WRC

Rally Mexico: Leg one summary

The first day's gravel competition of the 2006 season took a heavy toll on the leading drivers. First to go was Xavi Pons (Citroen) who retired with engine problems 12km after the start of the second stage. After Gronholm's accident, Chris ...

The first day's gravel competition of the 2006 season took a heavy toll on the leading drivers. First to go was Xavi Pons (Citroen) who retired with engine problems 12km after the start of the second stage. After Gronholm's accident, Chris Atkinson (Subaru) rolled out of fourth place after hitting a rock in stage five. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was fastest on the opening four stages to build a 11.5sec lead before tyre troubles late this afternoon reduced his advantage. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) ended the morning in fourth but two fastest stage times this afternoon promoted the Frenchman to third, just 9.5sec behind Solberg. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) lies fourth despite struggling for grip this morning, ahead of Dani Sordo (Citroen). Morning brake problems cost Henning Solberg (Peugeot) a minute and he dropped over three minutes on stage five when he stopped to change a puncture.

The second leg follows a similar format with two identical loops of three stages north and east of Leon, followed by a second run over the superspecial stage. The opening section of the first test on each loop covers roads used in the opposite direction today. After leaving Leon at 09.00, drivers tackle 148.92km, before returning for the final overnight halt at 21.04.

Kronos Total Citroen

After a thrilling second half to leg one, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their faithful Citroen regained the majority of the time that they lost in the morning because of road position. The reigning World Champions end leg one in third overall, 9.5 seconds behind the leader Petter Solberg. Up-andcoming Spaniard Dani Sordo, co-driven by the experienced Marc Marti, is a delighted fifth place. Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio were forced to stop on SS2 with an engine problem.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Having requested some set-up changes on his Xsara, Seb bolted on hard tyres and attempted to make up the lost time. The first stage of the second loop, " Ibarilla ", showed that under equal conditions the gaps were small. By winning the next two stages, " Guanajuato " and " Cubilete ", the reigning World Champion managed to claw back much of the lost time, and he ended the day fewer than 10 seconds behind the leader after the final spectator superspecial. "It was very much a day of two halves " concluded Seb. " Halfway through the leg, it was very difficult for us to quantify how much of the time we lost was down to sweeping the road clean. Afterwards, we were able to read the situation much more clearly. I was particularly pleased with our set-up changes in between the two loops of stages, and the high level of performance from our BFGoodrich tyres on hot and clean stages. Tomorrow, our goal is to continue climbing up the order-- "

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: For Xevi Pons, the rally came to a premature end. After a promising opening stage, the Spaniard decided to switch off the engine 11 kilometres into SS2 after noticing a drop in power from the engine accompanied by an unfamiliar noise. A detailed examination at the service area sadly confirmed his retirement with a broken engine, caused by an ignition problem.

OMV-Peugeot Norway

It was a good beginning at the Corona Rally Mexico for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team. Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Aut) lie in sixth overall place after three of 17 special stages. Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud (Nor) were handicapped by brake problems on the first two special stages but caught up with the top field thanks to an excellent fourth-best overall time on SS 3 which brought them back up to ninth intermediate place.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: Manfred Stohl is not discontent with sixth intermediate place after three special stages. The 33-year-old OMV driver didn't want to take too much risk at the beginning of the Rally Mexico due to extremely difficult road conditions. Even more so if one has to take up the rally from third position. Stohl: "I must admit that I misjudged the conditions. I didn't count on it being so slippery. We don't have any grip -- it's just like in Monte Carlo. I'm not yet feeling 100 percent confident but time will mend that. The second turn will definitely be easier."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: Stohl's OMV teammate Henning Solberg had to deal with overheating brakes during the first two special stages. Therefore the Norwegian in the Peugeot 307 WRC lost over 1:30 minutes and fell behind scoring ranks. But fourth-best time on SS 3 took him back up close to eighth place. Solberg: "It wasn't possible to go faster on the first two special stages. You just can't attack without brakes. The third special stage went uphill which was to our advantage. We're sure that we will be able to catch up since we really feel comfortable here."

