Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen set the pace this morning in the qualifying stage for Rally Mexico, the third round in the 2013 World Rally Championship and the first event of the season on gravel.

Hirvonen completed the 6.27 kilometre test in Llano Grande, 19 kilometres from service, in 3 minutes 57.2 seconds, which put him 0.7 seconds up on Qatar M-Sport WRT man Evgeny Novikov. Hirvonen will now get first choice of start position for the opening day.

"It was a good clear drive, so I just need to try to do that on all the stages," Hirvonen told the official WRC site. "Everything worked perfectly. I was maybe a little surprised that some people [both VW drivers] went on a hard tyre but for us it worked fine so I'm happy with my tyre choice."

Mads Ostberg meanwhile was joint third with Thierry Neuville, while Rally Sweden winner, Sebastien Ogier had to settle for fifth in his Volkswagen Polo R WRC.

"I am not happy with that qualifying. We had the disadvantage of having to open the stage. We took the safe choice with the hard tyre compound. What we didn't expect was that there would be quite such a big difference between the hard and the soft," Ogier explained. "Qualifying is very important here at the Rally Mexico, in order to give yourself a good choice of starting position. We still have that. Our goal is to finish the rally and get a good result. Compared to our rivals, we will have an extra set of fresh tyres to use on the special stages."

Behind, Dani Sordo was sixth, followed by the second VW of Jari-Matti Latvala and then Nasser Al-Attiyah and Chris Atkinson. Ken Block rounded out the top ten.

"Obviously the soft tyres have produced the better times in qualifying, while we opted for the harder compound. At first glance, starting from seventh does not look ideal. However, we will have to wait and see how the rally pans out - it could ultimately be an advantage to have more hard tyres left," Latvala noted. "After all, the number of tyres is restricted to 28.

"Our priority remains to use our first gravel rally to close the gap on our rivals in terms of experience with the Polo. We can only do that if we complete the full distance. As there are a lot of stones and rocks lurking on the stages of the Rally Mexico, we concentrated hard on documenting these perils very precisely in our pace notes during our preparations. We feel well prepared and are looking forward to the spectacular start in Guanajuato's old town."

Drivers will now select their start positions at 13.00 hours local time [19.00 hours UK time], before then tackling two short tests, SS1 - Guanajuato (1.05 km) - and SS2 - Parque Bicentenario (2.60 km) - this evening.

Rally Mexico - Qualifying stage:

1. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC 3m 57.2s M
2. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0.7s M
3. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3.2s M
4. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3.2s
5. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +3.9s M
6. Dani Sordo Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +4.0s M
7. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +4.3s M
8. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4.4s T
9. Chris Atkinson Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +4.4s T
10. Ken Block Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Fiesta RS WRC +9.4s
11. Benito Guerra Citroen DS3 WRC +12.2s
12. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +15.0s T
13. Michal Kosciuszko Lotos Team WRC MINI John Cooper Works WRC +17.0s T

all times unofficial