MADS ØSTBERG HOLDS TOP-THREE SPOT IN MEXICO
The switch from the European winter to the heat of Mexico promised to be daunting for the World Championship crews. And so it proved.
Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson ended the opening leg in third position in the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s DS 3 WRC.
The first day saw a number of retirements, including that of Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle on SS4.After two short but spectacular stages held on Thursday evening, the drivers were set to tackle tests at over 2,000 metres above sea level this morning.
Despite the cool early morning conditions, Kris Meeke was the first out of the blocks. The Briton set the fastest time on Los Mexicanos 1 before going off on one of the first corners of the 44 kilometre-long El Chocolate 1. Kris and Paul will be rejoining tomorrow under Rally 2 regulations.
Fifth after yesterday’s short leg, Mads Østberg began the day by losing around ten seconds on SS3 due to a spin. The Norwegian then found the pace with the second-fastest time on the demanding El Chocolate. His fightback took him up to third overall by the end of SS8 before going on to claim a stage win in the heat of the second run on Las Minas (SS9). He ended the leg within thirty seconds of the leader.
In the WRC2, Stéphane Lefebvre took advantage of his first few miles in Mexico to accumulate experience. Seventh overnight, he was unable to contest the first two stages of the day after they were cancelled following Ott Tanak’s dramatic crash. The young Frenchman remained focussed and progressed carefully before losing twelve minutes on El Chocolate 2 after breaking a wheel. He ended the day in ninth place in the category.
Saturday’s leg features eight timed stages, contested over a total of 168.81 kilometres. Parc Ferme opens at 8.30am, with service periods in León at 1.56pm and 7.00pm. The running order will be the same as today.
Mads Østberg: “The morning was difficult due to problems changing gears, but we made progress throughout the day thanks to the work of the entire team. During the second loop, the DS 3 WRC was perfect. I had to reacclimatise to the driving style needed for gravel and the conditions of Rally Mexico, but the fastest time SS9 shows that we can be competitive. Each year, I try to win certain specific stages, ones that I particularly enjoy. Las Minas is one of them. My aim for tomorrow is to make it through the first stage. I have had problems on Ibarilla in the last three years. After that, we’ll need to stay focussed.”
Kris Meeke: “I had adopted a safe rhythm on this morning’s first stage. I was pleased with my pace and the time had been very good. Unfortunately, I made a mistake on SS4. I had too much speed coming into a corner and we went off. It wasn’t a pace note error, I just misjudged the speed at which to taken the bend.”
Stéphane Lefebvre: “With the dramatic events of this morning, we didn’t get to drive very much. But despite the cancelled stages, we were on the pace on the only test we did complete. It was a bit more difficult this afternoon. On the longest test, we hit a rock and broke one of the rear wheels. I thought we were going to have to retire, but we managed to put on the spare and continue. We’re still in the race and that’s the main thing.”
HOW THE ACTION UNFOLDEDSS1 – Street Stage Guanajuato (1.01km) – Huge, enthusiastic crowds cheered as Rally Mexico got underway. In the narrow, cobbled streets of former mining city of Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thierry Neuville went fastest ahead of the surprise runner-up, Lorenzo Bertelli. Kris Meeke and Mads Østberg were fifth and sixth fastest, respectively.
SS2 – Super Special 1 (4.60km) – Change of scenery with a super special stage held on the León race track. The fastest time was set by Sébastien Ogier who became the new overall leader as the cars entered parc ferme. Kris Meeke and Mads Østberg finished the stage in sixth and seventh positions.
SS3 – Los Mexicanos 1 (9.91km) – The temperatures were decidedly cool this morning as the crews set off on today’s leg. Kris Meeke set the fastest time ahead of Neuville and Ogier. Mads Østberg finished 11.8 seconds back after a spin. The stage was cancelled after Ott Tanak went off the road, rolled down a bank and into a lake.
SS4 – El Chocolate 1 (44.13km) – The first long stage of the rally eliminated Hayden Paddon, Kris Meeke and Robert Kubica. Sébastien Ogier claimed the stage win, ahead of Mads Østberg, who climbed to fourth place overall.
SS5 – Las Minas 1 (15.54km) – Fastest time for Neuville, ahead of Ogier, Latvala and Østberg. No change in the top four.
SS6 – Street Stage León 1 (1.37km) – First run on the city centre stage held next to the service park: Sébastien Ogier went quickest, finishing ahead of Martin Prokop and Lorenzo Bertelli. Mads Østberg was fifth fastest.
SS7 – Los Mexicanos 2 (9.91km) – Thanks to better grip on the second pass, Jari-Matti Latvala set the fastest time. Mads Østberg improved on his morning effort to finish sixth.
SS8 – El Chocolate 2 (44.13km) – As temperatures reached 30°C, El Chocolate claimed the scalps of Thierry Neuville and Lorenzo Bertelli. The stage win went to Latvala, whilst Mads Østberg moved up into third place in the overall standings.
SS9 – Las Minas 2 (15.54km) – Fastest time for Mads Østberg, ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier. The Norwegian therefore consolidated his third place.
SS10 – Super Special 1 (4.60km) – The final stage of the day didn’t alter the standings. Sébastien Ogier grabbed the stage win to remain overall leader, ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, Mads Østberg and Andreas Mikkelsen.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 11. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 1:45:03.02. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +13.53. Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson (Citroën DS3 WRC) +29.54. Andreas Mikkelsen / Ola Floene (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +45.25. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:03.96. Dani Sordo / Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:40.57. Martin Prokop / Jan Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:03.58. Yurii Protasov / Pavlo Cherepin (Ford Fiesta RRC) +4:57.79. Nasser Al-Attiyah / Matthieu Baumel (Ford Fiesta RRC) +5:15.210. Nicolas Fuchs / Fernando Musano (Ford Fiesta R5) +7:58.7…