LEÓN (MÉXICO): Sébastien Ogier knows how to win in México and the eight-time FIA World Rally Champion is firmly on course for a record-breaking seventh win on Rally Guanajuato México after managing his pace to perfection to lead the event by 35.8 seconds after 19 timed special stages.
The Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 driver and co-driver Vincent Landais won only two specials during the course of a disjointed day held in the heat and dust on the event’s notorious gravel speed tests. But the Frenchman’s race strategy changed when overnight leader Esapekka Lappi crashed 10.1km into the first stage of the morning.
The Hyundai driver’s thrilling duel with Ogier came to a spectacular halt when the Finn misjudged a tricky corner at speed, spun and clouted an electricity pylon. Damage to the rear of the i20 N Rally1 was extensive and the Finn’s brave challenge for a second career WRC win was ruined.
Lappi said: “I was a bit caught out. Let’s say a right with a cut and it went straight into a ‘left over crest right’. I stayed out with this cut and I was delayed on the entry to the left. We went wide and hit the bank, which spun us out immediately and we hit the electricity pole. Very unfortunate and it was fully my mistake. It’s hard to swallow. On the other hand, when you fight for the wins you still need to push. Maybe I was not pushing hard enough. I was not having the same flow you have when you really attack.”
After the last stage of the day leader Ogier said: “Having this lead is good. l am happy with my day, a strong day for me. A bit of a different approach When EP went off it changed the race for us. We still managed to set some good times and increase our lead. One very long stage still to go and we cannot afford to relax.”
The main focus on Saturday afternoon was the intriguing tussle between Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville for second place. The pair were separated by fractions of a second on several stages, with the Belgian winning four timed tests during the day. The gap was a mere 4.3 seconds in the Welshman’s favour at the night halt.
For the second day running, World Champion Kalle Rovanperä’s road position dictated that he had still being carrying out road cleaning duties and the Finn was no match for the leading trio. Nevertheless we was the best of the rest and held a solid fourth place in the third of the Toyotas. Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and co-driver Candido Carrera were a distant fifth.
WRC2 entrants and competitors running behind the leading Rally1 cars suffered badly as a result of Lappi’s unfortunate accident. After missing out on two stages on Friday, following a spin by Jourdain Serderidis that blocked the El Chocolate stage, Lappi’s crash caused Saturday’s opener to be red-flagged and teams missed the next two gravel stages as well. The re-run of Ibarrilla was then cancelled and El Mosquito 2 was the first proper gravel test of the day for the majority.
Gus Greensmith held on to his WRC2 lead at the wheel of a Toksport Škoda Fabia and reached the night halt 31.6 seconds in front of Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Fiesta and in an excellent sixth overall. The Frenchman survived a heart-stopping moment on the third run through Las Dunas when he clipped the inside of a corner and put the Fiesta teetering on two wheels for a few seconds.
Greensmith said: “We’ve not done much driving today. We tried a new set-up and maybe we didn’t need to try that. I could not find the same performance I had yesterday. But we know what we have to do tomorrow. Thirty seconds is a nice lead.”
Defending WRC2 champion Emil Lindholm was third and Oliver Solberg moved into fourth in WRC2 and ninth overall on the second run through Derramadero when Kajetan Kajetanowicz collected a puncture and lost 50 seconds.
Paraguay’s Diego Dominguez continued to lead the WRC3 category from Canada’s Jason Bailey.
Saturday – as it happened
Day two’s action was centred around the area to the north and east of León in the Sierra de Lobos mountains and the 14.82km of Ibarrilla was first on the agenda. Jourdain Serderidis had the unenviable task of ‘stage cleaning’ services for his Rally1 rivals. Ott Tänak laid down the gauntlet for his rivals with a time of 8min 47.2sec, although the Estonian was still not happy with his car, despite beating Rovanperä and Sordo.
Evans edged 1.9 seconds further clear of Neuville in the battle for third place but Ogier set the fastest time and inherited a 27.3-second lead when Lappi got out of phase in the stage, slammed sideways into the banking and spun on the track with the damaged car coming to rest against a pylon with smoke coming from the bonnet of the car. The stage was red flagged as the crew ran to Greensmith’s slowing Škoda to try and save their car with the use of the Briton’s fire extinguisher.
