SS3-5: Sordo in charge
Dani Sordo mastered sweltering mountain roads on Friday morning to lead Rally Guanajuato Mexico at the midpoint of the first full day’s action.
Stage info: SS3-5
SS3: El Chocolate 1, 31.44km
El Chocolate’s roads are initially wide before narrowing as the stage climbs steeply through a sequence of hairpins on a bumpy surface. It becomes tighter still, with another series of uphill hairpins after 16km before plunging back downhill with some big cuts for the brave through long, enticing corners and tricky small bridges to negotiate. The test follows the same route as the opening half of last year’s marathon 54.90km stage.
SS4: Ortega 1, 17.23km
A short liaison section leads into Ortega, which marks the high point of the WRC season as cars top 2700 metres. These roads were driven last year as the second part of the long El Chocolate and virtually the entire test is among the trees. Drivers will love this one with plenty of fast flowing corners.
SS5: Street Stage León 1, 1.11km
The roads of León’s service park campus host a short and twisty asphalt test aimed at bringing the action to the city’s residents. It is driven in a revised format to last year.
The Spaniard, returning to his Hyundai i20 after missing the previous round in Sweden, reeled off consecutive stage wins in El Chocolate and Ortega to build a 16.6sec lead as competitors returned to León for service.
Road conditions became cleaner with the passage of every car as loose gravel was swept away and Sordo used a low start position to full advantage. He topped the times in El Chocolate by 11.1sec to overhaul Kris Meeke and extended the gap by 1.9sec in Ortega.
“On the second pass conditions will be more equal for everyone and hard for the tyres,” he said. “There won’t be a lot of grip but I don’t know if we can use soft tyres, they will be near their limit. We need to do a good choice.”
Early leader Meeke was the only driver to include two hard compound Michelin tyres in his selection, the others preferring soft rubber all round. Third and fourth fastest times in a Citroën C3 protected second, despite a big escape in Ortega.
“A massive moment over a speed bump. I thought the hard tyres would work but they upset the balance and it disturbed me,” he explained.
Returning nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb was right in the fight in his first gravel WRC round since May 2013. The Frenchman has not been outside the top four times all morning and was 1.3sec behind Meeke in third.
Ott Tänak provided comfort for Toyota Gazoo Racing after a tough morning for the squad. He drove around overheating problems that slowed the Yaris and was fourth, 3.5sec behind Loeb.
Sébastien Ogier made the best of things from second in the start order and was fifth in a Ford Fiesta, despite suspension problems. He was 1.3sec ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen, who felt his Hyundai i20 handled strangely over jumps.
Jari-Matti Latvala was seventh in his misbehaving Yaris, 4.0sec ahead of Teemu Suninen, who was fastest through the short León street stage.
Thierry Neuville had a nightmare morning in his i20. Opening the road meant he endured the worst of the gravel, but he was seventh until dropping more than 20sec in the León test.
‘Engine issue’ was all Neuville would say, the Belgian having also appeared to have injured his left arm after driving part of the test with his door flapping open. He was ninth and Esapekka Lappi completed the leaderboard in another hot and bothered Yaris.
Elfyn Evans was third until his rally went awry in Ortega when he rolled his Fiesta and dropped more than 2min 30sec.
“In sixth gear we hit a bad bump which threw the car into the air. The back end came round and I had no power to pull us out. We hit a bank and went over quite a few times,” he said.
SS2: Meeke charges ahead
Top three time for Loeb
SS1: Neuville stuns in Mexico opener
Belgian takes early lead in Guanajuato streets
Loeb and Ogier play down tensions
WRC Sebs put on a show of unity before Rally Guanajuato Mexico