By David C. Schilke
- Loeb wins fifth consecutive Rally Mexico
- Ogier retired near the end of final day
- Hirvonen holds lead in WRC standings
Sebastien Loeb has now stretched his win tally for Rally Mexico to five in a row for the World Rally Championship. Heading into the final day it looked Loeb would need to settle for second best, but his teammate Sebastien Ogier crashed out of the lead on today's first stage, handing victory to the reigning WRC Champion. Ogier's retirement is a mixed blessing to the Citroen camp. Mexico is their first victory for the next generation DS3 but they might have earned a one, two finish if the day went better for their upcoming ace driver.
"We've just had a very tricky rally," said Loeb. "I had a great scrap with Sebastien Ogier, a few teething troubles with the car, and my victory only came at the end of the race. It's a good result where points are concerned, as we're in second place in the world championship. The season's really begun for us here."
Loeb could have made the same error as Ogier if he was the leader after the second day, meaning he would have been sweeping the road this morning. On Saturday Loeb had taken the lead from his younger teammate but a mechanical problem set him once again into second place. With only three stages left the battle today looked promising until Ogier retired.
It's a good result where points are concerned, as we're in second place in the world championship. The season's really begun for us here
Loeb wouldn't have preferred a straight fight, "Seeing Sebastien [Ogier] and Julian [Ingrassia] on the side of the road didn't give me much pleasure. We could have fought till the very end and it's a pity it finished like that. We went back into the lead of the rally with more than 1m 30s in hand over Mikko [Hirvonen]. We just nursed it home."
With no win today, and zero points from the event, Ogier takes the blame square on his shoulders, "I had to push to hold on to my first place as my position of being first out forced me to sweep the roads yet again. In a corner, the car understeered and I went a bit wide. I couldn't avoid a stone on the verge and the left-hand front upright broke. I gambled and I lost, but above all I'm feeling gutted for the whole team. We'd done a great job since the start of the weekend and I didn't manage to make it pay off by scoring precious points for Citroen."
Second place was left to Hirvonen, who never recovered from sweeping the roads clear on Friday, and was consistently off the pace of the Citroens. Still with second on the podium and an extra three points for winning today's Guanajuato Power Stage, the Ford driver leaves Mexico as entered, leading the championship, now nine points ahead of Loeb.
"It's a great result from the championship perspective, especially considering the disadvantage of our road position on Friday," explained Hirvonen. "After my difficulties last season, I feel I've rediscovered my consistency and that's so important in mounting a title challenge. I knew the roads used in the Power Stage well and those bonus points are a big boost."
Jari-Matti Latvala took his Ford Fiesta to third after a frustrating event for the Finn, who suffered two punctures and had dropped back as far as ninth before fighting his way to the top four on Saturday. With Ogier's retirement Latvala earned the final podium spot for his troubles. With Ford taking second and third they have extended their manufacturer's lead to 26 points over Citroen.
"To take a podium after two punctures is more than I could hope for," admitted Latvala. "Our pace improved as the rally progressed and the Fiesta RS WRC felt good all the way through the weekend. I used the same set-up all rally and I was happy with the handling for our first gravel rally in the car. But we can still make improvements, and that's my aim before the next round in Portugal."
The best placed privateer was Petter Solberg in fourth. Electrical and mechanical problems plagued the Norwegian and kept him from fighting in the top five for much of the event. Solberg decided to go for the Power Stage win to maximize his points but was just edged by Hirvonen for second, and was matched to the tenth by Loeb. Two points went to Solberg with one point for third place on the Power Stage going to Loeb.
"It's been a good weekend" says Petter Solberg. "Considering the time loss after the problems on Friday, being fourth today is really good! We have definitely proved we have the speed and bringing home 13 points is good. There have been a few minor issues with the new car but we managed to solve them and know what caused it. Now we are preparing for Portugal."
Fifth went to Mads Ostberg for the M-Sport Stobart team, while Henning Solberg rounded out the top six. Ken Block ended the event down in 12th overall.
Next on the calendar is Rally de Portugal starting March 24th. Hirvonen will once again start the event sweeping the roads, while Ogier will have a better starting position. Unless it rains, Hirvonen and Loeb will be at the disadvantage, allowing Ogier to gain an early lead. How that will unfold for the rest of the weekend will be up to each driver's skill and luck, but rest assured Ogier isn't done trying to surpass the pace of his veteran teammate just yet.