SS1: Neuville stuns in Mexico opener
Thierry Neuville delivered a blistering opening night performance through Guanajuato’s narrow mining tunnels and slippery cobbled streets to lead Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Thursday night.
Stage info: SS17
Monster Street Stage GTO, 2.53km
One of the season’s jewels in the crown takes competitors through the streets of Guanajuato. Part of it runs underground through tunnels dating back to when the town was the world’s leading silver mining centre. It is more than twice as long as in previous years, with a new opening section before drivers circle a roundabout and retrace their steps to finish in front of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas museum. High kerbs lining the roads must be avoided.
Tens of thousands of fans generated a carnival atmosphere in the picturesque town and Neuville rose to the occasion in his Hyundai i20 to set fastest time by a remarkable 1.9sec through the 2.53km speed test.
Drivers are normally split by mere tenths of a second through one of the WRC’s most spectacular occasions and the times were tight until Neuville took to the roads as the last of the headline World Rally Car starters.
“It’s a great start but obviously it’s going to be a difficult weekend,” said the Belgian, who is first in the start order over tomorrow’s dusty and gravelly tracks. “I will try to enjoy it. I’m happy to be here, it’s a great atmosphere.”
Ott Tänak topped the timesheets until Neuville’s storming run. The Estonian, driving a Toyota Yaris, finished a tenth of a second clear of Sébastien Ogier, the Frenchman almost swiping one of the many high kerbs near the start in his Ford Fiesta.
Toyota duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi and Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen completed the top six. The five drivers behind Neuville were split by just 1.3sec.
After overnighting in the host city of León, the action begins in earnest tomorrow in the mountains to the east. Drivers tackle two identical loops of three dirt road tests, supplemented by three asphalt sprint stages, which add up to 155.15km.
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In pictures: Mexico recce
Here's how the 2018 route looked earlier this week