Sébastien Ogier has taken a record breaking seventh win on Rally México, dominating the final two days to take a commanding victory, as Thierry Neuville snatched second from Elfyn Evans on the last stage.
The final test of the weekend came courtesy of the 5.9-mile El Brinco, with a spectacular jump at the end to close out an eventful rally.
Neuville came into the powerstage having taken a 3.1s chunk out of Evans on SS22 in their long fight for second.
And as Evans lost time on SS23, that allowed the Hyundai driver to grab second from his clutches after a weekend-long battle.
Following Neuville’s suspicion that Evans was suffering from some suspension damage on the previous stage, the Toyota driver confirmed this was the case.
“It’s not a surprise. We’ve been nursing a bent suspension arm since the first one this morning,” he said. “We had to take it easy in a couple of places just to make sure we got back. It’s a shame.”
Kalle Rovanperä had a straightforward but quiet weekend and came home to finish fourth, but it got quite close on the powerstage when he very nearly lost the rear, clouting his Toyota against some hedging and losing some bodywork in the process which lost him time.
“I lost the rear wing when going wide in one place,” he said. “We couldn’t make the time because we didn’t have any downforce. For sure, I would have wanted to have more points from the powerstage.”
The reigning champion finished 1m03.5s ahead of Dani Sordo.
At the front of the field, Ogier brought his GR Yaris Rally1 home with no trouble whatsoever, finishing the powerstage in first and taking a more than comfortable win by 27.5s. He now leads the championship by three points over Neuville, despite not contesting the full season.
The weekend wasn’t all straightforward for Ogier however. As the rally began to unfold, so too did a thrilling battle for the lead, with Esapekka Lappi consistently getting the better of the eventual winner over Friday’s stages.
The Hyundai driver resisted the threat from his former Toyota team-mate, and despite the gap at one point closing to just 0.3s at the start of Friday afternoon, it opened up again by the end of the day with Lappi holding a 5.3s advantage and firmly in position to fight for the win.
But disaster struck on the first stage of Saturday morning, as Lappi didn’t even complete one stage when he crashed on the first pass of Ibarrilla and heavily damaged his i20 N Rally1.
That allowed Ogier to take a more than healthy lead over Evans, with the gap then sitting at 27.3s.
With the battle for the victory all but over, attention swiftly turned to Neuville’s charge towards Evans in a fight that became one for second rather than third.
At the end of Friday, the gap between the pair sat at 9.7s, which remained pretty much the same give or take during the morning on Saturday.
But Neuville quickly found his rhythm on the afternoon leg of the second full day, bringing Evans’ advantage down to just 4.3s heading into the final day and looking the favorite to take second come the end of the rally.
He continued to work away at that gap and it all came down to the final stage, with the two drivers separated by 2.7s.
The hard work from Neuville paid off, as Evans lost 3.3s on the final stage, an almighty finish as he just lost out on second by 0.4s.
Elsewhere in the field – despite winning the opening two stages of the rally on Thursday evening in Guanajuato City, it all went downhill from then on for Ott Tänak.
No sooner after starting the first pass of El Chocolate to open the road on Friday, the M-Sport driver was forced to stop with a turbo failure, and although he resolved the issue to an extent on the roadside, the M-Sport driver was forced to crawl his way through the remaining two stages of the morning.
But he never looked comfortable from then on even with the issue being fixed at the midday service, making it clear throughout the rest of the weekend that the feeling simply wasn’t there in the Puma Rally1.
Not the start he would have wanted on his first gravel rally in the car.
“Yeah, nothing much to say, hopefully we will not repeat this one,” he said. “It’s a weekend to forget, we need to make some changes.
“For sure we are not continuing this way.”
Elsewhere in the M-Sport camp there was very little to shout about, with its entire weekend unraveling on the same stage that Tänak was forced to stop, when both Pierre-Louis Loubet and Jourdan Serderidis had an early end to the day with damage.
Loubet’s first outing on Rally México got no better, as he then retired on Saturday’s second pass of Derramadero when he hit a rock that damaged the rear-right wheel of his car and, once again, it proved too much to carry on.
Takamoto Katsuta was also a victim of México’s testing stages, when he suffered a dramatic trip down a bank on Friday morning’s Las Minas, putting a premature finish to his day.
That meant the rest of the weekend would be reserved purely for learning the rest of Rally México’s route, an event which Katsuta has not contested before.
In WRC2, Gus Greensmith took victory after a solid weekend for the Škoda driver.
As his rivals succumbed to trouble, Greensmith didn’t put a foot wrong, winning the rally by 32.9s over Emil Lindholm.
It’s his first WRC round not competing in a Ford and said the year couldn’t have started off better.
“From SS6, this whole rally was under control for me,” he said. “When we needed to go faster we could gap everyone and after that it was just about controlling it and not making any mistakes.
“It’s the perfect way to start the year.”
It was a ‘what could have been’ weekend for Oliver Solberg, whose rally took another turn for the worse on Sunday afternoon with an engine issue.
“I had a compression on the previous stage and after that we were on three cylinders. I tried to check what was wrong, I checked every sensor, but couldn’t find anything,” he explained.
“We didn’t have the tools to change the spark plugs so that’s the only thing we couldn’t do. I think P3 is great for the championship anyway.”
Solberg rounded out the podium finishers, 2m18.9s ahead of Kajetan Kajetanowicz.