Sébastien Ogier produced a masterful display on Rally México to seal a controlled victory ahead of Ott Tänak and Teemu Suninen and take the lead of the World Rally Championship.
There was no opportunity for any additional powerstage points as Sunday’s three stages were cut from the event due to concerns over personnel traveling home in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. But because over 75% of the rally had run, full championship points were awarded.
Ogier’s final margin of victory was 27.8 seconds after safely guiding his Toyota Yaris WRC through the three superspecials that concluded the rally. It was Ogier’s first win with Toyota; now the fourth marque the six-time World Rally Champion has won an event for.
The victory elevated Ogier into an eight-point lead in the standings ahead of team-mate Elfyn Evans, with Thierry Neuville a further 12 points back – 20 adrift of Ogier.
It was Neuville that made the brightest start, winning both runs of Thursday night’s Street Stage Guanajuato. But as the action moved into the Mexican mountains, it was his Hyundai team-mate Tänak that hit the front with a blinding run on the first pass of El Chocolate.
The same couldn’t be said of his performance on the following test though as the defending World Rally Champion broke his right-rear suspension against a bank and dropped down to eighth place. That opened the door for Ogier, who didn’t need asking twice.
The Toyota driver took the lead and wouldn’t look back, controlling the rally and his pace from the front as he gradually extended his advantage throughout the weekend.
His victory was his first since Rally Turkey six months ago.
Making use of his lower start position, M-Sport’s Suninen shadowed Ogier on Friday to hold a fine second place overall overnight. But on Saturday, the Finn began to fall back into the clutches of a brewing battle behind.
Tänak had been busy clawing his way back up the leaderboard, and he was back on the podium in third place after Saturday’s first stage as he overhauled Evans, who performed well on Friday to be in the mix despite cleaning the stage for his rivals.
Tänak’s charge was aided by problems for others. Dani Sordo was tipped to challenge for victory but just a matter of miles into Friday’s first stage he was out of the battle with a radiator problem. He got going albeit five minutes down, then retired on the repeat pass of the stage with a technical problem.
The other Hyundai of Neuville had fallen out of first place but he was belying his position of second on the road to sit third. But Neuville was also out of action late on Friday, an electrical issue grounding his i20 Coupe WRC.
The absence of the powerstage robbed him of the chance to score any points but he showed some strong pace on Saturday to prove what might have been. He finished 41 minutes away from the lead.
Esapekka Lappi’s exit was the most dramatic however; the rear of his M-Sport Fiesta WRC catching alight on Friday afternoon. Lappi had completed SS7 in fourth place but with his car quickly burning out he would take no further part in the rally.
Tänak’s charge, allied to cars dropping by the wayside, presented him with an opportunity, and throughout Saturday he set about dethroning Suninen from second place. He managed it on the final gravel testof the rally, and consolidated the result by stretching his advantage over the Finn to 10.1s at the finish.
Suninen suffered a late drama as he was struggling with only three brakes on the final stages, but nevertheless, he did enough to grab his third podium in the WRC.
Securing a second podium in a row, Tänak is within a rally win of the championship lead now with a 24-point deficit to Ogier.
Kalle Rovanperä remains ahead of him in the championship by just two points after another mature drive from the teenager resulted in a fifth-place finish.
A slow puncture on Friday morning was a momentary setback but otherwise it was another impressive drive from Rovanperä, who finished behind Toyota team-mate Evans by 1m07.1s.
Erstwhile championship leader Evans was over a minute down on team-mate Ogier in fourth but did well to stay relatively in touch as first car on the road on Friday.
He elected not to push to the maximum after failing to keep up with Tänak on Saturday, but admitted to being disappointed with his afternoon’s work with a collection of little issues including overcooking brake ducts.
Gus Greensmith’s mission was to gain experience and build his speed in México but his challenge was stymied on Saturday morning when his M-Sport Fiesta cut out for 10 minutes. The Briton managed to restart, but was restricted to ninth place behind WRC 3 winner Marco Bulacia’s Citroen C3 R5.
Due to the level of attrition, four R5 cars finished in the top 10 overall. WRC 2 was won by Pontus Tidemand, who took sixth place in his Škoda Fabia R5 evo with a handsome margin of two minutes.
Nikolay Gryazin was second in class and seventh overall for Hyundai but haemorrhaged significant time at the end of the rally as he nursed his new-generation i20 R5 home with a broken front driveshaft.
Gryazin’s team-mate Ole Christian Veiby completed the top 10 and the WRC 2 class podium. The Norwegian set strong stage times on Saturday but couldn’t challenge Tidemand as brake issues heavily slowed him early on Friday.
Oliver Solberg was another major casualty of Rally México, retiring on Friday’s opener as oil escaped the engine of his Volkswagen Polo R5 due to damage to the sumpguard.
American superstar Ken Block also endured a disappointing weekend behind the wheel of his bespoke Ford Escort Cosworth.
A misfiring engine hampered him on Thursday night’s Guanajuato street stage, but it got worse on Friday morning as his engine expired on the day’s first test.
1 Ogier (Toyota)
2 Tänak (Hyundai) +27.8s
3 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +37.9s
4 Evans (Toyota) +1m13.4s
5 Rovanperä (Toyota) +2m20.5s
6 Tidemand (Škoda) +10m29.3s
7 Gryazin (Hyundai) +12m27s
8 Bulacia (Citroën) +13m37.5s
9 Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) +13m56.5s
10 Veiby (Hyundai) +15m32.2s