LEÓN (MÉXICO): Eight-time FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier made history by becoming the first driver to win Rally Guanajuato México seven times. The Frenchman managed his pace to perfection over the closing stages, stayed clear of any undue risks and reached the finish in León with a winning margin of 27.5 seconds on Sunday.
The success with co-driver Vincent Landais in a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 was only the second for the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team on this event and a career 57th WRC success for Ogier since he made his championship debut as a Junior driver in México back in 2008. It also gave Landais a second WRC win and Ogier a three-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
Ogier said: “The car was great this weekend, a faultless weekend for us. It was important to get points there. Elfyn (Evans) was really unlucky that he had to finish the rally with a damaged car. Still, it was a strong weekend for the team. Today this win is for our team and for a friend who I lost not long ago.”
Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville were the centre of attention for much of Saturday afternoon and the final morning, as the Welshman and the Belgian traded time in the fight for second overall. Hyundai’s Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe gained time on the short opening stage in a quarry, only for Evans and Scott Martin to hit back in their Toyota Yaris on the longer Otates stage.
The trading of blows continued through the San Diego speed test and the outcome was decided on the final Wolf Power Stage after Evans admitted that he had bent a suspension arm earlier in the morning and had been nursing the Toyota. Neuville finished third on the final Power Stage and that was enough to beat Evans to second place by just 0.4 seconds!
A delighted Neuville said: “I did what I could. I can tell you all weekend we were on the limit. It was really exhausting. We fight hard.”
A somewhat resigned Evans added: “It’s not a surprise. We have been nursing a bent suspension arm since the first stage this morning. It is a shame. It’s how it is.”
World Champion Kalle Rovanperä spent most of the event in a form of no-man’s land, too far behind the leading trio to mount a challenge because of an unfavourable road position, and safely in front of the drivers running behind. The Finn and co-driver Jonne Halttunen eventually finished fourth overall and collected two additional Power Stage points. Kalle holds third in the Drivers’ Championship.
Likewise, Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and co-driver Candido Carrera were never in a position to challenge for the podium, although the Spaniards claimed one stage win on their way to fifth place.
With Ott Tänak, Pierre-Louis Loubet and Takamoto Katsuta out of contention for a top finish early in the event in their Rally1 machines, that opened the door for Gus Greensmith and Jonas Andersson to finish in an excellent sixth overall and first in WRC2 in their new Toksport Škoda Fabia RS. The Briton appeared far more relaxed in the WRC’s second division and delivered a polished performance to win the category by 32.9 seconds on his first WRC appearance of the season.
Greensmith said: “From stage six the whole rally was under control for me. When we needed to go faster, we could and we didn’t put a foot wrong. We didn’t have much time to get used to this new car and it’s a perfect start to the year.”
When Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux was forced to stop on the Otates stage to change an alternator belt on his Ford Fiesta, that paved the way for the defending WRC2 champion Emil Lindholm to storm through and snatch second in WRC2 on his first visit to México.
Oliver Solberg had dropped back with a puncture earlier in the rally and was mounting a late charge for second until he ran wide and lost time in San Diego and finished the event with a down-on-power engine. The young Swede claimed points for fourth to lead the championship, with Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz finishing fifth on his first rally of the season in a Škoda Fabia Evo.
Despite complaining all weekend that he could not adapt to driving the Ford Puma Rally 1 with confidence on gravel, WRC series leader Tänak battled back from his third stage turbo woes and overtook Kajetanowicz to snatch ninth overall and four valuable points on the Power Stage. He slipped to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, nine points behind Ogier.
Paraguay’s Diego Dominguez (Ford Fiesta) claimed maximum WRC3 points after a solid drive and Canadian veteran Jason Bailey (Ford Fiesta) finished second and also won the Masters Cup.
México’s Carlos Salas finished 12th overall and was the leading finisher in the FIA NACAM Rally Championship in his Škoda Fabia.
Sunday – as it happened
A fourth run through Las Dunas got the final morning underway and the stage-opening Pierre-Louis Loubet suffered another heart-stopping spin early in the stage. Not to be outdone Jourdain Serderidis clouted a giant stage-side boulder and emerged unscathed on an opener where Neuville clocked the quickest time and reduced Evans’s grip on second place to just 4.1 seconds. Ogier drove cautiously and saw his lead trimmed to 32.2 seconds.
Greensmith extended his comfortable WRC2 lead to 32.8 seconds, as Lindholm recorded the fifth quickest time and began to close in on Fourmaux in the battle for second place.
The main focus of the final morning was the daunting 35.63km of Otates – the longest stage of the entire event. Loubet finished the stage with a slow front-left puncture and Tänak complained about front damper damage.
In the battle for second place, Neuville carded the target of 24min 39.4sec but he was beaten by stage-winner Evans and the gap increased to 5.8 seconds. Ogier erred on the side of caution and took a lead of 23.2 seconds to the penultimate stage.
While Greensmith continued to lead WRC2, his main rival Fourmaux stopped in the stage after 26km to change an alternator belt, lost 17 minutes and gifted second place to Lindholm. But Solberg delivered an inspired stage performance and closed to within 15.1 seconds of the Finn in the battle for second place.
The penultimate stage was San Diego (12.61km). Was this the last chance saloon for Neuville in his quest to overhaul Evans and snatch second overall? The Welshman made a small mistake metres after the start and that set the tone for the stage: Neuville closed the gap to 2.7 seconds heading into the final speed test.
He had seen Evans working on his Toyota’s suspension on the road section to the stage, although the Welshman claimed that the car was fine. It set up the prospect of a fascinating duel through the final 9.59km Wolf Power Stage at El Brinco.
A flying Tänak set the target time of 5min 16.901sec and he managed to beat Sordo by 2.69 seconds to stay out in front with four cars still to run. Rovanperä damaged his rear wing and was not able to match the Estonian’s time. He slotted in between Tänak and Sordo.
Neuville was second as Evans headed into the stage after reportedly changing a steering arm. The Welshman was not able to hang on, however, and finished four-tenths of a second behind the Belgian and slipped to third overall. Ogier, with no real need to push hard other than to deprive Tänak and Neuville on Power Stage points, finished the stage with the fastest time to confirm a seventh victory in México by 27.5 seconds.
2023 Rally Guanajuato México – positions after SS23:
- Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Vincent Landais (FRA) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 3hr 16min 09.4sec
- Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 3hr 16min 36.9sec
- Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 3hr 16min 37.3sec
- Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 3hr 18min 04.7sec
- Dani Sordo (ESP)/Candido Carrera (ESP) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 3hr 19min 08.2sec
- Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Škoda Fabia RS 3hr 28min 40.9sec
- Emil Lindholm (FIN)/Reeta Hämäläinen (FIN) Škoda Fabia Evo 3hr 29min 13.8sec
- Oliver Solberg (SWE)/Elliott Edmondson (GBR) Škoda Fabia RS 3hr 29min 47.1sec
- Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Ford Puma Rally1 3hr 31min 29.0sec
- Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Maciej Szczepaniak (POL) Škoda Fabia Evo 3hr 32min 06.0sec
2023 FIA World Rally Championship – positions after round 3:
- Sébastien Ogier (FRA) 56pts
- Thierry Neuville (BEL) 53pts
- Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) 52pts
- Ott Tänak (EST) 47pts
- Elfyn Evans (GBR) 44pts, etc
2023 FIA Manufacturers’ Championship – positions after round 3:
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 127pts
- Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 100pts
- M-Sport Ford WRT 73pts
SS1-SS2 Ott Tänak
SS3-SS10 Esapekka Lappi
SS11-SS23 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