Sébastien Ogier blew the opposition out of the water once again as he won Saturday afternoon’s opening Rally México stage by a huge 8.1 seconds.
The current leader held a 28.5s advantage when he headed to midday service, but a more than dominant victory on SS16 pushed the gap up to 36.8s.
The eight-time World Rally champion put it down to one thing that he suspected he handled better than his rivals.
“I think it’s all down to tire management because I felt a lot that the tire was dropping towards the end,” he explained.
“I am anyway very smooth with that so I believe they suffered more than me.”
Saturday’s afternoon loop got off to a later start than originally expected after SS15 was canceled following Esapekka Lappi’s crash on the Ibarrilla route in the morning.
That meant the drivers were thrown straight into a 14-mile test on El Mosquito to get proceedings underway on the day’s second leg.
Elfyn Evans is giving second-place rival Thierry Neuville no room to work with at the beginning of the afternoon stages, losing only 0.2 seconds on the first stage of Saturday’s second loop despite being one second down a few miles beforehand.
Neuville looked to be pushing as he restarted his bid to catch Evans and was surprised that he wasn’t faster at the end.
“I thought it was better than this, to be honest. I had a very good run through the stage and I expected a big gap already to Kalle [Rovanperä],” he said. “It won’t be enough like this for the weekend, but we’ll keep going.”
Once more the grip on the rough gravel surface posed some difficulties, with Dani Sordo – who sits in fifth – saying his Hyundai was sliding throughout the stage.
“I am just trying to enjoy and trying different set-ups for the future,” said Sordo, who lost touch with the podium fight on Friday thanks to a puncture.
“It’s really slippery from the rear – all the time it’s sliding too much and it’s quite difficult.”
After feeling slightly uncomfortable in the Ford Puma Rally1 during the morning’s stages, Ott Tänak continued to pull himself further up the field and said a good step was made in spite of the challenges of his weekend.
“It’s a bit of progress – but there is big progress needed to be competitive with the fast guys,” he said.
“It’s still challenging but it’s a good step.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet – who is competing on Rally México for the first time – showed a strong improvement on his second pass of El Mosquito, going over 20s quicker on the subsequent attempt despite having slight troubles with his tires.
“I have a feeling with the car on gravel, but when you are second on the road it’s tricky to have a feeling,” he explained.
“We put a soft tyre on the rear and in the last 3km it overheated, but it was an okay stage.”