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:
The scene is set for a thrilling battle for second on Rally Mexico after a puncture cost Mikko Hirvonen almost two minutes on the re-run of Otates.
The Citroen DS3 driver began the test with a 1m51sec advantage over Thierry Neuville behind in third, but by the stage end the gap had been slashed to just 7.2sec.
Hirvonen arrived at the finish with his car’s left-hand rear tyre shredded. “We punctured 25km before the finish. I’ve no idea why, we didn’t hit anything,” Hirvonen hurriedly explained before moving off to change the wheel.
Neuville went second quickest on the stage after curing his Fiesta’s earlier cooling system problem. “The fan was not connected, we discovered it soon after the end of the previous stage and fixed it. Now we are going well again.”
The Belgian completed the stage before the full extent of Hirvonen’s time loss was clear.
While the race for third heated up, the split times revealed that rally leader Sebastien Ogier was contending with problems of his own.
The Frenchman arrived at the finish with no damage to his Polo R and revealed that he had been forced to stop mid-stage to open a gate that somebody had closed across the road.
“Maybe somebody didn’t want me to win,” Ogier grinned. “We had to stop the car, get out and open it. Not perfect. Next time perhaps they should remove the gates.”
The incident cost Ogier about 30 seconds but because of Hirvonen’s problems his rally lead increased to 2m49.7sec.
Jari-Matti Latvala, returning as a Rally 2 competitor today, was the fastest man on the stage. Dani Sordo was third fastest, recording his most competitive gravel stage time of the rally so far.
“I’m not really happy but I’m happier than I was this morning,” said Sordo. “The feeling is better and I have better grip in the rear. Where we are now it’s difficult to do anything but okay I don’t take any risks, that would be stupid now.”
After reporting worrying noises on the previous test, Michal Kosciuszko’s Mini took a turn for the worse on Otates. “We have only front-wheel drive, I think something is wrong in the diff,” he said. “We lost a lot of time and almost stopped in one uphill section. It was very hard. I hope the mechanics will repair it before tomorrow.”