(WRC.com release, 10/3/2013) SEBASTIEN Ogier closed on a second consecutive WRC victory and a potential gravel debut success for the Volkswagen Polo R after the second full day of competition in Rally Guanajuato Mexico.
The Frenchman returned to Leon on Saturday night having extended his Friday lead from 33sec to 2min 52.4sec. Just three stages covering 80.41km on Sunday stand between him and the win.
His cause was helped when Mads Ostberg retired from second with a broken alternator on his Ford Fiesta RS – a moment the young Norwegian star described as the biggest disappointment of his career.
Then Mikko Hirvonen, who inherited second in his Citroen DS3, dropped two minutes with a puncture.
Australia’s Chris Atkinson finished the day seventh in his Citroen DS3, after a strong fightback from broken steering and a late-time penalty on Friday.
He had slipped as low as 15th after the incident, but poured on the pressure on Saturday, never out of the top seven stage finishers and claiming an impressive third place on a short street stage in Leon before the lunchtime service break.
Ogier won five of the seven stages and his serene progress was only interrupted near the end of the final high-altitude test when he encountered a closed gate.
Co-driver Julien Ingrassia leaped out to open it and the duo dropped 40sec. Organisers are investigating why the gate was shut.
Ogier was so relaxed he could laugh about the incident at the stage finish.
“Maybe somebody didn’t want me to win,” he joked.
“There’s still one day to go and in the morning we have the longest stage of the rally so we must keep our concentration. I want to drive at a good rhythm and have fun.”
A leaking pipe in the clutch hindered Ostberg in the opening test. On the following road section he had to turn off his Ford Fiesta RS each time he stopped and restart it in gear.
When the alternator failed, his battery quickly ran out of charge and he was stranded.
“It’s the biggest disappointment I’ve ever had in rallying,” he said. “I’ve been disappointed previously but never this bad. It’s very frustrating after fighting for a good result.” He is expected to restart tomorrow under Rally 2 regulations.
With a large time gap to Ogier and no challenge from behind, Hirvonen eased his pace to hold position. However, a puncture dropped him into the clutches of Thierry Neuville and the pair are separated by just 7.5sec.
“I’m lucky to be second,” the Citroen team leader admitted.
“I drove 23km with a rear-left puncture so now we’ll have a fight tomorrow as well. The fight looked to be over when Ostberg went out, but the gap is small and the first stage is 50km so anything can happen there.
“He will try, so I need to push as well.”
Neuville damaged the steering of his Fiesta RS in the opening stage and when it jammed in the next test he spun and lost almost a minute. Fears of overheating later were eased when the Belgian discovered the dashboard warnings were prompted by a disconnected fan.
“I’m disappointed for Mads because he was doing well on only his second time here but sometimes that happens in rallying and for us it was good. We won a place and we’re now on the podium so we should continue like this and try to finish there,” he said.
Dani Sordo is fourth, but the Spaniard remains perplexed by his lack of pace in the Citroen DS3.
Nasser Al-Attiyah and Ken Block round off the top six, the Qatari driver relieved to escape a huge sixth gear moment in his Fiesta RS.
Chris Atkinson has his sights set on Block, the Australian only 26.7sec behind.
“It’s difficult to push too hard because that takes us off the swept line but we’re about 0.6 sec per kilometre off Mikko’s pace and he has a much better road position,” Atkinson said at the midday break.
“We’re chipping away. Okay, it’s frustrating after our problems yesterday but we can still get some good points if we carry on like this.”