Mexico - day 1: Latvala inches away
29 February 2008
BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala leads at the end of day 1 of the Corona Rally Mexico, the third round in the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship.
Jari led from the off and was 3 seconds up on his closest rival in the 22.96 kilometre-run through Alfaro 1. The Finn then set the third best time in SS2 and the second best time in SS3, to finish the morning with a 4.4 second advantage over Citroen's Sebastien Loeb.
Latvala increased that cushion further on the repeat loop this afternoon, setting the second best time in SS4, to take it up to 7 seconds, before two stage wins in Ortega 2 and El Cubilete 2 allowed him to inch further and further ahead, finishing all the 'proper' tests with an 11.2 second lead.
Although he saw that margin cut back a bit in the two super specials and conceded 1.3 seconds to Seb in SS7, Jari remains on top and will now take a 9.6 second lead into day 2.
It was an impressive performance and after having taken his maiden WRC win in Sweden at the start of February, he could well add another to his CV this weekend.
Loeb meanwhile, despite also winning three stages - albeit one being the second-run through the short 2.21 kilometre Super Special - just didn't seem to have an answer to the Finn's pace.
He remains a threat however and seemingly hasn't been affected by the engine issues which hampered his final pre-event preparations on Thursday in the shakedown.
Further down the order, Atkinson is third, having capitalised on his better position in the starting order to set the second best time in SS1 and two fourth best efforts in SS2 and SS3. The Aussie maintained that pace in the afternoon - despite a faulty intercom - and was third fastest in SS4, SS5 and SS6. Following the two super specials he now lies 12.8 seconds off Seb and 40.5 seconds up on his team-mate, Petter Solberg.
Solberg lost around 40 seconds on the first loop of three stages with brake problems, but bounced back in the afternoon, winning two stages and overhauling Mikko Hirvonen.
Hirvonen had managed to stay in touch early on, despite having to run first on the road, however a slow puncture this afternoon in SS5 really cost him. He now lies 7.7 seconds off Petter and nearly 50 seconds off the final place on the podium.
Henning Solberg finished the day in sixth, even though he hit a rock in SS2 and bent the rear left suspension - something that cost him 2 minutes, while Matthew Wilson is seventh, 9.3 seconds behind.
Federico Villagra completes the provisional points' scorers followed by Peugeot privateer Ricardo Trivino and Sebastien Ogier.
Ogier, who is competing in his first event in the WRC, also heads the Junior World Rally Championship category in his Citroen C2 Super 1600, nearly a minute up on Jaan Molder's Swift.
Michal Kosciuszko and Aaron Burkart are third and fourth in the JWRC, while Patrik Sandell, who had been second post-SS3, dropped to fifth this afternoon due to brake problems.
In terms of retirements a number of drivers had problems on the opening day and went out, including four 'works' drivers.
Daniel Sordo was the first to retire from the leg, when he damaged his front suspension in Alfaro 1. He will re-start on Saturday under the SupeRally.
Gigi Galli also damaged his car in Alfaro, but on the repeat run through it as SS4, when he was trying to make up time following an off in the previous test. Gigi had been running in third early on. He will not be able to rejoin the fold as the incident damaged the roll cage on his Focus.
Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister and his team-mate Per-Gunnar Andersson were the other two that were forced out - both with engine problems. P-G went out in service A, while Gardemeister was sidelined in SS4. Neither will be able to re-start.
The action now resumes on Saturday with 158 competitive kilometres on the bill. SS9, the 29.90 kilometre-run through Ibarrilla starts at 08.24 hours local time.