Ott Tänak storms into lead of Rally México

Big time from reigning champion to start Friday

Ott Tänak Hyundai WRC Rally México 2020

Ott Tänak stormed into the lead of Rally México with a time 10.3 seconds quicker than anyone else on the rally’s first gravel stage as Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo lost over five minutes.

El Chocolate proved a tricky start to Friday’s action, with several drivers complaining of low grip levels regardless of road position.

But Tänak appeared immune to these troubled as he blitzed through the 19.5-mile stage to vault into the rally lead, 10.6s up on second-placed Teemu Suninen.

However, the world champion warned his run was “far from perfect”.

“To be honest not great,” he said, “but I think we did quite a good stage.”

Teemu Suninen was equally impressive, setting the third-fastest time behind Sébastien Ogier to hold second place in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta, albeit just 0.3s ahead of Ogier’s Toyota.

Ogier suffered a heavy jolt in a compression halfway through El Chocolate, but it didn’t appear to lose him any time.

“It’s always a slippy stage whatever place you are in the road,” he admitted. “I struggle with some things [with the car] still.”

Sordo – who was expected to be a leading contender given his position in the start order for his first WRC appearance of 2020 – stopped early on the stage and had the bonnet of his Hyundai up before completing the rest of the route at a reduced pace.

It turned out to be a fan on the radiator that wasn’t operating as it should, costing him over five minutes.

Championship leader Elfyn Evans began El Chocolate in second place, just 1.1s behind Thierry Neuville, following the Thursday night street stages.

But as first car on the road into the gravel stages the Toyota driver was expected to lose time. He slipped from second to seventh, now 25.5s adrift of the lead.

“Yeah, tough. Very, very low grip,” Evans admitted at the end of the stage.

However, second on the road Neuville struggled too and relinquished his early rally lead to fall to fourth. The Hyundai driver was bizarrely unhappy with the length of his i20 Coupe WRC and admitted he struggled for grip. He is 17.2s behind team-mate Tänak.

“I struggle a lot with the rear,” he said. “I lose a lot of time because I can’t accelerate, I have to wait, so we have to work on the car. But our car is very long for these types of stages.”

Esapekka Lappi is fifth but described the stage as “horrible” due to the lack of grip. Compatriot Kalle Rovanperä was setting some impressive split times on the early parts of El Chocolate but began to haemorrhage time.

The reason soon became clear, with his front-left tyre looking rather worse for wear. Rovanperä lost 22.8s to stage winner Tänak and is sixth.

Gus Greensmith was “distracted” by warnings on the dashboard of his Fiesta WRC and spun on the stage. He is eighth.

Leading positions after SS3

1 Tänak (Toyota)
2 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +10.6s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +10.9s
4 Neuville (Hyundai) +17.2s
5 Lappi (Toyota) +20.9s
6 Rovanperä (Toyota) +24.9s
7 Evans (Toyota) +25.5s
8 Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) +31.8s
9 Heller (Ford) +1m29.5s
10 Bulacia (Citroën) +1m30.1s