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.