El Mosquito (22.56km) was delayed slightly as a result of the opening stage stoppage. Tänak was the fastest of the early runners, but Neuville ran quickest and took another little nibble into Evans’s hold on second and reduced the Welshman’s advantage to just 10.9 seconds. Ogier came home in third and his rally lead was trimmed to 26.6 seconds.
Tänak was still getting to grips with the Puma on a stage where Neuville again went fastest, beat Evans and closed to within 10.4 seconds of the Toyota driver. Ogier finished just one-tenth of a second behind the Belgian.
The second pass of the weekend through the Las Dunas quarry stage preceded a return to the service area in León. WRC2 crews got their first taste of competitive action after taking a road detour following Lappi’s accident. Evans again dropped time to Neuville and headed to the midday break with his grip on second place reduced to 8.7 seconds. The Belgian had set three consecutive fastest times. Ogier’s lead was 28.5 seconds.
Solberg was the quickest of the WRC2 runners with the third fastest time of all the drivers, although sixth-placed Greensmith led Fourmaux by 17.7 seconds.
The re-run of Ibarrilla was cancelled after Lappi’s morning accident. Action resumed with the second pass through El Mosquito. Remarkably, it was a first proper gravel stage of the day for competitors running behind the Rally1 cars.
Safe in fourth overall, Rovanperä was not able to make in-roads into the stage times of the top three and he could only watch as Neuville pinched another 0.2 seconds from Evans to trail the Welshman by 8.5 seconds. Ogier was driving on another level and the Frenchman crushed his rivals to win the stage by 8.1 seconds. Solberg was again quickest in WRC2, although Greensmith increased his lead to 8.8 seconds.
A repeat run through Derramadero brought the day’s longer stages to a close. Pierre-Louis Loubet clouted the rear of his Puma on the approach to a fast left-hander and damaged the suspension. The crew worked on the rear of the car to try and continue and then drove away from the stage via an access road. Rovanperä survived a spin in a narrow section, while Neuville continued to eat into Evans’s hold on second with another quickest time. The gap dropped to 5.9 seconds.
A third run through Las Dunas and a second visit to the Distrito León MX SSS rounded off the day’s action.
Tänak claimed a first ever gravel stage win for the new Puma Rally1 in Las Dunas and Neuville closed to within 4.3 seconds of Evans in the fight for second. Greensmith’s WRC2 lead grew to 33.1 seconds when Fourmaux put his Fiesta on two wheels in Las Dunas. Tänak then went on to win the spectator stage in León as well.
The final morning’s route featured just three stages before the Wolf Power Stage finale. A fourth run through Las Dunas preceded the longest stage of the entire rally – the 35.63km of Otates.
This is followed by a run through San Diego (12.61km) from 10.24hrs and the final El Brinco (9.59km) special that acts as the all-important televised Wolf Power Stage from 12.18hrs.
2023 Rally Guanajuato México – positions after SS19:
- Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Vincent Landais (FRA) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 2hr 35min 37.6sec
- Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 2hr 36min 13.4sec
- Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 2hr 36min 17.7sec
- Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 2hr 37min 11.6sec
- Dani Sordo (ESP)/Candido Carrera (ESP) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 2hr 37min 58.8sec
- Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Škoda Fabia RS 2hr 46min 11.0sec
- Adrien Fourmaux (FRA)/Alexandre Coria (FRA) Ford Fiesta MkII 2hr 46min 42.6sec
- Emil Lindholm (FIN)/Reeta Hämäläinen (FIN) Škoda Fabia Evo 2hr 46min 48.6sec
- Oliver Solberg (SWE)/Elliott Edmondson (GBR) Škoda Fabia RS 2hr 47min 29.8sec
- Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Maciej Szczepaniak (POL) Škoda Fabia Evo 2hr 48min 31.9sec
SS1-SS2 Ott Tänak
SS3-SS10 Esapekka Lappi
SS11-SS19 Sébastien Ogier
SS1 Ott Tänak
SS2 Ott Tänak
SS3 Esapekka Lappi
SS4 Sébastien Ogier
SS5 Esapekka Lappi
SS6 Esapekka Lappi
SS7 Sébastien Ogier
SS8 Esapekka Lappi
SS9 Esapekka Lappi
SS10 Dani Sordo
SS11 Sébastien Ogier
SS12 Thierry Neuville
SS13 Thierry Neuville
SS14 Thierry Neuville
SS16 Sébastien Ogier
SS17 Thierry Neuville
SS18 Ott Tänak
SS19 Ott Tänak