The longest stage of this year’s rally is a tough one. It starts on narrow roads with plenty of dips and the opening 11kms are technical, with many corners and a surface covered in loose gravel. From then on it becomes more flowing and faster. Of the 54km, around 20km have already been used in Saturday’s Ibarrilla and Otates stages.
How the action unfolded:
As promised by his M-Sport team boss on Saturday night, Thierry Neuville had Mikko Hirvonen’s second place in his sights on Sunday's opening Guanajuatito test.
But after making a promising start, and matching Hirvonen’s opening pace, the Belgian’s challenge effectively ended 10km in, when his Fiesta RS slipped off the road and into a ditch.
His car unscathed, Neuville got back underway with the loss of around 15 seconds but the positions effectively settled. “It was a huge moment,” explained Neuville. “I braked too late for a tight corner, and went straight on into a ditch. I was very, very lucky to get back on.”
Following Neuville through the stage, Hirvonen set the fastest time, and by the finish had extended his advantage to a more comfortable 29.2sec. “I knew that he was pushing, but it was clear from the lines in the road that he had braked too late and gone off," said Hirvonen.
"When we heard the split time I knew I could take it easier. I must say I have huge respect for the way he drove today - and of course to the team for allowing him to fight.”
With little to gain and everything to lose, most of the drivers in the top ten adopted a cautious approach and tried to save their tyres for the Power Stage that followed.
Chris Atkinson, however, was still playing catch-up after his problems on Friday and his persistence was rewarded with another step up the classifications, moving ahead of Ken Block into sixth.
“Okay, its a bit disappointing to lose the place, but that’s a really enjoyable stage to drive,” said Block. “Perhaps I was to cautious in the first half, I was braking too early in places but I’m happy to have taken six seconds from Guerra.”
Rally leader Sebastien Ogier completed the stage cleanly in the second fastest time. “At the beginning I was avoiding every rock, no matter how small, but after the middle when it opened up and got a bit safer I pushed harder to get my rhythm back," he said. "It went okay, now I’ll see if I can take one or two points in the Power Stage.”
Michal Kosciuszko’s troubled rally came to an premature end when his Mini JCW stopped at the 42km mark.