Photo: Sebastien Ogier soars to victory (Volkswagen pic)
WORLD Champion Sebastien Ogier increased his lead to a comfortable 60.3 seconds after dominating Saturday’s stages on Rally Guanajuato Mexico, round three of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Volkswagen driver reeled off five straight stage wins in the hot and dusty mountains near León.
His task was eased when Mads Ostberg retired from second with broken suspension on his Citroen DS3, allowing teammate Jari-Matti Latvala into the runner-up spot.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville held third spot – an encouraging performance, albeit 4min 37s behind Ogier – while Australia’s Chris Atkinson improved from eighth overnight to seventh after a trouble-free day in his first event for the new Korean team.
“It was easy to make a mistake so we took it easy and stayed out of trouble,” Atkinson reported at the finish.
“We played with the balance of the car over lunch to improve the handling in the conditions, which helped in SS14, but further changes before SS15 weren’t really in the right direction. Even so, we had a better day and learned a lot.
“We moved up the rankings, but tomorrow our objective is to reach the end of the rally and to bring our learning from this event to a positive conclusion.”
Ogier’s only drama came in the final metres of the last stage, when he was one of several drivers to hit a large hole. The impact threw his Polo R on to two wheels and knocked a tyre partly off the rim.
“It was a big one but it’s OK, we just lost a bit of time,” he said.
After Ostberg’s demise, Latvala focused on preserving his position. He set a string of second fastest times before notching a stage win in the first pass of the León super special.
Ostberg hit a bank near the end of the day’s opening test. He and co-driver Jonas Andersson temporarily repaired a broken left upright with ratchet straps and cable ties before removing the left rear driveshaft. Although they reached the start of the following 53km stage, the damage was too great to continue.
Belgian star Neuville is on course for a maiden podium for Hyundai in only the third rally for the i20 car. He overhauled Elfyn Evans’ Ford in the morning and survived a hard impact in a compression with just a smashed windscreen.
After a troubled start to its debut season, Hyundai Motorsport has been adamant its aim this weekend is for both cars to complete the rally in order to gather experience and data.
Nevertheless, if Atkinson retains his position he could finish comfortably ahead of M-Sport Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen, Citroen’s Kris Meeke – eighth and ninth, respectively – and Citroen’s Mads Ostberg, who is 11th. All have suffered car faults or accidents.
Robert Kubica rolled his Ford Fiesta RS for the second time in two days.