PHOTO: Mads Ostberg clings to second place after Saturday’s stages in Mexico (Citroen pic).
SÉBASTIEN Ogier will take a lead of 1min 15.2sec into Sunday’s final leg of Rally Guanajuato Mexico after a mistake by team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala left him in the clear.
The Volkswagen Polo R colleagues on Saturday were split by less than 14 seconds when Latvala hit a bank midway through the 42.90km Otates test and ripped the rear left wheel from his car.
He limped to the end of the stage before retiring, leaving Ogier room to breathe ahead of a developing battle between Mads Østberg and Andreas Mikkelsen.
However, the Frenchman added four stage victories to his tally from the eight tests, most over gravel roads in the mountains above León.
“It has been a perfect rally up to now, everything is working like a dream,” Ogier said.
“There is a very long stage tomorrow morning but with the lead we have we can afford to drive safely.”
Latvala’s dejection was absolute after his error.
“The championship looks bad, for sure. So I’m going to forget the championship and concentrate rally-by-rally and see where we are at the end of the year. That’s the only thing I can do,” he said.
Østberg put second place in jeopardy when he spun his DS 3 in SS13 and lost 15sec after damaging his front suspension in the previous stage. He slipped into the clutches of Andreas Mikkelsen but a stage win in the afternoon kept him ahead by 4.5sec.
Mikkelsen insisted he was driving at a measured pace to gain experience of roads that were mainly new to him, but he still won the final stage.
Elfyn Evans was fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS. The Welshman admitted he was too hesitant in places as Dani Sordo closed.
But when the Spaniard lost a minute after hitting stones and breaking his Hyundai i20’s front left wheel, Evans could relax.
Martin Prokop was sixth ahead of WRC 2 drivers Nasser Al-Attiyah, Nicolas Fuchs, Jari Ketomaa and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari.
Rally 2 returnee Thierry Neuville was 11th after changing his i20’s gearbox at mid-leg service while Kris Meeke and Robert Kubica both lost time with punctures. Hayden Paddon ended the day with a down-on-power Hyundai after its engine overheated.
Ott Tänak restarted his Fiesta RS after it was winched from its resting place in five metres of water 10 hours after rolling into a lake on Friday.
Astonishingly, M-Sport’s mechanics had the car running again in just three hours, but problems restarting the engine in the morning brought the Estonian to a halt before he could leave the service park.
He will restart on Sunday’s final leg, which comprises just 74.66km, most of it in a monster opening test of 55.82km.