OGIER REIGNS SUPREME IN MEXICO, ATKINSON 6TH

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OGIER REIGNS SUPREME IN MEXICO, ATKINSON 6TH

(WRC.com release, 11/3/2013)  SEBASTIEN Ogier claimed his second straight WRC victory for the Volkswagen Polo R and Australia’s Chris Atkinson finished a fighting sixth in a dramatic Rally Guanajuato Mexico.

Ogier led from Thursday’s opening sprint tests and despite losing the lead briefly on Friday, he quickly regained the advantage and was not troubled again.

The Frenchman eventually took this third round of the 2013 season by 3min 28.9sec from Mikko Hirvonen’s Citroen DS3.

Thierry Neuville claimed his first WRC podium in a Ford Fiesta RS. The Belgian gave up his pursuit of Hirvonen after sliding into a ditch on Sunday morning’s opening stage and finished 54.9sec behind the Finn.

Atkinson, the 33-year-old Gold Coaster, made the most of a one-off drive with the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, in place of regular driver Khalid Al Qassimi.

His outright position had slipped to 15th after break his steering on Friday morning, but he and co-driver Stephane Prevot charged back into a points position with 19 top 10 finishes over 20 stages to the end in Leon.

Ogier won 16 of the total 23 stages, covering almost 400km at altitudes up to 2500 metres and claimed maximum points from the weekend having also taken bonus points for winning the Power Stage.

His victory came on the Polo R’s gravel debut and in its first season of competition the duo have finished second on Rallye Monte-Carlo’s asphalt, won in the snow and ice of Sweden and now laid down a marker on gravel.

“The start of the season is just amazing for us,” Ogier said.

“We want to thank the team because the car was perfect again all weekend. Okay, just a small alarm this morning with a sensor but it was not a drama and here we are again at the end with a perfect amount of points.

“Now we have quite a good lead for the championship after just three rallies. For sure the season will be long, but already it’s not bad.”

Ogier now heads Sebastien Loeb – his former teammate at Citroen – in the drivers’ standings by 31 points.

Hirvonen climbed to second when Mads Ostberg, the only driver capable of matching Ogier’s times, was sidelined with a broken alternator on his Ford Fiesta RS on Saturday.

Hirvonen held off a charging Neuville to claim his best result of the season and climb to third in the points.

“Second place – back to normal!” joked the Finn.

“Of course, I’m happy to get my first podium of this year but Sebastien was so fast and we couldn’t match his pace. Okay, we have lots of work to do but I’m happy we’ve finally got on the podium and taken a solid result.”

A buoyant Neuville celebrated with a champagne shower on the podium from his rivals.

“We did a job we can be proud of and learned a lot. This morning I tried to push but okay, it went wrong, but we are still here with no damage on the car. It’s been a long wait for a podium, last year many things went wrong. We showed everyone we can learn, we took another step, now we are ready to go forward again and win,” he said.

Dani Sordo finished fourth, despite frequently feeling uncomfortable in his Citroen DS3, the Spaniard more than six minutes behind Ogier.

Nasser Al-Attiyah finished fifth on his debut in a Fiesta RS WRC and Chris Atkinson shrugged off a 3min 30sec time penalty after breaking his Citroen DS3’s steering to claim sixth.

Ken Block scored a career-best seventh place and the leaderboard was rounded off by Benito Guerra on his World Rally Car debut, Martin Prokop and Evgeny Novikov.