As the closest event on the WRC calendar to the US, Rally Mexico always holds special interest and the 2012 event was full of excitement from beginning to end. Firstly, it saw the 69th career win for Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, while the team enjoyed a clean sweep as second place was secured by Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen.
The third round of the series was characterized by demanding gravel roads in the rolling mountains near León, 250-miles northwest of Mexico City, with temperatures topping 86ºF.
The combination of the heat and long stages guaranteed tough conditions for the engine, brakes and transmissions, as well as Michelin’s rough-road tires.
Altitude also played a key role in the four-day rally, which comprised 240 miles over 22 stages. The roads climbed to more than 8860ft in the Sierra de Lobos mountains. The lack of oxygen at such heights reduced power output by around 20 per cent.
Despite being shorter than the opening two days, the final day of Rally Mexico wasn’t considered any easier. After a fourth and final run on the super special stage around the León Autodrome, the crews set off to tackle the day’s main course, the 34-mile Guanajuatito.
With a comfortable lead, Loeb and Hirvonen didn’t push too hard, preferring to save their tires for the Power Stage. At the end of Guanajuatito, Mikko Hirvonen set the fastest time, 0.7sec ahead of Loeb.
On Derramadero, the penultimate stage, Loeb added yet another stage win to his tally. The eight-time World Champion then pushed hard on the Power Stage, setting the second fastest time to pick up the two bonus points.
“It’s been a perfect weekend,” enthused Seb on his return to the service park. “The rally was very difficult and I had to push hard to shake off Mikko. Once I’d built up a gap, I was able to control the race more, but I stayed alert nonetheless. There is always a chance of spinning or picking up a puncture, which can ruin a race. This season has started in very typical fashion: a win at Monte-Carlo, an average result in Sweden and a win in Mexico. Let’s hope the rest of the season goes the same way as previous years!”
Second again, like in Sweden, Mikko Hirvonen was pleased with this result: “It’s great for the team to achieve a one-two here. Seb was stronger than me and beat me after a good fight, but I had my chances. These three days of racing helped me make progress with the new car and I’m changing my driving style to adapt to the Citroën DS3 WRC. It's been a really good weekend, which bodes In addition to the two Citroën Total World Rally Team cars, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Thierry Neuville ran in their own DS3s, with Nasser making good use of his rally-raid experience. Thierry was unlucky and had to rejoin under Rally 2 rules, but his performances shows he has potential on gravel.”
Meanwhile, the Ford World Rally Team drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson finished third in Rally Mexico. The Norwegian driver and his British co-driver also won the final Power Stage speed test in their Ford Fiesta RS WRC to claim maximum bonus points in their FIA World Rally Championship challenge.
Teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila retired from third place with two special stages remaining after rolling their Fiesta after being distracted by another crashed car. The accident damaged the rollcage and the Finns had to withdraw for safety reasons.
Solberg led the rally after the short street stage through the former mining tunnels in the picture postcard city of Guanajuato on Thursday night. The 37-year-old fell back to 13th during the first leg after twice puncturing tyres when he hit a bank and a rock. He ended the day in fifth and climbed to fourth yesterday, despite minor brake difficulties, after setting a string of consistently fast times.
Solberg moved into third when Latvala crashed, sealing a strong performance on his first gravel rally in a Fiesta RS WRC. He subsequently won the Power Stage by a crushing 1.4sec.
“My speed was good throughout the rally and I was towards the top of the time sheets all the way through,” he said. “I’m disappointed with the bad luck both Jari-Matti and myself suffered, but the car was fantastic all weekend. The team made great improvements before the rally and that allowed me to be consistently fast from the very first kilometer.
“I really wanted to win the Power Stage because the bonus points are important for the championship. The extra three points means I scored the same as the second-placed driver, so it’s like finishing a place higher. I’ve now driven on three different surfaces in the Fiesta in the opening three rallies and I was really comfortable on each, so I feel confident for the season ahead,” he added.
Latvala led during the first full day before hitting a rock and breaking his car’s front left suspension arm. The 90sec time loss relegated him to eighth, but he recovered to fourth at the end of the day with three consecutive stage victories. A further four wins yesterday promoted him to third, but his chances of a podium ended on the Guanajuatito stage when he crashed.
“I approached a fast right bend which led into a left-right combination of corners,” said Latvala. “From a distance, I saw Evgeny Novikov’s car on its roof and it appeared to be on the side of the road. I braked hard and the car slid into a bank, then rolled back onto the track. I think I rolled twice. The impact punctured the front left tire, which we changed, and I drove slowly to the end.
“I drove on to the refueling point where an FIA official noticed a dent in the rollcage on my side, at the front of the car. We then went to the start of the next stage, where the official informed me that he had reported the damage to the clerk of the course. I wanted to carry on because the dent was small but the officials regarded the cage as unsafe and I had to stop. I’m extremely disappointed, but I must put this behind me and look forward to the next round,” he added.
Other Ford Teams
Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson finished fourth in the Adapta Motorsport World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC, despite losing almost two minutes with a rear right puncture in the long Guanajuatito stage.
Just 11.1sec behind in fifth were M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak/Kuldar Sikk.
Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino finished ninth after losing almost seven minutes with a flat tire in the long stage, and the top 10 was rounded out by the Fiesta RS WRC of Ricardo Trivino/Alex Haro.
Evgeny Novikov/Denis Giraudet retired after crashing heavily in Guanajuatito, while Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prévot, driving for the Monster World Rally Team for the frist time, stopped on the same stage after an oil leak in the suspension.
The championship returns to Europe for round four – the gravel Rally de Portugal, based in the Algarve resort of Faro on 29 March-1 April.
|1.||S Loeb/D Elena||FRA||Citroen DS3||4hr 15min 32.7sec|
|2.||M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen||FIN||Citroen DS3||4hr 16min 15.1sec|
|3.||P Solberg/C Patterson||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 17min 44.1sec|
|4.||M Østberg/J Andersson||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 20min 24.2sec|
|5.||O Tänak/K Sikk||EST||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 20min 35.3sec|
|6.||N Al Attiyah/G Bernacchini||QAT||Citroen DS3||4hr 22min 14.1sec|
|7.||A Araujo/M Ramalho||PRT||Mini John Cooper||4hr 28min 19.6sec|
|8.||S Ogier/J Ingrassia||FRA||Skoda Fabia S2000||4hr 30min 30.5sec|
|9.||K Block/A Gelsomino||USA||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 37min 59.5sec|
|10.||R Trivino/A Haro||MEX||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 39min 03.4sec|
|1.||Citroen Total WRT||108pts|
|3.||M-Sport Ford WRT||38pts|