SÉBASTIEN Ogier won Rally Guanajuato Mexico for the fourth time on Sunday to recapture the lead in the FIA World Rally Championship.
PHOTO: Sébastien Ogier’s M-Sport Ford Fiesta bursts out of a dust cloud on the way to victory in Rally Guanajuato Mexico (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull pic)
Ogier sealed his 42nd career victory, and his second of 2018, by 1min 13.6sec after mastering tricky road conditions and intense heat in the high mountains of central Mexico.
The Frenchman minimised his time loss on Friday from second in the start order after ploughing a line through loose gravel to leave cleaner and faster roads for rivals behind.
He surged from fifth to first on Saturday, avoiding trouble in his Ford Fiesta as mistakes and problems cost others vital time. He had the luxury of easing through Sunday’s finale before celebrating victory in this third round of the season at the León finish.
“It’s a special place for me every year. Seven podiums and four victories, I love it here. It’s a great atmosphere even though I knew this weekend would be tough starting second on the road. I knew our chance was pretty small but we never gave up,” Ogier said.
Kris Meeke crashed out of second in the morning, tipping his Citroën C3 onto its side after sliding into a gully. Spectators righted the car but the Briton dropped 45sec to allow Dani Sordo, who led earlier in the weekend, to snatch the runner-up position in a Hyundai i20.
The error revived memories of 12 months ago when Meeke won despite a dramatic crash into a car park less than a kilometre from the finish.
Sordo had a late scare of his own. The Spaniard punctured his rear right wheel in the final stage but had enough time in hand as Meeke lacked the pace to challenge after damaging his car’s aerodynamic rear wing in the crash. The gap between them was 15.6sec.
Andreas Mikkelsen finished fourth, a further 19.2sec behind, after struggling with his i20’s handling throughout.
Returning nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb was fifth following a remarkable return after more than three years out of the WRC. The 44-year-old Frenchman led in his C3 before a puncture ended his bid for a fairytale victory.
Thierry Neuville came into the rally leading the championship. The burden of opening the roads in the worst of the conditions and a series of minor mistakes left the Belgian in recovery mode. He did well to salvage strong points in sixth in his i20.
WRC 2 winner Pontus Tidemand finished seventh ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, who fought back onto the leaderboard after retiring his Toyota Yaris on Friday with alternator problems.
WRC 2 drivers Gus Greensmith and Pedro Heller completed the top 10.
The championship moves to the Mediterranean island of Corsica for round four. The asphalt Corsica Linea-Tour de Corse is based in Bastia on 5 – 8 April.
The 2018 FIA World Rally Championship finishes at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 15-19 November.
Results, Rally Guanajuato Mexico (WRC Rd 3 of 13):
1 Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 3:53:58.0
2 Dani Sordo / Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) + 1:13.6
3 Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (Citroen DS3 WRC) + 1:29.2
4 Andreas Mikkelsen / Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) + 1:48.4
5 Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (Citroen C3 WRC) + 2:34.6
6 Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC + 9:13.0
7 Pontus Tidemand / Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia R5) + 10:34.7
8 Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 15:47.1
9 Gus Greensmith / Craig Parry (Ford Fiesta R5) +17:09.2
10 Pedro Heller / Pablo Olmos (Ford Fiesta R5) +24:18.1
Drivers’ Championship standings (after Rd 3):
1 Sébastien Ogier 60
2 Thierry Neuville 51
3 Andreas Mikkelsen 34
4 Kris Meeke 32
5 Jari-Matti Latvala 30
6 Ott Tänak 26
7 Esapekka Lappi 23
8 Craig Breen 20
9 Dani Sordo 18
10 Sébastien Loeb 10
Manufacturers’ Championship standings (after Rd 3):
1 Hyundai WRT 84 points
2 M-Sport Ford WRT 72
3 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT 71
4 Toyota Gazoo Racing 67