Mexico, friday: Ogier leads in gripping opener
Elfyn Evans had a strong day to hold second in a Ford Fiesta
SS2: Mikkelsen charges ahead
Andreas Mikkelsen took the lead of Rally Guanajuato Mexico after winning Friday morning’s incident-filled opening speed test.
The Norwegian, lying second after last night’s street stage in Guanajuato, was fastest through El Chocolate by 2.4sec in his Hyundai i20 to lead Sébastien Ogier by 2.9sec.
“It was very hard to know how much to push. If you push too hard you go outside the lines, so I tried to stay in them,” he said.
Ogier was surprised with second fastest. “It felt terrible and I struggled, the grip is very low. I’m not comfortable in the car,” said the Citroën C3 pilot.
Dani Sordo, starting his first rally of the season was third quickest. The Spaniard was two-tenths slower than Ogier to move into third overall, 4.0sec adrift of his i20 team-mate.
Britons Kris Meeke, driving a Toyota Yaris, and Elfyn Evans were next up. Before Evans could say anything at the finish, something inside the car grabbed his attention and the Ford Fiesta driver departed quickly. Both were more than 8sec slower than Mikkelsen.
Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top six, the Finn 16.7sec behind Mikkelsen and his Yaris sporting front left damage. “We hit something. Starting far down the order is cleaner, but the problem is there are more rocks on the road. Everything is okay, no problem with the car,” he explained.
Road opener Ott Tänak endured the worst of the conditions in his Yaris, clearing a line through the slippery gravel to leave more grip for those behind. The Estonian was 21.4sec slower than Mikkelsen in eighth.
Thierry Neuville dropped almost 45sec after driving much of the stage with a rear left puncture. “It happened about 5km in. We nearly went off as I tried to avoid some small stones which Tänak put on the road. We drove over them, we couldn’t avoid them,” he said.
In worse trouble was Teemu Suninen. The Finn’s Fiesta was stopped halfway across the road after going off 13.5km into the test. There was heavy damage to the front right suspension and his day was already over.
SS3-4: Mikkelsen edges Ogier
Andreas Mikkelsen held a slender Rally Guanajuato Mexico lead over world champion Sébastien Ogier following a hot and dusty Friday morning in the mountains near León.
Having won today’s opening El Chocolate speed test in his Hyundai i20, Mikkelsen ended the loop with fastest time on the asphalt special stage surrounding the city’s service park to head Ogier by 1.6sec. Dani Sordo was third as the top three were covered by only 2.7sec.
“It’s the positive start we wanted,” said Mikkelsen. “I put a lot of effort into the opening El Chocolate stage to try to get it really perfect. You can always do better but I had a clean run. I was a little slow in Ortega but only lost a couple of seconds. It’s not a comfortable lead, small but nice.”
Ogier prevented a Mikkelsen clean sweep by going fastest in Ortega in his Citroën C3, but the Frenchman remained surprised.
“It’s been difficult,” he admitted. “From third on the road I benefited from the line created by those in front but I didn’t feel comfortable in the car. I had to fight a lot but it seems it was a good fight!”
In temperatures rapidly climbing towards 30°C, Sordo was only 1.1 adrift of Ogier after posting top three times in all three stages.
Britons Elfyn Evans and Kris Meeke battled for fourth all morning. Evans edged ahead of Meeke’s Toyota Yaris in Ortega and claimed another few tenths in the León stage to enter service with a 1.5sec advantage in his Ford Fiesta.
Meeke was happy with his Yaris gravel debut, despite being distracted by dust in the car in the opener.
Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top six in another Yaris, the Finn 3.4sec clear of a disappointed Esapekka Lappi, who admitted to losing vital seconds after sliding wide on several occasions in his C3.
Championship leader Ott Tänak was eighth in a Yaris, the Estonian resigned to his fate as road opener. He was almost 30sec adrift of Mikkelsen, having yielded vital seconds sweeping the loose gravel to create a cleaner line and more grip for those starting behind.
