PHOTO: Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala (right) and co-driver Miikka Anttila celebrate their victory in WRC Rally Guanajuato Mexico (Volkswagen pic)
FLYING Finn Jari-Matti Latvala ended teammate Sébastien Ogier’s perfect start to the FIA World Rally Championship season with a convincing victory at Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Sunday.
After a disastrous opening two rounds in Europe in which he failed to score, Latvala controlled the first gravel round of the season to secure his 16th career victory on hot and dusty mountain roads near León, around 320 kilometres north of Mexico City.
He headed Ogier, starting his 100th WRC round, by 1min 05.0sec after almost 400km of white-knuckle driving, wrecking the Frenchman’s unblemished start to the campaign for a fourth straight driver’s championship after maximum scores in Monte-Carlo and Sweden.
Both were driving Volkswagen Polo R cars and the win was the 12th consecutive victory for the German manufacturer, equalling its championship record set in 2013-14.
Both record strings have included Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast, where Ogier win in 2013-14-15, the last time also clinching his most recent championship.
The WRC will return to Rally Australia for the season’s final round on 17-20 November.
Latvala laid the groundwork for his Mexico triumph with a faultless performance on Friday and Saturday’s gravel speed tests. He benefited from a low starting position, which ensured the roads were cleaned of gravel by those ahead – including Ogier – to leave a faster line.
He won all 10 loose-surface stages over those two days and measured his pace through Sunday’s final two tests, which included the challenging 80km Guanajuato, the longest in the WRC since 1986.
“This is a fightback and it’s a fantastic feeling. I had such a difficult start to the season with two rallies and zero points. My mind wasn’t so good and this hasn’t been a strong rally for me in the past, but I drove with no problems,” Latvala told WRC.com.
Facing the worst of the conditions as road-opener for two full days, Ogier was resigned to his fate by Saturday afternoon.
He recognised he had no chance of catching his colleague and settled for a strong haul of points, adding a maximum three bonus points by winning the final live TV Power Stage.
Dani Sordo completed the podium, giving Hyundai its third consecutive top-three finish with its new i20 car. The Spaniard finished 3min 37.9sec behind Latvala, despite a broken fan causing his engine to overheat and brake problems in Sunday’s long stage.
Mads Østberg claimed fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS to climb to second in the drivers’ standings behind Ogier. The Norwegian was penalised for a jump-start and had a gearshift problem early in the event but headed New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon by 46.2sec.
Ott Tänak completed the top six in another Fiesta RS, with Martin Prokop, Lorenzo Bertelli, WRC 2 winner Teemu Suninen and Valeriy Gorban filling the leaderboard.
The Ford drivers also delivered a victory to the manufacturer and its team representative M-Sport, 200 consecutive points-earning rallies since 2002.
Andreas Mikkelsen did not restart after crashing his Volkswagen on Saturday, joining Thierry Neuville on the sidelines after the Belgian suffered a heavy accident.
Round five of the championship takes competitors to South America for Rally Argentina (21-24 April). The gravel event is based in Villa Carlos Paz, in the western Cordoba province.
Overall Final Classification:
1. J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 4:25:57.4
2. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:05.0
3. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +3:37.9
4. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:36.4
5. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +6:22.6
6. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +9:59.5
7. M. Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +12:58.5
8. L. Bertelli / S. Scattolin (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +14:09.6
9. T. Suninen / M. Markkula (Škoda Fabia R5) +18:01.8
10. V. Gorban / V. Korsia (MINI Countryman WRC) +32:37.3
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings:
1. S. Ogier 77 points
2. M. Østberg 39
3. A. Mikkelsen 33
4. D. Sordo 33
5. H. Paddon 29
6. J. M. Latvala 27|
7. O. Tanak 24
8. T. Neuville 15
9. S. Lefebvre 10
10. H. Solberg 6
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings:
1. Volkswagen Motorsport 97 points
2. Hyundai Motorsport 64
3. M-Sport World Rally Team 43
4. Volkswagen Motorsport II 30
5. DMACK World Rally Team 26