Citroen's Sebastien Loeb did the business again in Mexico this weekend to maintain an unbeaten run on the Leon-based event that stretches right back to 2006.
Loeb moved into the lead on Friday afternoon and after that was never really troubled, gradually building up a cushion over his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen. Seb ended the opening day 11.2 seconds ahead and he proceeded to extend that margin on Saturday to go into the final leg today 36.2 seconds in front. Although the final day included the long 54.30 km Guanajuatito test, Loeb – unlike some of his rivals – negotiated it with no problems and he eventually claimed his sixth Mexico win in succession by a dominant 42.4 seconds. He also finished second in the Power Stage as well to claim two extra bonus points.
“I am very happy,” said Loeb. “I always win here! It is a great result for the team as well, with Mikko finishing second, a one-two for us.”
Hirvonen was also pleased with the result, and while he wasn't able to challenge for the win, it was still a very solid performance on his first outing with the DS3 WRC on gravel. Indeed he kept Loeb honest initially on day 1 and he also posted two quickest stage times, which bodes well for the future: “I am really happy,” Hirvonen reflected. "It was my first rally on gravel with this car. My pace was very good against Sebastien so I am happy!”
Ford's Petter Solberg meanwhile took the final place on the podium, inheriting the position near the end, when team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala rolled in SS22. All-in-all it was a pretty frustrating weekend for the 'Blue Oval'.
Solberg made a great start, setting the pace in the qualifying stage on Thursday and topping the times in the Guanajuato Street Stage, SS1. However two punctures on Friday morning pretty much ended his hopes of victory there and then.
Latvala initially ran with the Citroens after that in the sister car and was leading until he hit a rock in SS5 and broke the front left suspension arm. That dropped the Finn down to eighth and although he recovered to third on day two, despite hitting another rock, his luck ran out today. Distracted by Evgeny Novikov's accident he rolled it and the damage to the roll cage meant he was not allowed to start SS23.
Ford will though take comfort from the speed of the Fiesta and Petter's win in the Power Stage was also a boost of sorts: “I am pleased with the end result [and third place]. But I am still disappointed with the four punctures and the brake problem,” Solberg commented.
Behind, Mads Ostberg hung on to take fourth position, ahead of fellow Ford Fiesta runner Ott Tanak, despite losing 2 minutes today in SS22 with a puncture: “It has had its up and downs. We had a puncture today on the absolutely worst stage we could. It was a little bit tricky but we managed to go to the end and it did not affect the result, so that was good,” said the Norwegian.
Tanak eventually finished 11.1 seconds back in fifth, while Nasser Al-Attiyah took sixth, albeit 1.5 minutes further adrift in his Qatar WRT-run Citroen DS3 WRC car.
Further back, Armindo Araujo claimed his best WRC result to date with seventh in his WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper WRC car: "I'm so happy to have finished in seventh here in Mexico! It's my best result to date in the WRC and now I can look forward to Rally de Portugal and try and do even better in three weeks time. After Mexico where the fans have been truly incredible, I can't wait to compete in front of my home crowd," he stated.
Sebastien Ogier was eighth in his VW Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia S2000, the first points of the season for the team, followed by Ken Block and Ricardo Trivino, who was the top local driver, and who claimed the final 'senior' WRC drivers' point.
In the PWRC, Benito Guerra dominated in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, and he lead from start-to-finish, excluding Thursday nights short super special. Nicolas Fuchs was second, 4 minutes adrift, while Michal Kosciuszko completed the PWRC podium.
In terms of retirements, the biggest scalp, as already mentioned was Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala. He wasn't the only major driver to retire though, as Evgeny Novikov and Chris Atkinson also failed to finish, and so too did Paulo Nobre and Kevin Abbring. Novikov and Atkinson had both been on course for pretty good results, but went out late on Saturday. Atkinson retired after the flying finish to SS16 due to brake problems, while Novikov lost a wheel in SS20. Despite opting to re-start today, neither survived SS22.
Thierry Neuville went out on Friday in SS6 after hitting a rock. He re-joined under the SupeRally and was classified in 13th.
The 2012 World Rally Championship now goes to Portugal next, with that event running from March 29-April 1.
To view the result for the 2012 Rally Mexico - CLICK HERE