By David C. Schilke
Sebastien Ogier looks poised to collect Citroen’s first win since their DS3 World Rally Championship car made its debut. Unable to match the Ford Fiesta in the snow at Rally Sweden the event this weekend in Mexico had been decidedly much more favorable to the French car maker. In 19 stages only one has gone to their rivals at Ford. While Ogier hasn’t always been the quickest Citroen out there, he has found himself leading the overall after the end of Friday and today.
I found out that Seb [Loeb] had clocked in late at the finish of Ibarrilla. Even if I retook the lead it wasn’t good news as that’s not how I want to win.
Jumping into a quick lead on Friday Ogier knew it would be a struggle being first on the road today. After the first morning stage teammate Sebastien Loeb took over the lead and increased his gap to almost 20 seconds before hardship struck the reigning champ. Losing a bolt for his gear selector Loeb’s car was stuck in third gear. Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena made a quick fix of the problem but found themselves late for the next stage and was hit with a 50 second penalty. Loeb will start 10.5 seconds behind Ogier with just three stages left in Rally Mexico.
“We managed to fix it using one of the bolts from the rear bumper,” explained Loeb. “Bravo to Daniel as he was the one who came up with this great idea.”
Ogier had a few problems of his own before the day was over, “I found out that Seb [Loeb] had clocked in late at the finish of Ibarrilla. Even if I retook the lead it wasn’t good news as that’s not how I want to win. In Duarte 2 we lost more time not because of the sweeping, but because we lost power as the ignition went on the blink. It wasn’t a big problem and we managed to fix it.”
Unless an unexpected problem holds Ogier up, it will be unlikely Loeb can run his younger teammate down. However, it is a sure bet at least one of these Citroens will end the rally in first.
Over a minute from the leading pair is Ford’s best hope of the weekend, Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn neither lost nor gained time on Loeb throughout the day and starts tomorrow with little hope of improving his position. The good news for Hirvonen is that his teammate, Jari-Matti Latvala is too far to challenge for position.
“The sensible option now is to avoid the risk of punctures, and keep an eye on what is happening to the guys ahead,” said Hirvonen. “I feel in a safe position and I need to keep it. If I'm still third going into the Power Stage tomorrow, then I hope to push and take maximum bonus points. I enjoy the roads that will be used for that.”
Latvala sits fourth and will also be looking to maximize his points for the weekend, “The roads didn't clean as much as yesterday, so our start position didn't give the advantage we hoped. The time gap to the drivers ahead is too big for me to think about chasing, so I'm going to concentrate on keeping neat, tidy lines and push hard for bonus points on the Power Stage. The roads for that have already been used so they should be clean.”
The hard charger of the rally would have to be Petter Solberg. The Norwegian privateer was in contention for the podium before an electrical problem dropped him back to 13th by the end of the first day. With four stage wins today Solberg pushed his way into fifth overall and will most likely will end the event in this strong points paying postistion.
“It's going really well," smiled Solberg. “The speed is absolutely there and I'm very happy with our performance today. I was aiming for 5th and that's where we are now. I have no strategy for tomorrow, other than to go fast and win stages. Anything is possible.”
Mads Ostberg ended the day sixth with Henning Solberg half a minute behind in seventh. Nasser Al-Attiyah rounds out the top eight, while American driver Ken Block has moved himself up to eleventh overall. Besides the 10 second gap between first and second the rest of the top ten are separated by over 30 seconds. Unless a rival retires from the event or has a major setback, there will be little chance to improve position tomorrow. All eyes will be on the Sebs up top as Loeb will have three stages to reel in Ogier.