Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala has said there was no way he could avoid the rock that put him out of Rally Mexico on Friday.
The Finn, who retired on the season opener in Monte Carlo and who was fourth last month in Sweden, had been expected to be one of the front runners this weekend. However he went out just 300 metres into SS3, the 21.91 km El Cubilete test – the first 'proper' stage of the event - when his Polo R WRC car hit a large stone. The impact broke a wishbone and he was unable to continue.
Latvala will now rejoin the fold on Saturday under the Rally 2 regulation, and will use the rest of the event as a test, although he may still be able to score a few Manufacturers' points for VW and will of course be able to go for Drivers' points in Sunday's Power Stage too.
“That was the shortest stage I have ever driven,” Latvala lamented. “The dust from the previous car was still in the air, so vision was not great. 300 metres after the start we were rounding a right-hander when we came across a stone the size of a melon right on the racing line. As it was not possible to avoid the stone at the speed we were travelling, I tried to position it centrally between the two front wheels and line it up as well as possible with the underride protection. The impact was not particularly strong, but the stone damaged the right wishbone. It was just unlucky.
“The rock had probably been pulled out onto the road by one of the cars in front of us. We were obviously very disappointed at first, but I hope that is the end of my run of bad luck.
“I will start again tomorrow and, as a result of the big time penalty, will view the rally as a test and an opportunity to gain more experience in the Polo R WRC.”
Volkswagen Motorsport director Jost Capito meanwhile had mixed emotions, and while Latvala's early exit was a blow, Sebastien Ogier again shone in the sister car and leads by 33 seconds going into day two.
“A day of ups and downs for Volkswagen,” Capito summarised. “The good news is that the Polo R WRC is also competitive on gravel and that Sebastien Ogier's outstanding performance behind the wheel means he leads the rally after over 160 kilometres. We would have liked to have seen how Jari-Matti Latvala faired, but unfortunately he was unlucky today and had to give up after only a few metres. The broken wishbone shows that there is still work to be done on the car.
“However, this is precisely the kind of thing you experience when a new car makes its first appearance at a gravel rally.”