TENS of thousands of fans packed the historic streets of Guanajuato as Volkswagen’s world champion Sebastien Ogier took first points in his bid to defend his Rally Mexico title.
Music and dancing filled the town and generated a crackling atmosphere at a colourful start ceremony for this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship on Thursday evening local time, after which competitors immediately tackled the opening special stage.
The 1.01km test threaded through underground tunnels built by silver miners in the 1600s before emerging on to narrow streets lined by enthusiastic fans.
As championship leader for the first time, Jari-Matti Latvala led the field into
the stage but Volkswagen teammate Sébastien Ogier emerged fastest by 0.3sec in his Polo R.
“It was a great feeling driving through there with so many spectators. It’s always slippery here and you have to be careful – no risks at all tonight,” the Frenchman said.
A remarkable second was Estonia’s Ott Tanak at the wheel of a WRC2 category Ford Fiesta R5.
He was 0.1sec clear of Andreas Mikkelsen’s Polo R, with Kris Meeke’s Citroen DS3 and Latvala completing the top five.
There were early problems for Hyundai debutant Chris Atkinson whose i20 stopped just 100 metres after the start.
“I don’t know what happened but we reset the car and it started again,” explained the Australian, who dropped more than 20sec.
Friday’s leg contains 10 more stages covering 148.62km. Most are in the mountains east of León, but the day ends with two passes through a super special stage at the city’s race circuit.