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Loeb heads Citroen 1-2 at close of opening leg

9 March 2012

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has concluded the opening leg of Rally Mexico on top.

Loeb moved to the fore this afternoon and gradually pulled away from his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen. Following the short Monster Street Stage Leon and the two Super Specials - which totalled less than 6 kilometres - he more than doubled his advantage, from 4.5 seconds post-SS8 to 11.2 seconds post-SS12. SS9 was cancelled on safety grounds.

“I got off to a bit of slow start on SS2, but then I found the right pace,” Loeb said at the end of the day. “Mikko seems to be getting to grips with the DS3 WRC and I really had to go at full pelt to build up a small lead.

“Overall, it was a very good day, as the two Citroens hold a clear lead over the rest of the field. Under normal circumstances, I don't think we can be caught, but there are over 250 kilometres of timed stages still to go!”

“Seb was stronger this afternoon, but I am happy with second place,” Hirvonen added. “I was also impressed by the performances of Jari-Matti [Latvala]. If he keeps up his good form, I think he can get very close by the end of the rally. That means we won't be able to take it easy if we want to stay ahead.

“Tomorrow looks like it will be even more difficult, with two runs on an extremely twisty 42 kilometre-long stage.”

Mads Ostberg meanwhile heads the chasing pack, although he is more than a minute off P2 and only 16 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala.

“I think this afternoon has been quite okay,” Ostberg stated. “We have tried to push but I am still not one hundred per cent happy with the car. We just have to try and make some changes and see if we go in the right direction. The car is drivable, but it's not perfect and we still have some places where we can improve. I'm still getting used to the gravel and still learning the rally. It's only our second time here so I think we're doing okay and hopefully we can push a little bit more tomorrow.”

Latvala has definitely pushed after losing over 90 seconds in SS5 when he hit a rock and broke the car's front left suspension arm. The Finn had been leading, but that incident dropped him to eighth. He charged back though on the repeat loop, winning all three 'proper' stages to haul himself back into podium contention.

“The morning was disappointing after a great start, but I fought back well this afternoon,” Latvala remarked. “We were leading a rally in which we've struggled in the past, so the car has the speed to be competitive and I hope I can put pressure on our rivals ahead tomorrow. If I can get back into the top three I will be happy.”

Behind, Petter Solberg is fifth in the other works Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Like Latvala he had problems on the opening loop, with two punctures in the first two stages costing him considerable time. From dropping to 13th though, he has also fought back and he concluded the day just 7.5 seconds off his team-mate.

“Perhaps I pushed a little too much this morning, but sometimes once you make a mistake you try to recover the time lost and then make more errors. My aim is to get onto the podium and although we probably need those ahead to make a mistake to achieve that, I will continue to attack and see if we can put pressure on them,” Solberg commented.

M-Sport Ford WRT duo Ott Tanak and Evgeny Novikov are next up in sixth and seventh, the former slipping behind Petter last night when he purposely picked up a 10 second penalty to give the Norwegian a better road position for day 2. Tanak now trails the 2003 World Rally Champion by 1.3 seconds. Novikov is a further 25.3 seconds adrift.

“This afternoon was okay. We had no dramas,” Tanak said, making no mention of the penalty. “The conditions weren't too bad and there were far fewer rocks out there than there had been this morning. The surface is quite hard so it wasn't too bad. In some places it's really clean and you have quite good grip, but in others it was still a bit dusty and slippery which is what makes it a bit tricky. I think for tomorrow we will just stick with pretty much the same set-up as we have now. We'll try to keep the pace and stay in front of Evgeny [Novikov]. It's all good experience for me.”

Further back, Chris Atkinson has had a pretty good start to his first WRC event since 2009. The Aussie lies in seventh in his Monster WRT-run Ford Fiesta RS WRC car, 31.7 seconds off P6. He set top ten times in every single stage and was even quickest in SS12, the second-run through the 2.21 km Super Special. Despite that though, he wasn't happy with his pace.

“We had no problems all afternoon but we're still not where we need to be,” he said. “We tried to push a bit harder this afternoon but the times didn't really come so we'll try some different set-ups in service and hopefully tomorrow we can go a lot faster.”

Of the rest, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Armindo Araujo round out the top ten, ahead of Sebastien Ogier, PWRC class leader, Benito Guerra, Ricardo Trivino, Michal Kosciuszko and Ken Block in positions 11 through to 15.

In terms of retirements, Thierry Neuville was the biggest scalp on day one. He had been running fourth in his Citroen Junior WRT-run DS3 WRC car, until he took a wheel off in SS6. He is expected to re-start under the Rally 2 rules on Saturday, along with WRC MINI Team Portugal man Paulo Nobre. Nobre rolled in SS5.

The action now continues on Saturday with drivers facing a massive 183.30km of action during more than 13 hours behind the wheel. It is based closer to Leon and includes two passes over the daunting 41.88km Otates test. Competitors restart at 06.00 local time and tackle two identical loops of two stages, before a final section which includes another test at Leon's race circuit. They return to the city for the overnight halt at 19.23 local time after seven more stages.



Rally Mexico: Overall standings after Stage 12 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1hour 24mins 46.4secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 11.2secs M
3. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 11.9secs M
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 27.9secs M
5. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 35.4secs M
6. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 36.7secs M
7. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 02.0secs M
8. Chris Atkinson Monster WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 33.7secs
9. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +02mins 48.6secs M
10. Armindo Araujo WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +03mins 30.2secs


Others

11. Sebastien Ogier VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +04mins 15.2secs
12. Benito Guerra Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +07mins 15.6secs P
13. Ricardo Trivino Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 35.3secs
14. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +07mins 48.2secs P
15. Ken Block Monster WRT Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 54.4secs
16. Nicolas Fuchs Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +07mins 57.1secs P


PWRC standings after Stage 12 - Top 3:

1. Benito Guerra Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hour 32mins 02.0secs P
2. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 32.6secs P
3. Nicolas Fuchs Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +00mins 41.5secs P


Notable retirements:

DNS. Henning Solberg Go Fast Energy WRT Fiesta RS WRC Did not start
SS5. Paulo Nobre WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC Accident*
SS5/SS6. Kevin Abbring VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 Mechanical
SS6. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC Lost a wheel M*

* denotes expected to re-start under Rally 2 (new name for SupeRally)


all times unofficial


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