Friday wrap: Loeb heads Mexican thriller
Citroen star one of four drivers to have led WRC qualifier
With two runs of the superspecial at Leon’s race circuit remaining prior to the completion of day one of Rally Guanajuato Mexico, the overall classification has a familiar look to it with Sebastien Loeb leading in a factory Citroen.
Loeb hasn’t been beaten on the high-altitude Mexican stages since 2006 and his advantage of 5.3s over Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen means that he’s on course for yet more glory on the Leon-based contest.
However, the French ace admits it’s way too early to begin celebrating victory on round three of the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia, particularly following a dramatic opening day in Mexico when a number of key rivals lost ground.
“It’s still very close and Mikko is pushing a lot,” said Loeb. “Jari-Matti [Latvala] is also quick too so we cannot relax. There is still a long way to go.”
Latvala was in the lead starting stage five but slipped back when he broke his Ford Fiesta’s front left suspension arm striking a rock 12 kilometres into the 23.69-kilometre Ortega run.
“It happened at a sixth gear, blind left curve over a crest,” said Latvala, who continues to close on the impressive Mads Ostberg in the battle for third. “I saw a rock, I was in sixth gear and there was no chance to avoid it.”
Despite languishing in fourth overall and being more than 1m20s off the lead prior to stage 11, Latvala remains a huge threat if his pace on Friday afternoon is anything to go by. “We had a bad morning so I’ve had to attack in the afternoon,” he said after landing a succession of stage wins.
Latvala’s Ford team-mate Petter Solberg has also been in trouble today. The overnight leader slipped out of contention with a spate of punctures. He’s currently in fifth with M-Sport team-mates and rising stars Ott Tanak and Evgeny Novikov sixth and seventh respectively.
Chris Atkinson is eighth on his return to the world championship for the first time since February 2009 but the Australian said he was “annoyed” that he wasn’t challenging higher up the order following a puncture. “I’m obviously not happy but tomorrow’s another day,” said the Monster Fiesta driver.
Nasser Al-Attiyah is ninth in his Qatar World Rally Team Citroen with Armindo Araujo 10th for WRC MINI Team Portugal.
Ken Block was on the cusp of the top 10 when a disastrous fifth stage hit his chances. With his tyres badly worn and grip levels in short supply, Block went off into a ditch, punctured a tyre and broke a driveshaft on his Monster Fiesta. Fearing that he might delay his pursuing team-mate Atkinson, Block pulled over and waited for a few moments to pass only to discover that Atkinson was going slow with a puncture.
Thierry Neuville was in contention for a podium only for a mistake on stage six to force his retirement when he tore a wheel off his Citroen striking a roadside kerb. Paulo Nobre, in the second WRC MINI Team Portugal entry, is also out after rolling on stage five. Both drivers are set to return under Rally 2 restart rules on Saturday.
Kevin Abbring was the leading Volkswagen Motorsport driver after five stages but a fuel-related issue meant he was unable to reach midday service. Team-mate Sebastien Ogier is currently 11th overall with leading Mexican driver Benito Guerra 12th and top Production Car World Rally Championship competitor.
Standings after SS12:
|01||S. LOEB / D. ELENA||Citroën DS3 WRC||1h24m46.4s|
|02||M. HIRVONEN / J. LEHTINEN||Citroën DS3 WRC||+11.2s|
|03||M. ØSTBERG / J. ANDERSSON||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+1m11.9s|
|04||J. LATVALA / M. ANTTILA||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+1m27.9s|
|05||P. SOLBERG / C. PATTERSON||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+1m35.4s|
|06||O. TÄNAK / K. SIKK||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+1m36.7s|
|07||E. NOVIKOV / D. GIRAUDET||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+2m02.0s|
|08||C. ATKINSON / S. PRÉVOT||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+2m33.7s|
|09||N. AL ATTIYAH / G. BERNACCHINI||Citroën DS3 WRC||+2m48.6s|
|10||A. ARAÚJO / M. RAMALHO||MINI WRC||+3m30.2s|
|11||S. OGIER / J. INGRASSIA||Skoda Fabia S2000||+4m15.2s|
|12||B. GUERRA / B. ROZADA||MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo X||+7m15.6s|
|13||R. TRIVINO / A. HARO||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+7m35.3s|
|14||M. KOSCIUSZKO / M. SZCZEPANIAK||MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo X||+7m48.2s|
|15||K. BLOCK / A. GELSOMINO||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+7m54.4s|
|16||N. FUCHS / F. MUSSANO||MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo X||+7m57.1s|
|17||G. LINARI / N. ARENA||SUBARU Impreza||+13m54.9s|
|18||R. SALGADO / D. SALGADO||MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo IX||+16m17.1s|
|19||C. IZQUIERDO / G. IZQUIERDO||MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo IX||+17m32.9s|
|20||I. DE IZAURIETA / M. PIMENTEL||MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo IX||+17m42.1s|
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