Schilke, WRC correspondent
Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb and his long-time co-driver Daniel Elena notched their sixth Rally Mexico win today. Mikko Hirvonen ended the day in second, handing the Citroen team a strong one, two finish. Third went to Petter Solberg for the Ford team after teammate Jari-Matti Latvala retired by rolling his car during the long 54.30 km stage.
“I am very happy,” said Loeb. “I always win here! It is a great result for the team as well, with Mikko finishing second, a one-two for us. The rally was very difficult, I had to push really hard to shake off Mikko. This season has started in very typical fashion: a win at Monte-Carlo, an average result in Sweden and a win in Mexico. Let’s hope the rest of the season also goes the same way as in previous years!”
Once Loeb earned the overall lead in this weekend’s FIA World Rally Championship event there was little surprise that the Frenchman would go on to capture victory here for the sixth time. Loeb and Elena have now extended their points lead after the third round in the title fight this year.
Hirvonen commented, “Seb was stronger. He beat me after a good fight, but I had my chances. These three days of racing have helped me to make progress, and little by little I am changing my driving style to adapt to the specific features of the DS3 WRC. It's been a really good weekend, which augurs well for an interesting season.”
Solberg gained three bonus points by winning the Power Stage. A good ending to a very difficult weekend. Solberg started off as the initial rally leader but troubles on the first leg saw the Norwegian having to fight his way back onto the podium.
“I really wanted to win the Power Stage because the bonus points are important for the championship," said Solberg. "The extra three points means I scored the same as the second-placed driver, so it’s like finishing a place higher. I’ve now driven on three different surfaces in the Fiesta in the opening three rallies and I was really comfortable on each, so I feel confident for the season ahead."
For Latvala, it is now the second event this season where he has not taken home a single point. Evgeny Novikov crashed just prior him and the Finn took evasive action to avoid hitting Novikov. Unfortunately, Latvala went off the road and ended up rolling his Fiesta RS. While he tried to continue, the roll cage was damaged.
“I approached a fast right bend which led into a left-right combination of corners,” explained Latvala. “From a distance I saw Evgeny Novikov’s car on its roof and it appeared to be on the side of the road. I braked hard and the car slid into a bank and rolled back onto the track. I think I rolled twice. The impact punctured the front left tyre which we changed, and then I drove slowly to the end."
Forth went to Mads Ostberg in a M-Sport prepared Ford, while Ott Tanak rounded out the top five for the main M-Sport team. Another Ford privateer, Ken Block moved into ninth by the day's end. This is the fourth time the American has broken into the top ten. Citroen's own privateer, Nasser Al-Attiyah, took sixth after claiming his first WRC stage win on Friday.
New manufactures MINI and Volkswagen were represented in the top 10. Armindo Araujo placed his Team MINI Portugal in seventh as the highest placed entry from the German marquee. The works MINI effort will return to the field at the next rally, which will be held in Portugal. MINI and Prodrive will be rolling out a much stronger car to take the fight to Ford and Citroen for the rest of the season. Meanwhile Volkswagen learned some valuable data on racing at high altitude as their ace driver for next year's car, Sebastien Ogier, took their test Skoda Fabia to eighth overall, all without the help of a turbo.
Mexican driver Ricardo Trivino closed out the top ten and earned his first WRC point to the delight of his local fans. The Mexican crowed can also be proud of Benito Guerra, who finished eleventh overall and took the Production class win. A great result for Guerra, who is now tied in the Production points lead.
Coming up is Rally de Portugal at the end of this month. Another gravel test, and another chance for Hirvonen, Solberg and Latvala to best Loeb. Ford hasn't won the event in 13 years, when Colin McRae beat Carlos Sainz in 1999. So if everything plays out like last year, then there may be another Citroen 1, 2 finish in the cards. It just remains to be seen which Citroen driver will have the best chance to win. Now that Hirvonen seems settled into the car it won't be long before he puts some pressure on Loeb.