29 Feb 08
The first day of Rally Mexico got off to a dramatic start with several of the leading WRC competitors running into difficulties on the very first stage.
Dani Sordo’s Citroen C4 WRC became the first major casualty, when a broken suspension wishbone brought it to a halt at the 15km mark.
Toni Gardemeister reported that the engine in his Suzuki SX4 was dropping to two or three cylinders on the start line, but a subsequent throttle problem was more serious and limited his speed on uphill sections to just 30kph. He completed the stage, but almost six minutes behind the leaders.
After setting the fastest time at the pre-rally shakedown, Subaru’s Petter Solberg was another man in trouble; reporting a serious braking problem over the final kilometres: “There was nothing, it was 100 per cent brake failure,” said Solberg. “The handbrake did nothing and the brake pedal went right to the floor. The last section was downhill too - so it wasn’t nice.” On the road section after the stage Solberg traced the problem to a broken caliper and having isolated the unit he will continue with the brakes on just three wheels.
The stage winner was Jari-Matti Latvala who set a time three seconds quicker than anybody else, despite running as second car on the road. “I’m quite surprised by the time really,” said the Ford driver. “I’m feeling relaxed, and certainly not trying to the maximum.”
Second fastest was Subaru's Chris Atkinson, who was capitalising on his advantageous starting position as sixth car through the stage: “It’s good, I can’t complain, but we expected to be quick here because of the road position. It was certainly a good effort by Jari, but I reckon we can improve our pace a little more. This is only our first stage with this set-up.”
Gigi Galli of the Stobart Ford team was third and declared himself satisfied, if a little surprised, by his pace. “To be honest it’s unexpected,” he said. “There’s a lot of loose gravel out there, and a lot of rocks too but the feeling is good and I’m enjoying it.”
After changing his car’s engine twice on Thursday, Sebastien Loeb had a trouble free stage and set the fourth fastest time. “It’s a risk to use the old engine but it’s okay for the moment,” he said.