Mexico WRC: Ogier stretches lead, Hyundai hits trouble
Six-time World Rally champion Sebastien Ogier ended the first full day of Rally Mexico at the top of the leaderboard after a supremely assured performance in the mountains outside Guanajuato.
Having taken the lead on the second stage of the morning loop, Ogier quietly got on with the job of building a cushion while rest of the front-runners struggled.
The Frenchman’s Toyota teammate, joint championship leader Elfyn Evans, was hobbled by running first on the road and being forced to sweep the stages for everyone else behind him.
In the third Toyota Yaris WRC, Kalle Rovanpera’s performance was tempered by a puncture, although he won the final stage of the day on the streets of Leon.
It was a day to forget for Hyundai. Reigning champion Ott Tanak was hampered by a 45-second deficit that resulted from going off the road in the morning, while Thierry Neuville’s engine expired in the late afternoon - ending a swashbuckling attempt to defy his poor road position.
The third Hyundai of Dani Sordo meanwhile went out with terminal engine problems on the second pass through El Chocolate.
All of which leaves the M-Sport Ford Fiesta of Teemu Suninen in second place at the overnight halt and despite the chaos it is a position earned on merit.
Four top-three stage times and consistent top-five pace throughout the first eleven stages have allowed the Finn to keep Ogier in his sights amid the excitement.
The biggest drama of the afternoon befell Suninen’s fellow countryman Esapekka Lappi in the sister M-Sport car. After completing his second pass through El Chocolate, the rear of Lappi’s car was wreathed in flames which neither his co-driver Janne Ferm or the attendant marshals could extinguish.
Lappi tried to drive the car away but was soon forced to bail out, leaving his Fiesta to burn to the ground. The following stage was cancelled due to the absence of fire services who were preoccupied with the Fiesta’s destruction.
The day ended with crowd-pleasing spectator stages that did little to change the order: Ogier leads Suninen and has more than half a minute in hand over Evans, Tanak and Rovanpera, with nine of the 12 remaining stages scheduled to follow on Saturday.
Gus Greensmith (M-Sport) is last of the WRC runners in sixth, ahead of WRC2 leader Pontus Tidemand in his Skoda Fabia R5.
Standings after SS12:
Mexico WRC: Ogier takes command after first loop of stages
Lappi on dramatic exit: “I didn't realise how big the fire was”