BP-Ford

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen ended today's tough opening leg of Rally Mexico in second place. The Finns were a model of consistency in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. They were second fastest on all six gravel speed tests high in the mountains above the city of Leon to end the day just 4.8 seconds from the lead of this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Team-mates and championship leaders Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen were third after this morning's loop of special stages. However, they crashed on this afternoon's opening test and retired. The car was not badly damaged and they will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: Gronholm was handicapped this morning by starting the stages first, encountering plenty of slippery loose gravel on the road surface which his Focus RS swept clear to leave a cleaner and faster run for those behind. "The car felt great but it was a shame that I was first on the road," he said. "It wasn't so bad but there wasn't a clean line and that makes all the difference. It meant there was more wheelspin and I had to brake earlier. I couldn't have done any more this morning." The 38-year-old Finn was determined to attack on the cleaner afternoon roads but was caught out at a tricky left-right sequence of bends 9km into stage four. "I entered the left corner too fast and then slid into a ditch on the right bend. The car ended on its side and we pushed it back onto four wheels but couldn't regain the road. It was my mistake. I was attacking too hard and tried to brake late," he said. The Focus RS suffered rear-left suspension damage but the team replaced the unit. Time penalties for not completing the leg dropped Gronholm to 23rd but he remains confident. "I think I can still score manufacturer points here," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "My start position gave me an advantage over Marcus this morning because the roads were cleaner," said Hirvonen. "The altitude sapped engine power and that made it tricky in corners because there wasn't the same power available as normal to pull the car through the bends. I was surprised how rough it was and I hit a lot of stones. The brakes worked well but they were on the limit in this heat. The thinner air meant they didn't cool in the same way as they would elsewhere."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson got off to a fantastic start in the third round of the World Rally Championship, ending the first day of running with sixth position in the overall standings and second of the M2 runners in Corona Rally Mexico. Wilson belied his lack of experience relative to the competition in Mexico, steering the fine line between placing fast times and getting to the end of the stages. Many far more experienced competitors failed to make it through leg one and its tricky gravel surface. Indeed, Wilson put in top ten times on all of today's seven stages, rounding off Friday with a stage best of the fourth fastest time on SS7.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: I didn't expect to be sixth at the second service that's for sure. The rocks on the second run through were really bad, they were hitting and scraping along the sumpguard, you can feel them all the way down the underneath of the car. And that's with us raising the ride height from the first run. If you move off line to avoid the rocks you end up going off the road, so you've just got to try to take the line and avoid them as best you can. We're going quicker but it's finding that next step on the second pass. It's encouraging that we're able to go quick on the first run as it means the notes are working."

Luis Perez-Companc/Jose Maria Volta: The first stage was okay, very good, no problems. The second stage, in the middle of a village, I had bad notes and I hit the side of the road which made us spin. The car stopped, but, after receiving a push from the crowds, we were back on the road. The third stage, with no notes, was a challenge. It was very difficult as I just had to look at what was in front of me. Jose was making signs at me to stop or push more but we got to the finish line. In stage five I took a corner too close to the side and hit a rock which broke a driveshaft. Up till then everything was going well, I like very much driving on gravel."

555 Subaru

Petter Solberg started his campaign to win a second consecutive Rally Mexico in style as he led Leg one from start to finish. The Norwegian's Subaru Impreza WRC2006 ran faultlessly all day and powered him to the fastest time on four of the day's seven stages. Petter will start tomorrow's second Leg with a five second advantage over second-placed Mikko Hirvonen. Solberg's team-mate Chris Atkinson held fifth position throughout the morning's loop of stages, but accident damage on SS5 brought his day to a premature end.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I'm very happy to be leading the rally tonight. The car has run perfectly and we're on target for the result we came here for. It's been quite a tough day though. The starting position gave me an advantage on the morning loop of stages and we were able to make the most of it, but we struggled to match that pace on the stages in the afternoon. The ground temperature during the last two was more than 40 degrees and even with our hardest tyres we had to work very hard to keep the speed. Tomorrow I think the first loop of stages will be okay, so I'll do all I can to make up more time, but like today I reckon the second time through will be hard work. In general though the feeling is good but after what happened in Australia and Japan I'm not making any predictions. I'm taking one day at a time. I'll do my best and we'll have to wait and see what result that gets us."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's very disappointing to retire from the Leg, especially as things had been going according to plan up to that point. The rock we hit was in the middle of the road. It looks like it broke the wheel rim, which badly affected the handling around the next corner. I could feel we had a problem as soon as I tried to brake, then we slid wide, into a ditch and rolled. The rally isn't over yet though. We have to pick ourselves up and concentrate on getting the best points finish we can."

Red Bull-Skoda Team

The Red Bull-Skoda team are not competing in Mexico. _ -rallyenewsletter-

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Daniel Elena , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Jarmo Lehtinen , Henning Solberg , Cato Menkerud , Ilka Minor , Xavier Pons , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson , Luis Perez-Companc , Jose Maria Volta
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport