Flying Frenchman Sébastien Ogier edged towards a sixth Rally Guanajuato México victory after building up an encouraging lead in Friday’s first full day of competition.
In sizzling hot conditions, the Toyota Yaris man avoided the drama of those around him to end the first full day’s competition with a 13.2sec lead over M-Sport Ford pilot Teemu Suninen. Elfyn Evans was third, snatching the position from world champion Ott Tänak in the final speed test.
Ogier grabbed the early lead from Tänak in Friday’s opening El Chocolate test and led for the remainder of the day. He capitalised on an uncharacteristic mistake by the Estonian, who nursed his Hyundai i20 to the end of the stage with rear suspension damage.
“I knew that being third on the road would give us a chance to make good time,” said Ogier. “I think we have all had challenges today, like slippery roads and a lot of rocks to avoid, so it’s never easy to drive here but I enjoyed it. There is a long way to go but at least we have the best road position.”
Suninen’s strong performance on the tricky gravel roads was overshadowed by the gut-wrenching retirement of team-mate Esapekka Lappi, whose Ford Fiesta became engulfed in flames immediately after the re-run of El Chocolate. Despite the best efforts of fire teams, the car burned out.
“On the stop line, Janne opened the door and said the car is burning. I didn’t realise how big the fire was, so I tried to drive. Luckily we are fine, but I don’t know what caused it,” Lappi explained.
Championship leader Evans ended the leg third in a Yaris. Running first on the road, the Welshman struggled with low grip levels and rounded out the day 33.2sec back from the lead.
Despite dropping over 40sec during the day’s opener, Tänak showed determination to climb back up the leaderboard. A daring drive through the Las Minas 2 speed test saw the i20 driver climb four places in one stage. Just 0.2sec separated him and Evans at close of play.
Tänak’s return to the sharp end of the timesheets was partly due to the demise of team-mate Thierry Neuville. The Belgian was battling in the top three when his i20 ground to a halt with electrical gremlins. Dani Sordo’s similar car also succumbed to technical maladies, making it a day to forget for the Korean manufacturer.
Kalle Rovanperä was fifth after a challenging day. He overcame a slow puncture to lie just 2.3sec further back from Tänak. Gus Greensmith steered clear of trouble to round out the top six in his Fiesta.
Leading positions after Friday:
1. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Toyota Yaris 1hr 23min 09.2sec
2. T Suninen / J Lehtinen FIN Ford Fiesta +13.2sec
3. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota Yaris +33.2sec
4. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Hyundai i20 +33.4sec
5. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota Yaris +35.7sec
6. G Greensmith / E Edmondson GBR Ford Fiesta +1min 16.8sec