Another stage that is the same as last year, Otates is a stage of contrasts. The first part is on a wide road with fast corners but towards the finish it becomes tight, twisty and technical. It is the longest test of the second leg and some roads will also be used in Sunday’s marathon Guanajuatito stage.
How the action unfolded:
While Sebastien Ogier rattled off another win, the major talking points were the dramas that befell Mads Ostberg and Thierry Neuville.
Ostberg retired his Ford Fiesta RS from second place on the road section from the opening stage at Ibarrilla to Otates. The Norwegian lost time in Ibarrilla with a broken clutch slave cylinder, but it was an electrical problem that stopped him.
“He’s had an electrical problem on the road section which means he can’t continue,” said Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson. “It could be alternator or battery related but we won’t know for sure until we get the car back to service.”
Thierry Neuville lost almost a minute but, ironically, with the retirement of Ostberg, he climbed to third place in his Ford Fiesta RS. The time loss followed an incident in the opening stage when he hit a rock.
“In the first corner the steering broke in a very fast section and I had a half spin. I was very lucky. The steering was blocked, it wouldn’t turn, and I had to be very concentrated and very careful because in some places I could not do anything,” he explained.
Amid the dramas, Ogier won the stage by 15.6sec from Mikko Hirvonen, now second overall in his Citroen DS3. The Frenchman was surprised to be so far ahead of his rivals in the stage having eased his pace after the demise of his closest challenger.
“We took it easy and I think the others did as well because I was really, really not pushing. I took the speed of Mikko. I was faster and backed off but it was still faster. What can I do?” smiled the Volkswagen Polo R pilot.
Hirvonen, too, admitted he had lifted his right foot. “I tried to find a rhythm so that if Ogier has a problem, then I need to be ready. But it’s quite easy now,” he explained.
Jari-Matti Latvala was third fastest, the Finn running under Rally 2 regulations after retiring yesterday. He was 27.2sec behind Ogier.
Latvala started the stage 21 minutes late in a deliberate move to aid his learning of the Polo R. Having incurred a time penalty after retiring, he is focused on testing, and the Volkswagen Motorsport team dropped him from first to seventh in the start order to experience road conditions in tune with a position higher up the leaderboard.
Nasser Al-Attiyah was fourth fastest ahead of Dani Sordo, the Spaniard sounding totally deflated.
“I can’t drive the car. I don’t understand it. If I try to go faster then I will go out of the road. If I knew what the problem was, then I would change the car,” said Sordo.