Neuville makes inroads on Evans’s second place

While Ogier remains untouchable, the fight for second is getting closer

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Thierry Neuville has taken a significant chunk of time out of Elfyn Evans, turning up the heat in the battle for second on Rally México with the gap now just 5.9 seconds.

Neuville had an 8.5s gap between himself and the Toyota driver on the previous stage, as Evans refused to allow any real gains to be made despite everything his Hyundai rival tried.

But that changed on SS17 when Neuville took another stage win and 2.6s out of Evans in the process, though he wasn’t completely satisfied.

“I tried, I am on the edge everywhere but I struggle to make big gaps,” he said. “We did a lot of changes to the car in service and we did some more now. Let’s see.”

Evans however was fairly happy with his run and vowed to keep pushing.

“It was a pretty okay run from my side really. It’s been a big fight from the start and he’s been nibbling away. We just have to keep going,” he said.

Pierre-Louis Loubet

Elsewhere, Pierre-Louis Loubet’s weekend continued to unravel following Friday morning’s troubles.

On the 6.3-mile mark of Derramadero, Loubet overshot a junction and dipped his M-Sport Ford into a deep cut, clouting a rock and damaging the rear-right section of his car.

That forced him to stop on the stage to make repairs, disrupting an already torrid weekend for the Rally México debutant. Loubet was already only 26th going into the stage thanks to his Friday error and eventually had to call off his attempts to repair the car and get going again.

Fourth-placed Kalle Rovanperä had a less than ideal stage and dropped a significant amount of time in the opening split with what he said was a brief spin.

“I had a spin in a really narrow place,” the reigning champion explained.

“I was stuck between the barriers and I had to reverse many times. It was in a slow place and after that I tried to have a normal pace.”

Following a 30th birthday to forget on Friday, Takamoto Katsuta let out a big smile at the stage end and was in good spirits even with his struggles on the first full day of action.

“Before the jump, Aaron [Johnston] tightened his belts even more,” he exclaimed. “I was laughing because he was ready in case something happened.”

Ott Tänak

But the mood was a contrast in Ott Tänak’s car, as he was clearly on the limit throughout the stage, first overcooking a junction and then taking out an branding arch right at the end of SS17.

The M-Sport driver, who is now just outside the top 10, had little to say following his excursion into the inflatable arch.

“At least from the outside it looks fun… not so much from the inside,” he said.

Just like yesterday, two superspecial stages will round off the day’s action, with the second pass of Derramadero now the final long stage of the day at 15.5 miles.

The Las Dunas superspecial will make its second appearance of the day, with the Rock & Rally superspecial ending Saturday’s itinerary.

Sébastien Ogier couldn’t repeat his heroics from El Mosquito, but he still sits comfortably in first with a 36.3s lead.

Words:Luke Barry