Image: S. Ogier/V. Landais, TGR Yaris Hybrid (photo: Nikos Katikis/DPPI)
Sébastien Ogier knows how to win in México and the eight-time FIA World Rally Champion is firmly on course for a record-breaking seventh win on Rally Guanajuato México after managing his pace to perfection to lead the event by 35.8 seconds after 19 timed special stages.
The Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 driver and co-driver Vincent Landais won only two specials during the course of a disjointed day held in the heat and dust on the event’s notorious gravel speed tests. But the Frenchman’s race strategy changed when overnight leader Esapekka Lappi crashed 10.1km into the first stage of the morning.
The Hyundai driver’s thrilling duel with Ogier came to a spectacular halt when the Finn misjudged a tricky corner at speed, spun and clouted an electricity pylon. Damage to the rear of the i20 N Rally1 was extensive and the Finn’s brave challenge for a second career WRC win was ruined.
Lappi said: “I was a bit caught out. Let’s say a right with a cut and it went straight into a ‘left over crest right’. I stayed out with this cut and I was delayed on the entry to the left. We went wide and hit the bank, which spun us out immediately and we hit the electricity pole. Very unfortunate and it was fully my mistake. It’s hard to swallow. On the other hand, when you fight for the wins you still need to push. Maybe I was not pushing hard enough. I was not having the same flow you have when you really attack.”
After the last stage of the day leader Ogier said: “Having this lead is good. l am happy with my day, a strong day for me. A bit of a different approach When EP went off it changed the race for us. We still managed to set some good times and increase our lead. One very long stage still to go and we cannot afford to relax.”
The main focus on Saturday afternoon was the intriguing tussle between Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville for second place. The pair were separated by fractions of a second on several stages, with the Belgian winning four timed tests during the day. The gap was a mere 4.3 seconds in the Welshman’s favour at the night halt.
For the second day running, World Champion Kalle Rovanperä’s road position dictated that he had still being carrying out road cleaning duties and the Finn was no match for the leading trio. Nevertheless we was the best of the rest and held a solid fourth place in the third of the Toyotas. Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and co-driver Candido Carrera were a distant fifth.
WRC2 entrants and competitors running behind the leading Rally1 cars were hampered as a result of Lappi’s unfortunate accident. After missing out on two stages on Friday, following a spin by Jourdain Serderidis that blocked the El Chocolate stage, Lappi’s crash caused Saturday’s opener to be red-flagged and teams missed the next two gravel stages as well. The re-run of Ibarrilla was then cancelled and El Mosquito 2 was the first proper gravel test of the day for the majority.
Gus Greensmith held on to his WRC2 lead at the wheel of a Škoda Fabia and reached the night halt 31.6 seconds in front of Adrien Fourmaux’s M-Sport Ford Fiesta and in an excellent sixth overall. The Frenchman survived a heart-stopping moment on the third run through Las Dunas when he clipped the inside of a corner and put the Fiesta teetering on two wheels for a few seconds.
Greensmith said: “We’ve not done much driving today. We tried a new set-up and maybe we didn’t need to try that. I could not find the same performance I had yesterday. But we know what we have to do tomorrow. Thirty seconds is a nice lead.”
Defending WRC2 champion Emil Lindholm (Toksport WRT) was third in a Škoda Fabia Evo and Oliver Solberg (Škoda Fabia RS) moved into fourth in WRC2 and ninth overall on the second run through Derramadero when Kajetan Kajetanowicz collected a puncture and lost 50 seconds.
Paraguay’s Diego Dominguez continued to lead the WRC3 category from Canada’s Jason Bailey.