LEÓN (México): The Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul
stormed into a lead of 1.9 seconds after an impressive run through the opening 2.53km Monster
Street Stage of the 15 th Rally Guanajuato México on Thursday evening.
The intricate special wound its way over slippery cobbled streets, around treacherous kerbs and
through narrow silver mining tunnels in the historic city of Guanajuato and preceded a ceremonial
start in front of tens of thousands of enthusiastic fans with the backdrop of the stunning Alhondiga
de Granaditas museum.
The Belgian driver carded a time of 2min 06.7sec and returned to the overnight halt in León ahead
of Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Ott Tänäk, with five-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier in third
place in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC.
Ogier relished the ceremonial start: “It is simply the best ceremonial start of the season. Last year,
it was amazing to be in México City, but we were somehow missing the special atmosphere of
Guanajuato. It’s nice to be back. We also had a tricky stage to drive. It’s always tricky in the narrow
streets, but it was much longer and it was easy to make mistakes. I guess we needed to be a bit
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Kris Meeke won the event last year and held seventh
place after the opening special. Meeke said: “You have to be on your guard on this rally over the
next three days. There are so many obstacles, bridge parapets, rocks on the inside and the outside
and some new tricky parts on stages this year. It’s never dull.”
Finland’s Jari Huttunen spun on a slippery section in the tunnels and dropped 15.6 seconds to
WRC2 rival Pontus Tidemand.
Meeke gave himself a major confidence boost by topping the times in Thursday morning’s 5.31km
Shakedown stage at Llano Grande, near León. Crews were permitted to carry out multiple passes
through the test stage and the Ulsterman clocked the fastest time of 3min 41.0sec on his third run.
WRC series leader Neuville was second, a mere four-tenths of a second behind the C3 WRC, and
Ogier rounded off the top three amongst the 11 World Rally Car drivers.
Elfyn Evans laid down the gauntlet on the first run with a time of 3min 45.9sec and that was
surpassed by Ogier’s second of 3min 44.8sec. But a flying Meeke edged clear of the opposition
with a run of 3min 42.7sec to shave 2.1 seconds off the Frenchman’s temporary advantage.
A cautious, returning Sébastien Loeb was nearly 15 seconds off the pace on his first run but the
nine-time WRC champion was 12 seconds quicker on his second run and slotted into eighth. He
eventually finished in ninth.
Ogier’s third run came within a tenth of a second of Meeke’s quickest time, but the Ulsterman was
not to be denied and he extended his advantage with a flying third run of 3min 41.0sec.
Teemu Suninen’s fourth run moved him into a virtual third with a time of 3min 43.4sec, only for
the Finn to be overtaken soon afterwards by Neuville’s flying third pass of 3min 41.4sec after he
had returned to service to change the settings. Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Ott Tänäk and Jari-Matti
Latvala eventually finished the session in fourth and fifth, but team-mate Esapekka Lappi suffered
broken suspension in the stage.
Friday is the longest day of this year’s event with a total of nine special stages and 155.15
competitive kilometres. The action gets underway with the first of two runs through the Duarte-
Derramadero (26.05km), El Chocolate (31.44km) and Ortega (17.23km) specials and a short blast
along a street stage in León precedes the early afternoon return to the Rally Campus Service Park.
The three demanding gravel specials are repeated in the afternoon, prior to the now customary
two passes along a purpose-built 2.3km spectator stage at the León Autodrome, where cars tackle
numerous jumps, tight turns and water splashes in pairs in front of a large crowd.
Rally Guanajuato México 2018 – positions after SS1:
1. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2min 06.7sec
2. Ott Tänäk (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Toyota Yaris WRC 2min 08.6sec
3. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC 2min 08.7sec
4. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC 2min 09.2sec
5. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC 2min 09.6sec
6. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Anders Jaeger-Synnevaag (NOR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2min 09.9sec
7. Kris Meeke (GBR)/Paul Nagle (IRL) Citroën C3 WRC 2min 10.2sec
8. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Carlos del Barrio (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2min 11.2sec
9. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC 2min 11.3sec
10. Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (FRA) Citroën C3 WRC 2min 11.4sec