The French duo of Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena confirmed their sixth victory in Rally Guanajuato Mexico and extended their lead in the FIA World Rally Championship after the final four special stages, near Leon, on Sunday.
Leading by 36.2s overnight, the eight-time World Champions mastered their tactics to perfection over the final day and Loeb avoided trouble and took no risks on his way to a 42.4s victory over Citroën Total World Rally Team colleagues, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen.
I am very happy,” said Loeb. “I always win here! It is a great result for the team as well, with Mikko finishing second, a one-two for us.” Hirvonen was also delighted: “I am quite happy with the result. It is my first time with this car on gravel and I was able to stay on a good pace with Sébastien all the way.”
Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala looked comfortable in third position in the leading Ford Fiesta RS WRC until he was distracted by Evgeny Novikov’s stricken Ford in the daunting Guanjuatito stage. The Finn took avoiding action, thinking that the Ford was in the stage, but the Russian had actually left the road himself and Latvala crashed heavily with the loss of over seven minutes. After an FIA inspection of the damaged Fiesta, the devastated Finn was not able to continue.
Norwegian Petter Solberg and his Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson – leaders of the event after the opening stage – were promoted to the final podium position and managed to take the three bonus points for winning the final Power Stage. “I am delighted with the position but I am still disappointed that I had the four punctures and the brake problem,” said Solberg.
Norwegian Mads Ostberg punctured on SS22 and completed the stage on the rim, but managed to finish in a fine fourth overall and Estonia’s Ott Tänak was fifth. Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, partnered by the Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini, was delighted to confirm sixth overall on an event where he won his first ever WRC special stage.
Portugal’s Armindo Araújo confirmed seventh in his Mini JCW WRC. “I started the rally with the electronic problem and then we improved from the first day,” said Armindo. “I am pleased with the Mini. It is the best result of my career in Mexico.”
Sébastien Ogier enjoyed his run in the Skoda Fabia S2000, entered by Volkswagen Motorsport, and finished in eighth overall. Ken Block confirmed ninth in the Monster Ford Fiesta. “A nice event, but I did not enjoy sweeping the roads,” said the American. “I think the new qualifying system kind of screws the privateers, but I learned some new stuff with the car.”
Benito Guerra confirmed victory in the PWRC category with a fine 11th overall, but was beaten to the rank of being the highest-placed Mexican finisher by 10th-placed Ricardo Trivino.
Sunday – as it happened:
Loeb began the final day’s four special stages with a 36.2s overall lead, but it was Belgian driver Thierry Neuville who opened the day’s proceedings through the 4.42km super special stage in his Citroën Junior World Rally Team DS3. He lined up alongside Australia’s Chris Atkinson for the benefit of the four laps of the Autodromo spectator stage.
Preserving the tyres was an important factor, with three punishing gravel stages to follow, and Neuville set the fastest time of 3m 12.5s to record his first ever WRC stage win. Block stalled on the start line and Loeb beat Hirvonen to extend his overall lead to 36.5s. “It was the biggest honour in my career to be on the stage against Sébastien (Loeb) and the best team in the world,” enthused Brazilian driver Paulo Nobre.
The mammoth 54.3km Guanajuatito special was next on the agenda, although Hirvonen had openly admitted that the fast, flowing nature of the longest timed test of the entire event would make it less of a challenge than the Ibarilla and Otates stages everyone had tackled on Saturday.
Hirvonen may have been confident, but the stage provided the drama of the rally: Atkinson pulled out with a broken damper 20km into the special, Novikov left the road and retired from 11th place and Al-Attiyah set the early target time of 36m 51.1s.
Solberg managed to beat the Qatari, but Hirvonen pipped Loeb by 0.7s to set the fastest time. Østberg punctured and finished the stage on the rim, but Latvala’s determined charge to try and pressurise the leading duo came to an end when he rolled his Ford Fiesta and lost over seven minutes. He dropped to seventh overall.
“I saw from far away Novikov’s car and I was very confused,” said the Finn. “I first thought the car was on the road and I made a movement to avoid it and my car went off, away, and rolled. It took a lot to get it back on the road. I think I can continue but I lost a lot of points.”
Unfortunately for the Finn, an FIA technical official would not let the Finn start the penultimate Derramadero stage, because of damage to the roll cage, and Latvala’s misery was complete. Loeb pipped Solberg to the fastest time and headed into the Power Stage with a 41-second lead over Hirvonen.
But Ford had something to smile about after the Power Stage; Solberg managed to set the fastest time and pick up the three bonus points, with Loeb taking two points for second and Østberg collecting a bonus point for third. Guerra confirmed the PWRC victory, although was beaten to being the top Mexican finisher by Ricardo Trivino.
Positions after SS24:
1. Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (FRA) Citroën DS3 WRC – 4h 15m 32.7s
2. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Citroën DS3 WRC – 4h 16m 15.1s
3. Petter Solberg (NOR)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Ford Fiesta RS WRC – 4h 17m 44.1s
4. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Ford Fiesta RS WRC – 4h 20m 24.2s
5. Ott Tänak (EST)/Kuldar Sikk (EST) Ford Fiesta RS WRC – 4h 20m 35.3s
6. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Citroën DS3 WRC- 4h 22m 14.1s
7. Armindo Araújo (PRT)/Miguel Ramalho (PRT) Mini JCW WRC – 4h 28m 19.6s
8. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julian Ingrassia (FRA) Škoda Fabia S2000 – 4h 30m 30.5s
9. Ken Block (USA)/Alex Gelsomino (USA) Ford Fiesta RS WRC – 4h 37m 59.5s
10. Ricardo Trivino (MEX)/Alex Haro (ESP) Ford Fiesta RS WRC – 4h 39m 03.4s
– Credit: www.rallymexico.com.