- Dani Sordo snatches second place after Kris Meeke puts his C3 WRC on its side
- Škoda Motorsport’s Pontus Tidemand romps home in WRC 2; Greensmith in second
LEÓN (México): Five-time FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier stormed to the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings with an impressive fourth victory in Rally Guanajuato México.
The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team driver and co-driver Julien Ingrassia began the final day with a lead of 35.9 seconds and were even able to conserve their tyres for a final push for additional points on the Power Stage.
Ogier’s 42nd WRC success by the winning margin of 1min 03.6sec was a second for the Ford Fiesta WRC on gravel and, more importantly, marked the first win for the Blue Oval since Estonian Markko Martin won on the event’s debut in the WRC back in 2004 at the wheel of a Ford Focus WRC 03.
Ogier said: “Fantastic. It’s a special place for me every year – seven podiums and four victories. I knew it would be tough. Our chance was small and we never gave up. We progress a lot since last year and the car has progressed on gravel. We are in a good position now for the next rally in Corsica.”
Dani Sordo has a limited programme of events with the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team this season and held the lead at the end of day one. A puncture cost him valuable time on Saturday, but the Spaniard battled back and was rewarded with second overall when Kris Meeke flipped his C3 WRC on to its side on the first stage of the final morning and lost 45 seconds. Despite a flat tyre on the final stage, Sordo beat Meeke by 15.6 seconds.
Meeke, the winner in México last year, now has two unfortunate incidents to his name on the final morning in as many years. The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver was left rueing the hapless error that dropped him to third place after 22 special stages, which were mainly run across the sinuous gravel tracks in the hills around León and Guanajuato.
“I feel a bit stupid to be honest,” said Meeke. “I had the car and the road position to win the rally and I didn’t do the job. I have never been so disappointed with a third place before.”
Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen delivered a consistent performance to claim valuable Manufucturers’ Championship points for fourth overall and claimed one fastest stage time to boot.
Nine-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb thoroughly enjoyed his return to the WRC and led during the morning loop on Saturday until he made the mistake of stopping to change a punctured tyre rather than risk finishing the stage on the flailing rubber. It was a superb return to the series for the winner of 78 WRC events, nonetheless, and proved that the C3 WRC driver still has the pace to match and beat his younger rivals.
“It has been great to be back in the WRC on a nice rally like México,” said the six-time event winner. “I enjoyed the new generation of World Rally Car a lot. It was a good moment when we took the lead and a very bad one when we changed the wheel!”
Thierry Neuville’s goal at the start of the week was to leave México with the championship lead. He arrived in León with a 10-point advantage, but fate dictated that he was forced to open the road on all three days and the job of road sweeper was a costly one. The Belgian brought the third Hyundai to the finish in sixth place and slipped behind Ogier in the championship standings.
It was a difficult event for the Toyota GAZOO Racing World Rally Team. The three Yaris WRCs struggled for the second year with engine temperature issues, but alternator failure meant that Jari-Matti Latvala could only finish eighth overall and a turbo breakage forced Ott Tänäk to miss most of day three. Esapekka Lappi was sidelined after an accident on Friday and returned to finish outside the top 10. Toyota had the consolation of the first and third quickest times on the Power Stage for Tänäk and Latvala.
Nine of the 11 WRC drivers claimed at least one fastest stage time during the event with Ogier and Tänäk topping the list with five apiece.
Pontus Tidemand began the final morning with a WRC 2 category lead of 5min 42.6sec in his Škoda Fabia R5 and maintained his composure to confirm a second successive victory in México and move to the top of the championship standings. The Swede finished seventh overall and his winning margin over England’s Gus Greensmith was 6min 44.6sec. Greensmith’s performance was rewarded with a ninth-placed finish in the overall rankings.
Tidemand said: “It has been a fantastic rally for us. We had a perfect car and the team did a perfect job. A big thanks to the people who helped me and pushed me.”
Chile’s Pedro Heller and Bolivian rookie Marquito Bulacia completed the top four and Heller rounded off the overall top 10.
Great Britain’s Tom Williams enjoyed his first taste of rallying in México in his WRC 3 Ford Fiesta, while Francisco Name led a depleted Mexican contingent in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10.
