Ogier in control on Rally Mexico
9 March 2013
Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier remains on course for victory on Rally Mexico, despite having to stop and open a gate in the final 'proper' test of the day.
Ogier started the second leg with a 33 second advantage over Mads Ostberg, but sadly there was no resumption of the fight that raged on Friday, with the Norwegian sidelined by alternator problems en-route to SS15. That left Ogier well out front, more than a minute up on Mikko Hirvonen going into the mid-day service.
This afternoon Ogier was again quickest on the repeat run through Ibarrilla and while he was slowed on the next stage, SS18, as a gate had been shut, it made no real difference.
Indeed he was later awarded the stage win anyway after officials amended his time to take into account the time lost when his co-driver, Julien Ingrassia, had to get out and open the gate. Furthermore with Hirvonen picking up a puncture in that same test and losing almost 2 minutes, Ogier will now go into the final day with a 3.5 minute cushion. Thus far the Frenchman has won 14 of the 20 stages.
“That was an extremely good day for us. And we had a little shot of adrenalin at the end, when we suddenly had to slam on the brakes during a special stage to avoid hitting a closed gate,” Ogier reflected.
“I feel sorry for Mads after his retirement, as he had performed very well up until then and was our closest rival. However, that has obviously given us a more comfortable lead over the car in second.
“Although we did not take any risks today, we still won six of the seven special stages. To be honest, even I was surprised by that! Having said that, the Polo R WRC is simply perfect at the moment. There's still one day to go, and tomorrow morning we have the longest and most difficult stage on the rally, so we must keep our concentration.”
Meanwhile, Hirvonen has dropped right back into the clutches of Thierry Neuville after his puncture and following SS20 they are split by just 7.5 seconds: “It happened after about twenty kilometres, half-way through the stage. I didn't feel a thing; we didn't hit anything. I decided not to stop to change the tyre,” the Finn stated. “Tomorrow's 54km-long stage may well now prove decisive and I'm sure that Thierry will push hard to try and get ahead of us. But we are going to defend our position!”
Neuville had his own issues in SS17, when he had an overheating problem. However, the Belgian fixed that before SS18 and then set the third best time as he tried to capitalise on Mikko's misfortune.
“Obviously I am disappointed for Mads because he was doing really well, but this is rallying and sometimes these things happen. We are now in a podium position and we should try to continue like this and make sure we finish in third if not even higher!” Neuville remarked. “Maybe if things go our way we can push Mikko all the way to the finish. But honestly, if I finish on the podium – whether it be in second or in third position – I will be very happy.”
Behind, Dani Sordo remains a distant fourth, although he was happier with his car on the repeat loop: “This time, we moved in the right direction, and I'm going to be able to move forward. I think we have found the right set-up for me,” said the Spaniard. “We are now clear in fourth position, so our aim will be to make it to the finish without incident tomorrow.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah rounds out the top five after an impressive drive on his first WRC outing of the year.
“I am really happy with the performance today. Tomorrow will be another day and another story, but we will try to push and bring home this good result on out first time here with the [Ford] Fiesta [RS WRC]. We'll try to manage the long stage without any problems and regardless of whether we finish fourth or fifth it's a great result for us,” said Al-Attiyah.
Ken Block is next up and sixth, with Chris Atkinson now up to seventh and 26.7 seconds back in his Citroen DS3 WRC car.
Benito Guerra has slipped to eighth, while Martin Prokop and Evgeny Novikov round out the top-ten.
“Today has not been so easy running first on the road because we have had to do a lot of cleaning and, especially on the first pass, there are no lines to follow,” Novikov said. “But this is how it is and we just need to ensure we get to end to salvage some points for the team. We're back in the top-ten now which is a positive, and with the long stage tomorrow [Guanajuatito – SS21] there is still a lot that can happen.”
In WRC2, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari continues to dominate in his Ford Fiesta RRC, now just over 6 minutes up on Nicolas Fuchs. Ricardo Trivino is third.
In terms of retirements, Ostberg was the only major scalp today, while Friday's big name casualty, Jari-Matti Latvala, re-started under the Rally 2 regulations and took some sort of boost by setting top-five times in every single test as he concentrated on testing for Rally de Portugal next month.
“It was a good feeling to be back in action, after we were so unlucky in the first few metres yesterday. I coped excellently and feel really comfortable now in the Polo. I have adapted my driving style a little and am trying to drive even more accurately,” Latvala said. “As we are no longer able to affect the overall standings, we are using Mexico to prepare for the remaining gravel rallies, and have tried out various components and set-ups. In order to avoid spending the entire day out at the front and driving on loose gravel, we deliberately dropped down the starting order for the second stage of the day, although we knew we would have to accept a time penalty.”
Rally Mexico now concludes on Sunday, with just three stages on the bill. SS21, the monster 54.85 km Guanajuatito test, kicks off proceedings. It is due to start at 08.58 hours local time [14.58 hours UK time].
Rally Mexico: Overall standings after Stage 20 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 3hours 38mins 02.2secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +3m 32.4s M
3. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 39.9s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +5m 25.2s M
5. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +6m 13.9s T
6. Ken Block Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Fiesta RS WRC +9m 37.1s
7. Chris Atkinson Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +10m 03.8s T
8. Benito Guerra Citroen DS3 WRC +10m 40.9s
9. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +12m 02.3s T
10. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +16m 21.9s M
11. Michal Kosciuszko Lotos Team WRC MINI John Cooper Works WRC +20m 44.2s
12. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari Ford Fiesta RRC +24m 46.6s WRC2
13. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +25m 50.1s M
14. Nicolas Fuchs Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +30m 58.4s WRC2
15. Ricardo Trivino Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +39m 10.0s WRC2
18. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +54m 20.0s M
WRC2 standings after Stage 20 (Top 3):
1. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari Ford Fiesta RRC 4h 02m 48.8s WRC2
2. Nicolas Fuchs Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +6m 11.8s WRC2
3. Ricardo Trivino Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +14m 23.4s WRC2
4. Yuriy Protasov Subaru Impreza WRX STi +25m 05.0s WRC2
SS3. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC Hit a rock M*
SS9. Yuriy Protasov Subaru Impreza WRX STi WRC2*
SS12. Lorenzo Bertelli Subaru Impreza WRX Mechanical WRC2
SS14/SS15. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Electrical problem M*
SS15. Armin Kremer Subaru Impreza STi Mechanical WRC2*
*denotes re-started under Rally 2
all times unofficial