The French crew of Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia were firmly in control of the 11th Rally Guanajuato Corona, round three of the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship, after 18 timed special stages on Saturday evening.
The Volkswagen Polo R WRC crew won five of the day’s seven drama-filled specials and extended their overnight lead of 26.1sec to 1min 00.3sec with just four stages remaining on Sunday. “I needed to control my pace, keep my concentration all the time and take no risks,” admitted the defending World Champion.
The Norwegian duo of Mads Østberg and Andreas Mikkelsen and Poland’s Robert Kubica blotted their copybooks in the first of the two runs through the Otatitos stage on Saturday morning. Mikkelsen and Kubica crashed out for the second successive day and Østberg clouted a bank, damaged the rear suspension of his Citroën DS3 WRC, lost second overall and was forced out on the subsequent road section when emergency repairs failed. Roll cage damage means that Kubica will not restart on Sunday.
Ogier’s Finnish team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala inherited second when Østberg retired and the WRC leader stayed out of trouble over the remaining stages of the day to reach León in a comfortable second.
The Hyundai Shell World Rally Team enjoyed their best day of the WRC season so far. Belgian Thierry Neuville passed Elfyn Evans on the first loop of two stages and reached the end of the day in a superb third overall, 47.0sec in front of the more cautious Welshman. Team-mate Chris Atkinson also put Friday’s woes behind him and the Australian reached the Rally Campus in León in seventh overall in the second of the i20 WRCs.
Martin Prokop was quietly going about his business without making mistakes and the Jipocar Czech National Team driver was classified in fifth place with his Ford Fiesta R5 WRC, despite minor brake issues.
Mexico’s Benito Guerra remained on course to please his sponsors and seal an extension to his WRC programme in a Ford Fiesta R5 WRC by holding sixth position, despite clouting a tree on the second run through Otatitos, denting a door and bruising his elbow.
Ukraine’s Yuriy Protasov maintained his runaway lead in the WRC 2 category. He began the day with a massive advantage over Italy’s Lorenzo Bertelli and, when the Italian rolled out of contention on the morning loop, Protasov noticeably eased his pace with power steering issues and reached the end of the day with an even bigger lead over Italian Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X driver Massimiliano Rendina..
Mikko Hirvonen and Kris Meeke restarted on Saturday under the Rally 2 regulation and set some competitive stage times during the course of the day to hold eighth and ninth. Hirvonen passed Protasov in SS15 and Meeke did likewise in El Brinco 1 to push the Ukraine driver down to 10th, even though the Dungannon driver survived a 360-degree spin in the first of the 2.21km super specials and then set the fastest time in the next one.
Saturday – as it happened
All 26 original starters began Saturday’s group of seven special stages with the first of two runs through the 30.33km of Ibarrilla. When Østberg clouted a bank on the outside of a corner and damaged the DS3’s rear suspension, it all but settled the contest in Volkswagen’s favour, with Ogier setting the quickest time and extending his advantage over Latvala to 47.0sec.
Latvala moved to within 5.8sec of Østberg and second overall, but the Norwegian was in communication with his team via telephone at the stage finish and began to make emergency repairs to a broken left-hand rear suspension upright using ratchet straps and cable ties.
Evans began the day 1.5sec ahead of Neuville and doubled his advantage over the Belgian, who slowed with brake issues. Hirvonen confirmed that alternator problems had caused Friday’s retirement and he was back in a competitive pace through the day’s opener with the fourth quickest time.
Protasov began the day with a massive WRC 2 lead and the pendulum firmly swung in his favour when Bertelli rolled out of the event in Ibarrilla. The Italian duo of Massimlliano Rendina and Gianluca Linari were now the Ukraine driver’s closest WRC 2 challengers.
Østberg stopped on the road section to Otatitos to continue working on repairs to the DS3 before the long stage. The rear left driveshaft was removed, the brakes were bled and he headed for the stage late with a fistful of time penalties awaiting.
Mikkelsen’s miserable Mexican foray ended when he inverted the Polo R WRC 10km into Otatitos and Kubica also rolled again to continue the event’s high rate of attrition. Østberg was not able to start the stage and his demise lifted Latvala into second position.
said Latvala, who cracked his windscreen after a heavy landing in a hole on the stage.
Ogier was quickest again to extend his lead to 49sec and Neuville’s impressive time eased him 11.1sec in front of Evans and into third with the Hyundai
Ogier admitted that he was now ‘controlling’ the rally and ‘driving cleanly’ and he set the quickest time through Ibarrilla. Despite clipping a small rock, he extended his advantage over a resigned Latvala to 52.5sec. Third-placed Neuville moved 12.3sec ahead of Evans, although the Welshman admitted that he would not be taking any risks. “We will do our best to catch Thierry, but we are not prepared to take any more risks to make this happen,” insisted the Welshman.
Would the re-run of Otatitos be as dramatic as it had been in the morning when three top cars were sidelined? Guerra missed a braking point, clipped a tree and bruised his elbow, Prokop complained of brake woes and several other drivers moaned at the lack of grip, but that failed to prevent Ogier from claiming another quickest time. He extended his advantage to 56.2sec over Latvala before the remaining three shorter stages. Hirvonen squeezed passed Protasov and into eighth overall with the third quickest time.
El Brinco 1 was the dress rehearsal run for Sunday’s power stage and Ogier set the quickest time of 4min 40.2sec and headed for the two runs through the super specials with a lead of 58.5sec. Both Meeke and Prokop survived spins on SS17 but Latvala and Meeke shared top honours on the two specials, with Ogier duly reaching the Rally Campus with an overall lead of a fraction over a minute.
Tomorrow is the final day of Rally Guanajuato Corona 2014 and teams will tackle four varied specials, starting with an extended super special of 4.42km from 08.55hrs. But this is a mere taster for the mammoth 55.92km Guanajuatito stage, starting at 09.58hrs.
No service, only refuelling, will be permitted before the penultimate Derramadero special at 11.21hrs and the competitive action draws to a close with the televised 8.25km Power Stage at El Brinco from 12.08hrs.
Press: Rali Mexico