Volkswagen Motorsport's Sebastien Ogier took the spoils on Rally Mexico on Sunday after another masterful drive in his Polo R WRC, a result that strengthens his lead in the battle for the 2013 WRC drivers' title.
Ogier had been cautious coming into the event, the third round in the championship, as it was VW's first outing on gravel. However, while he only qualified fifth, he soon started to show the kind of form that saw him dominate on the snow in Sweden last month.
Indeed he took lead in the short super specials on Thursday night and despite losing P1 to Mads Ostberg in SS4 on Friday morning, the Frenchman came back and a storming time in SS6 helped him go into the mid-day halt with a 12.9 second buffer. Ogier then proceeded to consolidate his advantage on the repeat loop and another great time in El Chocolate saw him extend his lead to 29.4 seconds. He eventually finished the first leg 33 seconds ahead.
With Ostberg then forced out on Saturday morning due to an electrical problem, Ogier suddenly found himself way out front, not that he eased up much, and he won a further six stages to head into Sunday with over 3 minutes in hand over Mikko Hirvonen. His only real scare came in the final 'proper' test on day two, when he had to stop in Otates 2 after a gate had been shut.
The last day was a bit of a formality, yet Ogier still won the all important Power Stage – to take the maximum three bonus points – and in the end he won 16 of the 23 stages in total. He will now go to Portugal next month with a 44 point lead in the drivers' championship.
“I am very happy,” said Ogier. “It has been an amazing start to the season for us. But we have to take it each win at a time. We had a small scare this morning with a sensor, but it was not a big drama and at the end it is perfect. We now have quite a good lead in the championship, even if there is still a long way to go.”
Hirvonen meanwhile inherited second in his Citroen after Ostberg's issues en-route
to SS15. The Finn, however, never looked like challenging Ogier for the win nor did he really look like he would have troubled Ostberg either. Still it was another solid performance and he now moves up to third in the drivers' championship, effectively Ogier's closest rival, as Sebastien Loeb is only due to do two more WRC events this season as he switches his focus to his career away from rallying.
“I am very happy to get my first podium of the year,” said Hirvonen, “but we have a lot of work to do. Ogier was so fast. We couldn't match his pace.”
Thierry Neuville took the final spot on the podium – the first time the Belgian has finished on the rostrum in the WRC. Neuville ran in the top-four throughout and pushed Hirvonen hard until a 'huge moment' on Sunday morning in the monster 54.85km Guanajuatito test, when he braked too late for a corner and went straight on into a ditch. He survived though, and then opted to settle for P3.
“I am very pleased. It has been a good weekend for us,” Neuville remarked. “We learned a lot. I want to thank M-Sport, they did a good job. This morning we tried to push and okay it went wrong. But we did a good job overall and we have shown everyone we have made another step. We are ready to go forward.”
Behind, Dani Sordo was next up and fourth for Citroen, although it wasn't a great showing from the Spaniard. He struggled on Friday and on Saturday morning, but did start to find his confidence a bit more on the repeat loop on day two: “It was okay,” he noted. “I am happy with the performance today and I am happy with the points for the team.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah rounded out the top-five on his first run with the Qatar World Rally Team and was buoyed by his performance: “I didn't expect this,” he admitted. "It is a hard rally. But we did a good job and I am really happy. The team did a good job. I am sure we can do better in the next event.”
Chris Atkinson battled back to take sixth on his 'guest' outing with the Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT. The Aussie's event got off to a bad start and he hit a rock in SS3 and had to stop and make repairs before SS4. He was 21 minutes late to the time control as a result and picked up a 3.5 minute time penalty, dropping him to 15th overall. Yet he fought back and hauled himself back into the points, demoting Ken Block to P7 on the final day.
“I am very happy with yesterday and today. We were just making sure we got through. The team has been amazing. We were lucky to get it back and the team did an amazing job to fix it [after the problems on Friday in SS3],” Atkinson stated.
Block was also pleased and understandably so, as seventh is his best WRC result to date: “Funnily, I started this rally really conservatively and thought I will just enjoy myself and here I am in seventh overall!” he continued. “I would have like to have kept Chris behind me today, but I didn't want to push and risk going off. It was really good competing with these guys. I really enjoyed it.”
After Block, Benito Guerra, Martin Prokop and Evgeny Novikov rounded out the points' scorers in positions eight through to ten. Novikov was another who lost time on Friday morning after a stone come up through the floor of his Qatar WRT-run Ford Fiesta RS WRC car and damaged some of the connections in the ECU. Still he did pick up the final point, which was some consolation.
“It was not the best rally for us after the problems on the first day with the ECU but I am hoping I will be luckier next time,” said the Russian.
In WRC2, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari led throughout in his Ford Fiesta RRC and he eventually beat Nicolas Fuchs by over 9 minutes. Ricardo Trivino took third.
“I thought it would be difficult but we started well. Thank you to Seashore for their sponsorship and, of course, to M-Sport. Everyone did a great job. We have had a good time and made no mistakes in 400 km. I am very happy!” Al-Kuwari commented.
In terms of retirements, Michal Kosciuszko was the biggest scalp. He went out on the final day in his Lotos Team WRC-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC car. Kosciuszko had been running in P10 until transmission problems in SS18 on Saturday.
Ostberg and Jari-Matti Latvala both finished, albeit having to use the Rally 2 regulation. Ostberg was classified 11th, and Latvala took 16th having gone out on day 1 when he he hit a rock in the first 'proper' test and broke a wishbone.
The WRC now moves to Portugal next month for round four, with that event running from April 10-12.
To view the result for the 2013 Rally Mexico - CLICK HERE