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.