Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished second in the gravel debut of the new Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, finishing 45.5sec ahead of team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila.
The result means that Ford Abu Dhabi has extended its lead in the manufacturers' series to 26 points after the second round of the 13 event series. Hirvonen, winner of the opening round in Sweden, stretched his lead in the drivers' championship to nine points. He increased his tally after taking maximum bonus points by winning the final Power Stage in Mexico. Latvala is now third in the championship.
The opening dirt event of the season in Mexico was punishing. Rocky roads in the Sierra de Lobos mountains near Leon, 400km north-west of Mexico City, combined with high temperatures of 33oC took a heavy toll on competitors. Few drivers escaped technical problems, but the Fiesta RS WRC of Hirvonen and Latvala completed the four-day rally unscathed, with a total of three punctures as their only troubles.
Competitors tackled 22 speed tests covering 227 miles over four days. The challenge was made even tougher by the altitude. The roads climbed to more than 8860ft, and the thin air deprived cars of up to 20% of their normal power, requiring a different driving approach.
As the winner of the previous round, Hirvonen had the disadvantage on the opening leg of being first on the road, sweeping a deep carpet of loose gravel from the tracks. It left a cleaner, faster line for those behind, and he ended the day in third. The 30-year-old Finn consolidated his position on the final day to climb into second when Sebastien Ogier crashed out of the lead.
"It's a great result from the championship perspective, especially considering the disadvantage of our road position on Friday," he said. "After my difficulties last season, I feel I've rediscovered my consistency and that's important in mounting a title challenge. I knew the roads used in the Power Stage well and those bonus points are a big boost.
"I didn't have the opportunity to fully test some of the parts on the Fiesta before this rally, so I'm looking forward to doing that when we test in Portugal before our next rally there. We still have work to do improving the car, but it's an encouraging start to the season," he added.
Latvala recovered well to take the final step on the podium after losing two minutes when he stopped to change a rear left puncture on the opening day. The time loss dropped him to ninth but he climbed back to fourth at the end of the leg. A second puncture on saturday proved less costly and the 25 year-old Finn had settled for fourth until he was promoted to third by Ogier's crash.
"To take a podium after two punctures is more than I could hope for," he admitted. "Our pace improved as the rally progressed and the Fiesta RS WRC felt good all the way through the weekend. I used the same set-up all rally and I was happy with the handling for our first gravel rally in the car. But we can still make improvements, and that's my aim before the next round in Portugal.
News from other Ford teams
M-Sport Stobart Ford duo Mads Ostberg and Jonas Andersson adopted a cautious approach on Sunday to claim sixth overall in their Fiesta RS WRC. Team-mates Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor took seventh, despite having to change the alternator belt on a liaison section after the opening stage.
Munchi's Ford's Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc finished 10th after limping through the final stage with a broken driveshaft. The Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino were 13th after losing 20 minutes in the penultimate stage with an electrical problem.
Ford Fiesta S2000 cars claimed first and second in the opening round of the SWRC support category. Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini led home Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek by 13.5 sec.
The championship returns to Europe for round three later this month. The all-gravel Rally de Portugal is based in Faro on 24-27 March.
|1.||S Loeb/D Elena||FRA||Citroen DS3||3hr 53min 17.0sec|
|2.||M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen||FIN||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 54min 55.4sec|
|3.||J-M Latvala/M Anttila||FIN||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 55min 40.9sec|
|4.||P Solberg/C Patterson||NOR||Citroen DS3||4hr 00min 35.4sec|
|5.||M Ostberg/J Andersson||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 02min 00.5sec|
|6.||H Solberg/I Minor||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 03min 07.0sec|
|7.||N Al-Attiyah/G Bernacchini||QAT||Ford Fiesta S2000||4hr 06min 38.5sec|
|8.||M Prokop/J Tomanek||CZE||Ford Fiesta S2000||4hr 06min 52.0sec|
|9.||J Hanninen/M Markkula||FIN||Skoda Fabia S2000||4hr 08min 05.7sec|
|10.||F Villagra/J Perez Companc||ARG||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 41min 34.2sec|
|1.||Ford Abu Dhabi||73pts|
|3.||M-Sport Stobart Ford||36pts|
|5.||Ice 1 Racing||8pts|
|6=||Team Abu Dhabi||6pts|