Sunday – as it happened
Twenty-four of the original 29 starters in the various categories made it to the start of the final day, where overnight leader Ogier was out to defend a 35.9 second advantage over three short special stages and just 46.46 competitive kilometres. Ott Tänäk restarted with a replaced Toyota turbo and local hero Ricardo Trivino was also back in action after missing the afternoon loop of stages on Saturday.
Neuville opened the road for the third successive morning through the 23.32km Alfaro stage, which was made up of sections of Otates that had already been used over the weekend. With no wind, hanging dust was a problem in some parts, but it didn’t affect Neuville, who admitted that he was conserving his tyres for the Power Stage and posted the target time of 5min 51.2sec.
Latvala pushed hard to snatch eighth overall from Greensmith and his attack was rewarded with a first fastest time, but the drama was unfolding at the front of the field. Sordo drove a good stage to snatch the third quickest in a bid to confirm a podium position and he was gifted second overall when Meeke slid wide into a gully and flipped the C3 WRC on to its side with the loss of 35 seconds.
A furious Meeke said: “I went on to some cobbles and the car slid and there was a deep gully and it caught the wheel and it tipped on its side.”
Ogier, like Mikkelsen and Tänäk, drove cautiously to conserve his tyres for the Power Stage and took an overall lead of 48 seconds to the first of the two runs through the 11.07 Las Minas stage.
The stage surface was particularly loose and slippery for the first cars and Mikkelsen slid wide trying to explore his limits for the Power Stage. Tänäk claimed the fastest time, but Sordo admitted he had eased his pace to conserve second place, as the World Rally Cars used the run as a high-speed recce for the points-scoring opportunity to follow.
Ogier took a 55.2 second advantage into the final special, but it was Tidemand who opened proceedings with a time of 6min 56.7sec. Latvala complained vocally about his potential starting position for the final stage, but it was soon forgotten when the determined Finn laid down the early gauntlet with a potent time of 6min 34.4sec. Mikkelsen was a mere 1.6 seconds short and Sordo sustained a rear-right puncture, but confirmed second overall.
Tänäk snatched the five bonus points for the fastest time of 6min 33.1sec after pipping Ogier by four-tenths of a second. Latvala collected three for third and Neuville had to make do with two points for his time of 6min 34.5sec at the end of another thrilling week in México. Ogier was later handed a 10-second penalty for clipping a chicane and lost vauable Power Stage points.
Rally Guanajuato México 2018 – final positions after SS22:
- Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC 3hrs 54min 08.0sec
- Dani Sordo (ESP)/Carlos del Barrio (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3hrs 55min 11.6sec
- Kris Meeke (GBR)/Paul Nagle (IRL) Citroën C3 WRC 3hrs 55min 27.2sec
- Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Anders Jaeger-Synnevaag (NOR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3hrs 55min 46.4sec
- Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (FRA) Citroën C3 WRC 3hrs 56min 32.6sec
- Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 4hrs 03min 11.0sec
- Pontus Tidemand (SWE)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Škoda Fabia R5 4hrs 04min 32.7sec
- Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC 4hrs 09min 45.1sec
- Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Craig Parry (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 4hrs 11min 17.3sec
- Pedro Heller (CHL)/Pablo Olmos (ARG) Ford Fiesta R5 4hrs 18min 26.1sec
SS1 Thierry Neuville
SS2 Kris Meeke
SS3-10 Dani Sordo
SS11-13 Sébastien Loeb
SS14-22 Sébastien Ogier
SS1 Thierry Neuville
SS2 Kris Meeke
SS3 Dani Sordo
SS4 Dani Sordo
SS5 Teemu Suninen
SS6 Kris Meeke
SS7 Sébastien Loeb
SS8 Sébastien Loeb/Ott Tänäk
SS9 Ott Tänäk
SS10 Ott Tänäk/Sébastien Ogier
SS11 Sébastien Loeb
SS12 Kris Meeke
SS13 Sébastien Ogier
SS14 Sébastien Ogier
SS15 Sébastien Ogier
SS16 Sébastien Ogier
SS17 Dani Sordo/Kris Meeke
SS18 Kris Meeke
SS19 Andreas Mikkelsen
SS20 Jari-Matti Latvala
SS21 Ott Tänäk
SS22 Ott Tänäk