Scandinavia leads as world champions retire at Rally of Nations

Mads Østberg leads the Scandinavian charge as Didier Auriol and Julien Ingrassia hit trouble

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Team Scandinavia leads the Rally of Nations general classification after the first full day of action – but Team France endured a nightmare start.

Mads Østberg won this event in 2022 as an individual competitor and has topped the times since the Romita-based Shakedown on Friday, going fastest on all of Saturday’s gravel stages as well as both passes of the Friday night street stage in Guanajuato on Friday.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Østberg and Team Scandinavia: the one-time WRC2 champion was managing an oil leak on his Škoda, while his Swedish team-mate Dennis Rådström was lucky to survive a nose-heavy landing on a fourth-gear straight in his Toyota GR Yaris.

Team Scandinavia’s lead driver has a 1m16.9s lead over Andrea Mabellini in the timed classification – and along with team-mate Rådström he leads the Rally of Nations classification, where nations, not individuals, compete for victory and cars are subject to an equalization formula.

There was less to celebrate in the Team France camp. Didier Auriol had already retired on Friday night when his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X conked out at the finish line of the Guanajuato superspecial. Before the next stage, Ortega, began, the other car was already out: Julien Ingrassia retired with mechanical issues before even leaving Saturday service.

Italy’s bid for glory was hampered by issues for Alberto Battistolli’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. A broken turbo gutted his car of power and with no spare part available, Battistolli retired at midday service. That leaves Mabellini on a solo mission to score points for Italy, his country holding fourth place while Mabellini himself is second in the individual classification.

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Andrea Mabellini is now flying the Italian flag solo after Battistolli's demise

GTO 200 Años driver Ricardo Cordero and México TV4’s Alejandro Mauro are locked in a close battle on the timesheets and were only 8.3s apart after Saturday’s action.

Mauro had set the early pace between the pair and entered midday service in the podium places. But he had a much trickier afternoon. The WRC2 regular spun on the second pass of Ortega, dropped 15s and damaging a rim on his Škoda Fabia Rally2.

He then spun again on the next test, damaging the radiator and picking up a slow puncture: “We managed to do the final stage,” said Mauro, “where we had two options: put the punctured tire or the damaged wheel. It was a good decision because in Las Dunas we were second-fastest only two seconds behind Mads Østberg.”

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Ricardo Cordero won the Méxican championship classification by 8.3s and takes maximum points in his domestic series – but Alejandro Mauro can still claim back international honors on Sunday

Cordero ended the day faster than Mauro but their teams were the other way around: México TV4 leads GTO 200 Años by only four points in the Nations classification, occupying second and third positions.

Max McRae had retired on Friday night after losing too much time on the way to the road section amid car trouble. But the DirtFish-backed driver bounced back strongly: he was consistently the second-fastest runner in his car class and picked up all but three of Team Great Britain’s points.

Harri Rovanperä was paired with one of the winning drivers from the 2022 edition of Rally of Nations, Niki Schelle, for Rally of Nations. While he finally picked up his first stage points on the second pass of Las Minas, Schelle hit trouble on the same test, pulling up mid-stage with technical trouble and losing 10 minutes.

Sunday’s action will decide the winning nation – but with a lead of well over 100 points, a Scandinavian victory appears likely.