Thierry Neuville was ninth following a slow puncture in the opening El Chocolate test, with WRC 2 leader Marco Bulacia completing the leaderboard.
SS5: Ogier grabs lead
Sébastien Ogier took the lead of Rally Guanajuato Mexico when Andreas Mikkelsen retired in Friday afternoon’s opening speed test.
Daylong leader Mikkelsen parked his Hyundai i20 with 6km remaining of the repeat pass through El Chocolate. The cause is not yet known, but the Norwegian had earlier dropped almost 90sec when he stopped shortly before the 14km point.
Ogier was fastest, but only by 0.8sec from Dani Sordo, who was just 1.9sec adrift in the overall standings in his i20.
“I think the grip is a little bit better than this morning and the feeling is better in the car,” said Ogier.
Elfyn Evans climbed into third place, third fastest time for the Ford Fiesta pilot increasing his advantage over Kris Meeke’s Toyota Yaris to 7.1sec.
Behind Meeke, Esapekka Lappi and Jari-Matti Latvala swapped positions. Fourth fastest for Lappi was sufficient for the Finn to demote his fellow countryman by 1.2sec.
There was no real respite for championship leader Ott Tänak, who continued to lose time by cleaning the roads from first in the start order. The Estonian was eighth quickest in his Yaris.
“It’s hard say how much cleaner the road is. In some places there are good lines, but in some slow sections it was like it had never been driven before. I did all I could,” he said.
After SS9: Ogier leads in gripping opener
Sébastien Ogier kept cool in the sweltering heat to lead Rally Guanajuato Mexico after Friday’s incident-filled opening leg.
The world champion headed Elfyn Evans by 14.8sec after a tough day of dirt road action in the mountains near León sidelined closest rivals and Hyundai i20 team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo.
Two morning speed test wins earned Mikkelsen a slender 1.6sec advantage over Ogier at the midpoint. The Norwegian’s efforts proved in vain when he retired near the finish of the afternoon’s repeated El Chocolate test with broken suspension after hitting a stone.
His demise left Sordo less than two seconds adrift of Ogier’s Citroën C3. The Spaniard, driving his first rally of the season, was powerless to challenge Ogier when he stopped on a liaison section after the following special stage with a suspected electrical problem.
Temperatures which topped 31°C and altitudes of more than 2750 metres ensured a trying day for crews and hard-working engines and transmissions, but Ogier’s problems were restricted to a puncture.
“It’s been an almost perfect day but it wasn’t easy. Starting third on the road wasn’t ideal and the grip was very low in the first pass. We can benefit from the best start position tomorrow, but we’ll have to stay out of trouble as well,” he said.
Evans’ Ford Fiesta ran hot all day but he had the better of a battle with fellow Briton Kris Meeke, edging clear to end with a 6.3sec advantage.
Meeke was hampered by dust inside his Toyota Yaris but headed championship leader Ott Tänak by 16.0sec. The Estonian overhauled Esapekka Lappi in the final pair of tests at León’s motor racing circuit to claim fourth, a position he could barely have dreamed of.
As road opener, Tänak swept loose gravel from the surface, leaving more grip and a faster line for those starting behind. He lost time in virtually every test, but two stage wins and the high rate of attrition helped him climb the order.
Lappi was disappointed by his pace and lost time with a spin to drop behind Yaris team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. It proved academic when Latvala retired from fourth before the circuit tests with alternator failure.
An unwell Thierry Neuville was sixth in the sole-surviving i20. He dropped nearly 45sec with an early puncture and second in the start order offered conditions only marginally better than Tänak. The Belgian cut a desolate figure at the end of the leg.
Today’s other major retirement was Teemu Suninen, who ripped the front right corner off his Fiesta after crashing this morning.
WRC 2 leader Marco Bulacia was seventh ahead of support category challengers Benito Guerra and Alberto Heller. Local driver Ricardo Trivino completed the top 10.
Saturday’s leg is the longest of the event. Two identical loops of three tough gravel stages in the mountains north and east of León are followed by re-runs of today’s motor racing circuit and city street tests. The nine stages cover 138.37km.
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