JARI-Matti Latvala takes a comfortable lead into Sunday’s final leg of Rally Guanajuato Mexico after an imperious display over sun-kissed mountain roads on Saturday.
The Volkswagen Polo R pilot won all six gravel speed tests to add to his clean sweep of dirt-road wins on Friday, demoralising world champion Sébastien Ogier and leaving his rivals to pick up scant consolation in the short spectator stages that closed the third day.
The Finn started with a 32.5sec lead over teammate Ogier but extended that to 1min 35.7sec during the longest day of this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, covering nine stages and 152.40km.
Latvala was eager to build a comfortable buffer to carry into Sunday’s marathon 80km Guanajuato test, the longest in the WRC since 1986.
“The feeling in the car was brilliant. The way Miikka (co-driver, Anttila) read the pace notes was perfect. Everything has come together,” Latvala said.
“It’s important to have a 1sec/km difference for tomorrow because you can then back off if the tyres or brakes become too hot.
Latvala’s low start position again handed him the advantage of cleaner roads, swept clear of gravel by those ahead. As on Friday, Ogier had the hardest job as first in the start order and by the middle of the afternoon the Frenchman had thrown in the towel.
“I’m not really pushing anymore,” he admitted, hoping to bank solid championship points for second in his quest for a fourth successive world title.
Dani Sordo overcame a host of minor issues to hold third in a Hyundai i20, 1min 04.7sec behind Ogier. The Spaniard struggled to find a comfortable balance on the slippery tracks, while a spin and a broken fan, which caused his engine to overheat, cost more time.
Andreas Mikkelsen had closed to within a handful of seconds of snatching Sordo’s podium place until he crashed in the afternoon’s long Otates test.
His demise promoted Mads Østberg to fourth, the Norwegian wringing every second out of M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta RS. His fight with Hayden Paddon swung his way when the Kiwi glanced a bank and the impact broke his i20’s rear left suspension arm. Further issues for Paddon included overheating brakes and gearshift problems and he ended 53.3sec behind.
Ott Tänak avoided serious problems to hold sixth in a Fiesta RS, with Martin Prokop, Lorenzo Bertelli, WRC 2 leader Teemu Suninen and Valeriy Gorban completing the leaderboard.
Eric Camilli and Thierry Neuville restarted under Rally 2 regulations but both were in the wars again. Camilli flipped his Fiesta RS onto its roof after hitting a rock while Neuville crashed heavily.
Just two stages comprise Sunday’s final leg but they will not be for the faint-hearted. The action begins with the 80km test and is followed by the final live TV Agua Zarca Power Stage, with bonus points for the fastest three drivers.
Overall Classification after Day Two:
1. J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 3:27:22.8
2. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:35.7
3. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +2:40.4
4. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:48.8
5. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +5:42.1
6. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +7:50.5