Kris Meeke takes commanding lead at Rally of Mexico
- 11th March 2017, 9:23am
The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle signalled their intent with an impressive display to hold the advantage after a shorter than anticipated second day of Rally Guanajuato Corona in Mexico on Friday.
The opening two timed tests of the day were cancelled under Force Majeure by event officials and teams had to wait until late afternoon to tackle two daunting gravel stages and three short spectator specials.
Ulsterman Meeke was one of only a handful of drivers not to experience the engine overheating issues that plagued the new generation of under developed World Rally Cars on their first true gravel test in warm conditions at altitude. The Ulsterman reached the overnight halt with a lead of 20.9 seconds over M-Sport’s Sébastien Ogier.
His closest rival struggled through the opening special with a car sensor indicating high engine temperatures, but the defending World Champion delivered an impressive performance nonetheless to hold second place from a similar place on the road.
Hyundai Motorsport’s Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville were closely matched for third and fourth places until the Spaniard struggled at the Autódromo after his car misfired and failed to start. He completed the second pass at a snail’s pace and slipped down the leader board. Neuville duly gained third place despite his own misfire issues and slow times on the last two stages.
Finland’s Juha Hänninen was the first of the Toyota GAZOO World Rally Team Yaris WRC drivers in fourth place and M-Sport’s Ott Tanak rounded off the top five after a dramatic afternoon in the hills around Guanajuato.
Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand overcame brake issues on the first stage of the day to move 35.4 seconds ahead of Frenchman Eric Camilli’s Ford Fiesta R5 in WRC 2, his rival’s cause not helped by an additional time penalty for arriving one minute late at SS6. Local hero Benito Guerra destroyed a rear wheel on his Skoda Fabia R5 in the street stage in Guanajuato and faces a fight back on Saturday.
Friday – as it happened
Logistically, Thursday’s ambitious decision to move the ceremonial start and opening spectator stage to the heart of Mexico City worked perfectly and drivers, media and officials were back in León in good time for the start of what promised to be a fascinating opening 54.9km stage at El Chocolate.
But, a cruel twist of fate dictated that two of the transporters ferrying the rally cars back to the Rally Campus Service Park were badly delayed behind a serious road accident involving a truck and several cars en route. They were unable to reach León until a couple of hours before the intended start time for the first car. Rally organisers were left with no alternative other than to cancel the opening two stages and restart the event with the second run through El Chocolate (SS4) on Friday afternoon. It meant the event had lost two of its prize stages and 74.58km of competition.
The afternoon timetable went ahead as planned and Latvala and Ogier were the first two drivers into El Chocolate, although Hänninen held a 1.6-second advantage over a tying Meeke and Tanak. Latvala clocked the target time of 40min 48.2sec after sweeping the stage surface in his Yaris WRC, but the Finn complained of a lack of brakes and the car lapsing into road mode after a differential issue and overheating.
M-Sport’s Ogier ignored a temperature warning alarm and took advantage of Latvala’s issue to beat his rival by 1min 25.3sec. Tanak complained of a climbing water temperature on his Ford Fiesta, Evans slowed after a warning sounded on his car and Lorenzo Bertelli stopped for over 20 minutes with his own engine overheating woes.
Most of the leading drivers mentioned high engine temperatures and a lack of power, but it didn’t prevent Meeke from having a clean run to clock the fastest time of 39min 15.6sec to snatch an outright lead of 9.7 seconds over Ogier. Paddon and Sordo held third and fourth overall in their Hyundai i20s. Camilli delivered a useful performance in his Fiesta R5 to snatch a four-second lead over Tidemand in WRC 2, although the Swede complained of brake woes. Both Hubert Ptaszek and Pedro Heller stopped in the special.
The 19.68km of Las Minas was the second of the day’s gravel stages and a cautious Latvala coasted to the finish with engine temperature issues. Ogier continued to take advantage and the Frenchman pulled a further 34.5 seconds in front of his struggling rival to head the championship leader by 2min 02sec.
But rivals running behind the Frenchman had even more of an advantage and Neuville claimed the quickest time and headed to the light fitting zone in fifth position. Meeke stalled twice on an uphill section, but extended his lead to 15.7 seconds nonetheless, as overheating issues abated in the cooler evening temperatures.
Valery Gorban ran wide in a corner, clouted the rear of the car, buckled a wheel and was forced to extinguish a rear bumper fire at the stage finish. A rejuvenated Tidemand regained a WRC 2 lead of 20.4 seconds when Camilli damaged his suspension. Guerra settled into third after complaining of a wrong tyre choice.
The first of the three spectator stages was the 1.09km dash through the tunnels and over the cobbles of the traditional Guanajuato Street Stage in front of massive crowds. Latvala broke the one-minute barrier with a time of 59.3 seconds, but Neuville pinched the quickest time and Paddon lost 80 seconds with a chronic misfire.
Meeke took an overall lead of 14.9 seconds to the Autódromo and the remaining two stages of the day. Tidemand extended his WRC 2 advantage over Camilli to 21.6 seconds, but Guerra destroyed a rear wheel after hitting a sidewall in the stage.
Strong winds and a heavy rain shower passed over León minutes before the two runs through the 2.3km of the Autódromo got underway. Meeke was quickest on the first run and Elfyn Evans won the second, but the day belonged to Meeke and his Citroën C3 WRC.
Latvala suffered a stressful end to his day after parking up at the end of the special for several minutes with an overheating engine and Sordo’s i20 spluttered around the stage at a snail’s pace, the delay costing the Spaniard his third place and pushing him out of the top six.
Saturday’s itinerary features six gravel stages and three spectator tests to finish off the day. The traditional gravel action gets underway with the first of two runs through the 27.42km of Media Luna and precedes Lajas de Oro (38.31km) and the televised El Brinco (10.09km) special.
The three stages are repeated in the afternoon after a midday return to the Rally Campus Service Park and two runs through a 2.3km special at the Autódromo de León and the 1.33km of the Street Stage Feria de León wrap up the day’s action. Weather reports are conflicting, with rain and warm sunny conditions both forecast during the day.
After Day 1
1. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (Citroen C3 WRC) + 1:01:33.8
2. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +20.9
3. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai 120 Coupe WRC) +56.7
4. Juho Hänninen / Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:27.3
5. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:32.9
6. Stephane Lefebvre / Gabin Moreau (Citroen DS3 WRC) +1:52.8
7. Hayden Paddon / John Kennard (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2:02.1
8. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:30.8
9. Pontus Tidemand / Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia R5) +3:24.3
10. Eric Camilli / Benjamin Veillas (Ford Fiesta R5) +3:59.7
SUBSCRIBE BELOW TO READ THE FULL STORY
By clicking "Subscribe Now" you agree to receive news, offers and updates on RallySport Magazine. If you do not wish to receive marketing communications, you can update your preferences in My Account.
We will commence charging your payment method after the 7 day free trial expires. If you cancel after expiry of your trial, cancellation will take effect from the end of your current monthly subscription period. You will not be refunded any fees paid to RallySport Magazine unless otherwise set out in the terms and conditions.