Latvala finally got the first points of his WRC season at Rally Mexico and did it with a comprehensive win. Equally the WRC2 fight was fairly one-sided
Jari-Matti Latvala ended team-mate Sébastien Ogier’s perfect start to the WRC season with a convincing victory at Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Sunday.
After a disastrous opening two rounds 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.
He headed Ogier, starting his 100th WRC round, by 1min 05.0sec after almost 400km of white knuckle driving, wrecking the world champion’s unblemished start to the campaign 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.
Latvala laid the groundwork with a faultless performance on Friday and Saturday’s dirt speed tests. The Finn enjoyed a low start position and benefited from roads cleaned of gravel by those ahead to leave a faster line. He won all 10 loose surface stages over those two days and measured his pace through today’s final two tests, which included the 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,” said Latvala.
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 in his quest for a fourth title, adding a maximum three bonus points by winning the final live TV Power Stage.
Dani Sordo completed the podium, Hyundai’s 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 today’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.
Andreas Mikkelsen did not restart after crashing yesterday, joining Thierry Neuville on the sidelines after the Belgian suffered a heavy accident.
Hyundai’s Dani Sordo lost his podium finish at Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Sunday evening after being handed a two-minute penalty for using one more tyre than allowed during the four-day event.
The penalty relegated the Spaniard from third to fourth and promoted M-Sport’s Mads Østberg to third. Just 1.5sec split the pair in the revised classification.
Rally stewards received a report from the FIA Technical Delegate stating that Sordo used 29 tyres, one more than authorised.
Team principal Michel Nandan and team manager Alain Penasse told stewards that due to a communication error three new and two used tyres were assigned to Sordo’s i20 in a tyre fitting zone instead of three used and two new units.
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.
Teemu Suninen began his WRC 2 season with victory at Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Sunday by a massive 20-minute margin.
Hot and dusty gravel mountain roads near León took a heavy toll on the field in the WRC’s principal support category and after ending the opening leg more than seven minutes clear, Suninen measured his pace through the rest of the rally.
As the problems increased for others, the Finn avoided issues and eventually brought his Skoda Fabia R5 to the finish 20min 11.6sec ahead of Poland’s Hubert Ptaszek, who netted a career-best result in a Peugeot 208 T16.
“It wasn’t easy today but the plan was to keep the car on the road. Other drivers had problems and made mistakes and hopefully we can fight with Elfyn Evans during the season,” said Suninen.
Evans won in Monte-Carlo and Sweden and retains the championship lead, despite not competing in Mexico. He began his British Championship campaign this weekend with victory in Wales.
Ptaszek survived a string of problems on Friday and drove with only two-wheel drive for much of yesterday but recovered to finish 3min 53.8sec ahead of Max Rendina’s Ford Fiesta R5. Nicolas Fuchs was fourth, the Peruvian another to suffer many issues, with Armin Kremer the only other finisher in fifth.
The German who retired on both Friday and Saturday with suspension problems, was fastest on both today’s stages.
Abdulaziz Al Kuwari was the sole retirement today, the Qatari retiring his Fabia R5 in the final stage.