Rally Mexico, friday: Ogier extends Mexico advantage

Neuville’s title hopes took a hit

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By www.wrc.com

14 March 2020 - 06:43
Rally Mexico, friday: Ogier extends (...)

Morning: Ogier opens up early lead in Mexico

Sébastien Ogier rocketed into the lead of Rally Guanajuato México with a committed drive on Friday morning’s challenging gravel stages.

Sébastien Ogier rocketed into the lead of Rally Guanajuato México with a committed drive on Friday morning’s challenging gravel stages.

The Toyota Yaris pilot inherited the top spot after setting the fastest time through the 17.24km Ortega speed test and was able to maintain his position amongst stiff competition. He arrived at the mid-leg service in Leon with a 9.7sec lead over M-Sport Ford driver Teemu Suninen.

“So far, so good. It’s never easy here as there are always rocks everywhere. It’s difficult as the grip is very low and there are things that we can still improve on,” said Ogier.

Ott Tänak had briefly led the rally thanks to a gutsy charge through the opening El Chocolate stage. However, his luck came undone when his Hyundai i20 picked up damage to the rear-right corner in the following test. The Estonian forfeited 45.9sec to the leaders and he ended the morning loop in seventh.

Thierry Neuville was third in another i20. Despite pushing hard, he was unable to match the top times and complained of a lack of grip in the sizzling hot conditions. He trailed Ogier by 10.7sec at service.

Esapekka Lappi was another driver to lament the grip levels on Friday morning. Despite the tricky conditions, the Fiesta man was just 16.6sec adrift of the lead and poised to mount an attack during the afternoon loop. Elfyn Evans rounded out the top-five, just 2.5sec further back from Lappi.

Dani Sordo was unfortunate to hit trouble on the very first stage of the day when a radiator pipe came loose on his i20. He and co-driver Carlos del Barrio lost over five-minutes as they stopped to rectify the problem. Kalle Rovanperä also had his fair share of drama, and was lucky to hold sixth despite a front-left puncture on his Yaris.

Skoda Fabia driver Pontus Tidemand held a commanding 23.4sec lead over Nikolay Gryazin in WRC 2 after the first loop, whilst Ole Christian Veiby hemorrhaged time with brake issues on his i20 Rally 2 car. Bolivian youngster Marco Bulacia Wilkinson led the way in WRC 3.

Ogier extends Mexico advantage

Flying Frenchman Sébastien Ogier edged closer towards a sixth Rally Guanajuato México victory after building up an encouraging lead on Friday.

In sizzling hot conditions, the Toyota Yaris man avoided the drama of those around him to end the first full day’s competition with a 13.2sec lead over M-Sport Ford pilot Teemu Suninen. Elfyn Evans was third, snatching the position from Ott Tänak in the final Street Stage León blast.

Ogier grabbed the early lead from Tänak on Friday’s opening El Chocolate speed test and led for the remainder of the day, capitalising on an uncharacteristic mistake which saw the Estonian forced to nurse his Hyundai i20 to the end of the stage with rear suspension damage.

"I am happy with the day - of course being in the lead is always good. I knew that being third on the road would give us a chance to make good time. I think we have all had challenges today, like slippery roads and a lot of rocks to avoid, so it’s never easy to drive here but I enjoyed it. Day one is done now, but there is a long way to go and at least we have the best road position," the overnight leader told WRC All Live.

Suninen’s strong performance on the tricky Mexican roads was overshadowed by the gut-wrenching retirement of his teammate Esapekka Lappi, whose Ford Fiesta became engulfed in flames immediately after the re-run of El Chocolate. Despite the best efforts of fire teams, the car completely burned out.

“On the stop line, Janne opened the door and said the car is burning. I didn’t realise how big the fire was, so I tried to drive. Luckily we are fine, but I don’t know what caused it. We were fine on the stage," Lappi explained shortly afterwards.

Championship leader Evans ended the leg with third in a Yaris. Running first on the road, the Welshman struggled with low grip levels and rounded out the day 33.2sec back from the rally lead.

Despite dropping over 40-seconds to the leaders during the day’s opener, Tänak showed true determination to climb back up the leaderboard. A daring drive through the Las Minas 2 speed test saw the i20 driver climb four places within one stage. Just 0.2sec separated him and Evans at close of play.

Tänak’s return to the sharp end of the timesheets was partly due to the demise of teammate Thierry Neuville. The Belgian had been battling in the top three when his i20 ground to a halt with electrical gremlins. Dani Sordo’s similar car also succumbed to a technical maladies, making it a day to forget for the Germany-based team.

Kalle Rovanperä was fifth after a challenging day. He overcame a slow puncture on Friday morning to lie just 2.3sec further back from Tänak. Gus Greensmith steered clear of trouble to round out the top six in his Fiesta. As the crews returned to the León service park, he trailed Rovanperä by 41.1sec.

WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand held seventh place at the wheel of a Skoda Fabia, 51.1sec ahead of Russian rival Nikolay Gryazin in an i20. Marco Bulacia was ninth, rounding out the day’s action with a commanding WRC 3 lead in his Citroën C3, whilst Emilio Fernández completed the leaderboard 2min45.5sec further back.

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