Ogier rebounds to take the lead on opening day in Mexico
León (Mexico) (AFP)
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier took the lead in the Rally of Mexico on a day marked by retirements notably Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen and Spaniard Dani Sordo.
It was a return to form for the reigning World Rally champion. Ogier opened the season with victory in Monaco, but then struggled in Sweden where he finished 29th almost 25 minutes behind winner Ott Tanak.
"It's been an almost perfect day but it wasn't easy," the Citroen driver told the race web site after Friday's racing. "Starting third on the road wasn't ideal and the grip was very low in the first pass. We can benefit from the best start position tomorrow, but we'll have to stay out of trouble as well."
Ogier leads Briton Elfyn Evans, in an M-Sport Ford, by 14.8sec with a second Briton, Kris Meeke, driving a Toyota, at 21.1sec. Championship leader Tanak, in another Toyota, is fourth 37.1sec off the lead. Belgian Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), second in the standings, is next.
As championship leader, Tanak was obliged to open proceedings, 'cleaning' the gravel tracks. He lost time in all the morning stages but the drop outs and victories in two of the last three stages of the day pushed him back up the leaderboard.
"I did everything I could, I could not have done better," said Tanak. "I felt good in the car all day, it was nice enough and I had the confidence to attack."
"The gap to second place is not so big and I think we have a chance to take it, "he said.
Ogier third in the standings, said his starting slot was not "ideal" but he still "took pleasure in being able to benefit from the tracks" left by the few drivers ahead of him.
Neuville suffered a puncture in the morning and also said he was feeling ill.
"This puncture has extinguished our hopes for a good weekend," he said.
Mikkelsen had a narrow 1.6sec lead over Ogier halfway through the day but hit a rock during the repeated El Chocolate stage and retired with a broken suspension.
Sordo, in his first rally of the season, was second after the sixth of the day's nine stages, less than five seconds behind Ogier but was then forced out by an electrical problem.
Two Finns, Teemu Suninen (M-Sport Ford) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Toyota) also had to quit. Suninen ran off the road on the second stage and wrecked his car. Latvala suffered electrical problems before the eighth stage.
Latvala, like Sordo and Mikkelsen will return to the road on Saturday, when the race covers 138.37 km over two identical three-stage loops before ending with two stages through the narrow city streets of Leon.
© 2019 AFP