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.