David Schilke, WRC correspondent
Petter Solberg ended up with the best qualifying stage time for this weekend’s Rally Guanajuato Mexico, nearly one second faster than his competitors. Solberg will be able to place himself in good position for the opening gravel stages. The FIA World Rally Championship moved from wintry conditions in Europe for warmer temperatures and a higher elevation (2737 metres above sea level). As the first gravel rally this year, today's qualifying stage will be a litmus test for the new road position rules enacted this season.
The Ford World Rally Team driver had a great run on today’s 5.18 km qualifying stage and will be able to pick his starting position for tomorrow’s first leg. The Norwegian has rejoined Ford after running as a privateer and is eager to claim his first win since 2005.
“I was really trying hard not to make any mistakes this morning, but I really tried hard. That was good fun,” said Solberg to WRC media.
Second fastest was earned by Mikko Hirvonen who ended up beating his Citroen teammate, Sebastien Loeb. Hirvonen is a strong driver on the loose surface and the match-up between himself and Loeb in the same car in Mexico has been largely anticipated. Hirvonen has won the first fight but the battle will carry on for three more days. Loeb was not happy with his pace, feeling his mistakes were causing him to spend too much time in the corners, where the high altitude saps power and makes it hard to recover from errors.
“I was missing the speed,” said Loeb. “I made one or two small mistakes, but nothing major. It was good, but not great.”
Even more disappointed was Jari-Matti Latvala, who had no idea why he was so far off his teammate's pace, “I thought it was okay... “I honestly don’t understand what happened in there, really I have no idea, but the time is no good at all.”
Evgeny Novikov rounded out the top five. Chris Atkinson and Ken Block made their 2012 WRC debut today and placed tenth and eleventh on the stage. Henning Solberg was noticeably absent, the Go Fast Energy driver was forced to miss this event due to what is described by M-Sport director Malcom Wilson as a, "contractual issue with the sponsor." Hopefully Henning will be back in the saddle for the next event at the end of this month.