X Sorry for making the desktop decisions so tough! And I totally agree, I think I need to get out to more WRC events as well... hopefully Rod is reading this ;)


@LukeHuxham I love shooting this kind of stuff, it keeps me on my toes and is a nice change of pace from the static work I'm better known for. In fact sometimes I'll go to these things and surprise myself and come back with images I can't believe I made (like this very event). It's really humbling to hear you guys are appreciating them, definitely more inspiration for me to get out there and shooting fast moving objects more!


Thank you kindly, all in a day's work I suppose!


@JDMized Yes, balls indeed, but also massive skill. After this weekend I've become very intrigued in getting to understand the events and drivers / co-drivers better. Really hoping there might be someone out there seeing this that could help connect some of the dots.


@willyra Good to hear you guys are using these desktops!




@sean klingelhoefer @Brocky_X who me?


Can you make the VW or other WRC car as a Car Spotlight? 
I really looking forward for it


So many fantastic shots. Great article and great to see the WRC on Speedhunters. WRC seems to have slipped off most peoples radar the last few years, great to see more general interest for it in 2013. Look forward to more WRC content on Speedhunters, especially with photos of this quality!


Welcome to the Rallye World!And what a great coverage to start with. Congrats!


You missed the fantastic old days of the Escorts, Lancias, Quattros, Evos and Imprezas


This is so good Sean, so so good. Can't wait to see the next part!


@sean klingelhoefer  @JDMized I'm your self proclaimed Rally guru at need mate. Been following WRC for the best part of 20 years. At your service!
Fantastic to get the WRC on Speedhunters!.


Awesome read and pictures, some look quite dangerous, good to see WRC through the fresh perspective of Speedhunters thx.


A ver si ponen más fotos de este tipo y menos concentraciones tuneras!!
NO tunning


Great!! Can't wait for the next two posts!


Bravo! BRAVO!!!


@sean klingelhoefer Let's do it!  I know a few teams we can tag along with.


@sean klingelhoefer Let's do it!  I know a few teams we can tag along with.


excelente articulo!! pero seria viva mexico no viva la mexico...


As a Mexican myself who couldn't attend the rally, I must say......THIS IS THE BEST COVERAGE OF RALLY LEÓN I HAVE READ AND SEEN. EVER. Congratulations on the words but mostly on the photos! You definitely have a future photographing rally man! On the other side, it would be sweet you speedhunters covered more events over here.Cheers,Juan Fco. Castillo  @sean klingelhoefer




@juanfrommexico Wow, that's one of the most positive comments I've ever received! I just thought it was an incredible event and tried my best to do it justice, glad you appreciated the effort! I really hope to return and get a better idea of the true car scene in Mexico one day as well.


@franconttrol Gracias! And the "Viva La Mexico" was a bad gringo joke.


@FredricAasbo you're too kind Fred!


@koko san Well the photo vest they give you literally says "MOTORSPORT IS DANGEROUS!" on it, so you always have that in the back of your mind. But to be honest, I can think of worse ways to go than shooting something I love - definitely better than a slow painful death from cancer or some terminal illness.


@hernandy95 Haha well since I've lived in the Southwest of the US (Arizona and California) for the last 15 years, I'm a little bored of cactus! I suppose that helped me out quite a bit haha.


@PaddyMcGrath Thank you sir, I really hope we can shoot a WRC event together some day!


@tbtstt Thank you man, I hope I'll be able to deliver more!


bravo fotografo! has been a while since i've seen someone take photos of a rally that weren't a simple, dry catalogue of the event. in particular the shot of the citroen through its own dust trail


@Dhikaz I want to do a full feature on one of the cars eventually, I'm currently working on trying to secure a time to shoot one. At the rally itself the cars are guarded very closely which makes it really hard to shoot them.


This is so good. Loved this feature Sean! WRC is awesome. I too must go one day. Can't believe how close you got! Looking forward to your other features


brnstp luukvkaathoven ik vind ze niet zo heel bijzonder eigenlijk…


MartijnGizmo luukvkaathoven niet allemaal idd, maar zitten toch wel een paar imo mooie platen bij…


MartijnGizmo luukvkaathoven staat zeker nog wel op mijn todo list #WRC


brnstp luukvkaathoven vind ik deze gast bijv boeiender:


@sean klingelhoefer  Best photos of WRC I have seen in a long time, the right balance of perspective and detail. It's a hard balance but you nailed it.


@sean klingelhoefer  Best photos of WRC I have seen in a long time, the right balance of perspective and detail. It's a hard balance but you nailed it.


@hernandy95 Se puede pedir mas de lo que a uno le gusta, no hace falta pedir menos de lo que a uno no le gusta, aqui hay para todos los gustos y esta bien asi. tuning se escribe con una n. salud


@hernandy95 Se puede pedir mas de lo que a uno le gusta, no hace falta pedir menos de lo que a uno no le gusta, aqui hay para todos los gustos y esta bien asi. tuning se escribe con una n. salud


@hernandy95 in english: you can ask for more of what you like (rally), no need to ask for less of what you don't like (tuning), on Speedhunters there is coverage to satisfy everybody and it's ok like that. tuning has only 1 n.


@hernandy95 in english: you can ask for more of what you like (rally), no need to ask for less of what you don't like (tuning), on Speedhunters there is coverage to satisfy everybody and it's ok like that. tuning has only 1 n.


Rally + Klingelhoefer = WIN!! Awesome coverage man, I saw the title picture on the home page, saw your name on it and nearly did a little dance haha.


Wow, congrats man! These shots are amazing! I´m well addicted to Rally, as well as many other motorsports disciplines. I perfectly understand you when you say its hard to go up and down with all the gear.. You should Come to Switzerland's Rally! Could be more cool than high moutains and fast cars on them?! ahahah
What an awesome Coverage!


I am from Guanajuato the state not the city. So its great to see some pictures of it. I didn't know there was a race held there. I should try to make a trip next time its there. I drove those roads in a suburban wish i had a rally car.


amazing!! what i think you need sean is a one of those people from golf that carry all the stuff around!! haha
so nice to see a refreshing look at wrc!


Thank you for covering WRC more! It is the best form of motorsports. Great shots all around!


Thank you for covering WRC more! It is the best form of motorsports. Great shots all around!


Very god job Sean, thanks for your story it will be very helpful for me that I'm gonna shoot my first rally next 8th June in Sardegna, Italy.
Hope to meet you there for share a good pizza..