OGIER REMAINS ON TRACK FOR FIFTH VICTORY IN RALLY GUANAJUATO MÉXICO
- Toyota’s Tänak begins to turn the screw on M-Sport Ford’s Evans
- Massive WRC 2 category advantage for local hero Benito Guerra
LEÓN (México): Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia remain firmly on course for a fifth victory in Rally Guanajuato México after another pulsating day’s action over nine special stages on Saturday.
The Citroën C3 crew will take a lead of 27 seconds into the remaining three gravel stages on Sunday, as they bid to reduce Ott Tänak’s early season lead in the Drivers’ Championship. Ogier managed his pace to perfection to stay out of trouble to claim one outright stage win on the day and cement his name at the top of the standings for a second day, despite sliding into the barriers on the first run through the super special at the nearby Autodromo.
Ogier said: “I have been pushing all day, but I did a silly mistake on the first loop (SS16) and maybe lose six or seven seconds. It was very wet compared to the stage yesterday under the braking. I did not expect the low grip and I stop in the tyre wall. We also had a small problem with the centre differential, so I am glad that we had the service at the end of the day. The guys behind are fighting hard so it will be a big battle again tomorrow.”
Tänak began the morning 37.1 seconds behind the defending World Champion and in fourth position, but the Estonian went on a charge in the heat of a Mexican afternoon. After passing team-mate Kris Meeke – when the Ulsterman suffered a puncture and a suspension upright issue – the Toyota Yaris WRC driver began to pressurise Elfyn Evans as the afternoon progressed. The Welshmen held on to his position at the end of the day but a mere 2.2 seconds separate the two heading into Sunday.
“It’s been a very good afternoon,” said Tänak. “Everything is working well, but tomorrow is another day.”
Thierry Neuville admitted that he was struggling to find his rhythm and the confidence to challenge for stage wins in his i20 Coupe WRC, but the Belgian held fourth overall at the night halt, 3min 21.4sec ahead of Kris Meeke who had fallen back from third with that puncture and resultant complications during the morning loop and then slid wide at the Autodromo on SS17 and dropped another 45 seconds and then limped around the final street stage stuck in second gear.
Mexican Benito Guerra delivered a body blow to Bolivian youngster Marco Bulacia’s aspirations of preventing a home WRC 2 victory with several impressive stage performances during the course of the day.
Guerra was 12.5 seconds ahead at the midday break and, despite the Bolivian checking his morning’s loop from the video footage at the lunch halt to try and gain an advantage, the 18-year-old stopped for over three minutes in SS13 and Chile’s Alberto Heller accepted the gift to storm into second place before stopping himself on two occasions in SS14. Guerra returned to León in sixth overall and 3min 33.6sec ahead of Bulacia in WRC 2.
Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala began a charge through the tail-enders as the day progressed in a bid to catch the WRC 2 runners. He held eighth at the end of the day.
Running at the front of the field was always going to be a struggle for both Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo and the Hyundai duo were classified in 10th and 11th at the night halt with Mexico’s Ricardo Triviño running strongly in ninth in his Škoda Fabia R5.
Poland’s Lukasz Pieniazek soldiers on as the lone ranger in the WRC 2 Pro category. He returned to action on Saturday morning after issues on Friday and remains on course for maximum championship points.
Citroen Esapekka Lappi lost fifth place when he left the road in the opening stage of the morning at Guanajuatito and the Yaris spun across part of the track, became wedged on the side of the road and forced rally officials to red flag the special on safety grounds.
Saturday – as it happened
The longest leg of the rally got underway with the 25.90km of the Guanajuatito stage. Of day one’s retirements, only Teemu Suninen failed to rejoin the fray as Mikkelsen was given road-cleaning duties and rally leader Ogier started from ninth on the road in the defence of his 14.8-second lead.
Hanging dust and narrow, deceptive corners made the opener quite difficult and Meeke managed to clock the fastest time of 17min 44.9sec. But the stage was red-flagged after Lappi spun and came to rest across part of the track with the rear of the car balancing off the edge of the stage.
Lady luck was shining on Ogier though, as the Frenchman had sustained a front-right puncture and was going to drop substantial time to his rivals until he was red-flagged at the end of the special. Meeke’s storming time enabled the Ulsterman to displace Ogier and Evans and take the outright lead for the first time.