Total Team Peugeot drivers Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen romped to a convincing victory in the 2002 Corona Rally Mexico yesterday, the 206WRC crew finishing ahead of second-placed Carlos Izquierdo, the Mexican Mitsubishi driver upholding honours for his country following the retirement of Andres Montalto (Subaru). Argentinean Roberto Sanchez (VW Golf) took third position.

The third and final leg of Corona Rally Mexico started in Leon at 07:00 hrs yesterday morning and included two loops of four stages totalling 96.70 competitive kilometres.

Weather conditions remained hot and dry, and the route again provided a challenging mix of fast, slow, open and twisty roads for the 11 remaining crews. The demanding and technical stages have however taken their toll, and of the original 37 starters, just nine made it to the finish ramp in Leon yesterday afternoon.

While Rovanpera topped the entry list and started as hot favourite, victory for Peugeot is a bonus, its stated objective being to support Corona Rally Mexico's bid for inclusion in the FIA World Rally Championship, help raise its own brand image locally and the profile of the sport in North America.

"Our victory was never assumed," said Director of Peugeot Sport, Corrado Provera. "We were not here to smash the opposition, not at all. The organising team has a passion and we have felt that very strongly, it is their insurance for the future and we feel they deserve recognition. The scenery here is fantastic and the stages are very good; demanding but fast and not excessively rough. The organisation has been good, there is huge enthusiasm and an incredible commitment to the World Rally Championship."

Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen set fastest times on each of the rally's 22 stages and completed the final leg without problems. Road conditions again varied throughout the final day, average speeds in stages 15/19 and 16/20 down to between 73 and 63 kph respectively, in contrast to top speeds of 200 kph in SS17/21.

"One of today's stages (15/19) was quite rough with a lot of loose stones, quite bumpy and twisty - a bit like in Cyprus or Greece," commented Rovanpera. "By comparison, there was seven kilometres flat-out at 200 kph in stage 17/21, which was good. Overall, the rally has been great, Risto and I have really enjoyed it. The scenery is quite special and there's a good mixture of stages which makes it interesting for us."

Carlos Izquierdo finished on the podium in second position in his Mexican-specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V. The local driver was however hindered by suspension problems throughout the day and was then nearly forced out on the run back to Leon with fuel pressure problems. He was however fortunate to have a comfortable cushion over nearest rival Roberto Sanchez.

"I have never driven a rally like this, but I'm learning and getting lots of experience," said Izquierdo. "I'm speechless, delighted with the result. The problems with the suspension meant we had to drive carefully, but we are here and my co-driver Angelica did a great job. We retired on the road section back to Parc Ferme last year so we were very worried about the fuel problem, but fortunately everything was okay."

Third position was filled by Roberto Sanchez in a Mexican spec Formula 2 Volkswagen Golf GTi. Like many of their rivals, they too suffered with suspension problems and the car overheating in the searing temperatures. "I think we are quite lucky to be here," said Sanchez. "It has been an exhausting rally and it was annoying to have some problems today [Sunday], but we have really enjoyed the rally, the organisation has been good and I thank the people of Mexico for such a good welcome."

Yesterday's leg saw just two retirements, however it was a major blow for Andres Montalto, the Costa Rican National Champion forced into retirement from second position after stage 15 when he had an accident on the road section. "Obviously it's disappointing as we were going well and looking at a podium position," he said.

Summing up the 2002 Corona Rally Mexico, Rally Manager Patrick Suberville said: "We are pleased with the way the event ran and have learned a lot from this experience. We were delighted to have Peugeot Sport enter our rally, not only to raise our profile and help people to realise we are very serious about the World Rally Championship, but also to learn from them. We now fully understand the needs and expectations of a World Championship team and happily many things worked out perfectly for them. Having learned a lot from Peugeot, we are confident we can do everything correctly should we have all the other works teams in the event."

In the Championship of North American Rallies, the positions remain unchanged after three of the seven events in Canada, the USA and Mexico. Sylvan Erickson, Januz Kulig and Patrick Richard top the leaderboard, all tied on 10 points.

Corona Rally Mexico - final results:

1. Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen Peugeot 206WRC 4hr 23min 21.8sec
2. Carlos Izquierdo/Angelica Fuentes Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (MN4) 5hr 23min 16.1sec
3. Roberto Sanchez/Mauricio Pimentel VW Golf GTi (MA7) 5hr 40min 44.7sec
4. Sergio Ramirez/Eduardo Lopez VW Golf GTi (MA7) 5hr 44min 26.7sec
5. Fernando Couto/Jorge Luis Lestrade Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (MN4) 5hr 45min 43.9sec
6. Omar Chavez/Roberto Aguirre Volkswagen Golf (MN3) 6hr 06min 30.8sec