Standing waiting for rally cars at the side of the road, a mental picture is inevitably built in anticipation of what's to come. Invariably, perception is short of reality. But not normally by this much.
Surrounded by 10,000 Corona-fuelled Mexicans, the expectation rose as we waited alongside a jump near the end of the stage. The approach was quick, downhill. The jump was followed by a short straight before a long medium left.
Not entirely sure what led the cars to the crest before this section, I had no idea of the speed they would be doing when they came into view. But, with a 150-metre straight after the crest, I was sure they'd be shifting when they took to the skies.
Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena en route to winning Rally Mexico © LAT
The C4 WRC looked perfect on the road, flat out. It was doing what it was meant to and, despite the initial sensory assault, it kind of made sense. And then at the final possible moment, Solberg braked for the jump.
That curious synergy which car had created with that stretch of Mexican gravel was shot in a nanosecond. The car locked up, the nose diving as it squirmed in an effort to shed some speed.
But, just as take off was imminent, Solberg got back on the throttle to level the car. And then it flew. And flew.
The Norwegian's car control was immense as it landed with a wiggle at speeds still way beyond anything we could legally pull on the M40. Just as we were beginning to come to terms with that, Sebastien Ogier arrived. He jumped straighter, but not quite as far. And then Sebastien Loeb, who was the first of the drivers to keep the throttle wide open as he flew, replacing the crashing noise of gravel on the underside of the car with a pap-pap-pap-pap-pap-pap as his C4 hit the rev limiter.
On an event where he struggled to find form and speed to match the Citroens, Mikko Hirvonen can take solace from the fact that he was comfortably the most impressive before us. The Finn barely bothered with the brake before launching his Ford, landing a good five metres further than anybody.
His ballistic approach had left less time to set the car up for the left-hander, so Hirvonen just nibbled more of the ditch on the inside to hook the car through.
It was an unforgettable moment for me.
Anything but for the drivers as, to a man, they struggled to remember the section I was describing to them at the following service.
The heroics which regularly leave us agog are the very reason they do what they do.
And in Mexico, Loeb did it better than anybody else. The Frenchman's fourth consecutive Rally Mexico win was a sobering reminder that, despite Hirvonen's magnificent round one win in Sweden, the six-time champion's rapacious appetite for rally wins remains.
While much was made of Loeb's 55th win, more words were probably written about Ford's inability to provide any meaningful resistance to a French onslaught which secured every step of the podium for Citroen. It certainly was odd to see all of the Focus RS WRCs being so comprehensively outdone, even taking into consideration Hirvonen's position of first on the road on Friday.
Mikko Hirvonen © LAT
"Last time, the suspension was not right on our car, but we still won," said Loeb, before adding, "They've [Ford] never been very good in Mexico. But they will be back for the next round."
The high altitude stages last week certainly bring a new set of demands on World Rally Cars. Short of air as they compete at 2,000-plus metres, the cars are shorn of up to 50bhp. Quite how they cope with that loss of invaluable grunt is dependent on the specification of engine and the gearbox controlling the deployment of that power to the wheels.
Citroen's six speed gearbox seems to give the C4 more capability to deal with the conditions, while the Ford drivers found anything approaching a sweet spot from their engines hard to come by as with one less ratio at their disposal.
Whatever the reason, Hirvonen and his mates are ready to set the record straight next time out in Jordan. Hirvonen had been pretty down for most of the weekend and it was only the question of Jordan that returned the grin to his face.
"I want to start Jordan now," he said.
Hirvonen will, however, well remember the devastating pace Loeb unearthed on Saturday morning in the Middle East last time we were there. It was only a bizarre road accident with his fellow Citroen driver Conrad Rautenbach that halted what would almost certainly have been another big win for the Frenchman.
Lightening rarely strikes twice, so Hirvonen and Ford will have to be ready to contain Loeb's pace on the baking banks of the Dead Sea.
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