The Qatari, at the wheel of a Barwa World Rally Team Ford Fiesta S2000, has never won a round of the SWRC before but holds an advantage of 27 seconds heading into the second day of the demanding gravel event.
“It’s been a good day,” said Al-Attiyah. “Everything is working well with the car but tomorrow is a long day and it will not be easy. But we try to push and I think it can be okay.”
Al-Attiyah, who has led the division from the start, said a decision to change the set-up of his Autotek Motorsport-run car at midday service had made a big difference to his pace in the afternoon.
“We pushed this afternoon because we know the stages very well and we found a good set-up,” said Al-Attiyah. “The car was a little bit low in the morning and the car was touching a bit the ground. We could not carry a lot of speed in the corners but for the afternoon it was good.”
His task was also made slightly easier when Juho Hanninen, one of the pre-season title favourites, hit trouble on the first two stages. The Finn damaged his Skoda Fabia S2000’s steering on Thursday night’s Guanajuato Street Stage and then broke reverse gear on his car after a spin this morning.
“I had a spin in a left-hand corner,” explained Hanninen. “I was too aggressive taking reverse and it broke the gear. We were on a small incline, so we had to get out and push the car. Stupid mistake! We dropped two minutes and now it’s over for us in the fight. We cannot make this time back on the boys. I was pushing hard in the stages this afternoon, but it’s hard to try and take the time back.”
Hanninen was fourth at the end of the day - ahead of Karl Kruuda’s similar Skoda, which was halted by low fuel pressure heading to stage five but is set to restart on Saturday under SupeRally rules.
Ott Tanak is second on his SWRC debut for Markko Martin’s MM Motorsport operation. The young Estonian reported an overheating engine on Friday afternoon’s first stage but otherwise enjoyed a trouble-free run on his first Rally Mexico.
“It’s been very good today and I have to be happy,” said Tanak. “It was a bit scary when we saw the water temperatures rise [on stage six] but then it was okay. Catching Nasser will be very difficult but second would be a good result.”
Former Junior world champion Martin Prokop is a disgruntled third in his Fiesta. The Czech Republic driver said: “I don’t like to be in this position. I have dropped time to Nasser because I feel the gear ratios have been wrong in the car. We have struggled coming out of the slower corners. We can change this tonight and we will push more tomorrow.”