03 Jun 10
Defending Production Car World Rally Champion Armindo Araujo looks set to claim a maximum 25 points for the class win in Rally Mexico tomorrow after his thrilling duel with rival Toshi Arai evaporated in bizarre circumstances this morning.
Araujo, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, began Saturday's competition in the lead of the Production category by 5.4 seconds. But a fastest time from Subaru Impreza driver Arai on today's opener, SS10, pulled the rivals level in the standings on exactly the same time.
Araujo edged 1.6 seconds ahead on the Duarte stage which followed, and with the pair so evenly matched the fight was shaping up to be another P-WRC classic. Unfortunately the battle didn't last the distance and Arai's fortunes took a turn for the worse even before the next stage.
Arai was pulled over for a routine scrutineering check on the road section to SS12, and while his car was stationary, its red-hot brake discs boiled the fluid in the braking system. Toshi only discovered this after his drove off and crashed on the next corner.
The Japanese driver made the start of SS12, but with front end and steering damage his progress was precarious. He later ran wide, picked up a puncture on some rocks and had to stop to change a wheel - all of which dropped him 3min 52sec behind Araujo.
From then on Araujo adopted a cautious approach. "Everything is okay with the car and we are saving and protecting it in all the stages," he said. "Our only target now is not to commit mistakes and to arrive at the end. We are not pushing at all - zero."
With his car repaired at the midday service, Arai took a string of stage wins in the afternoon but remains 3min 39.8sec behind - far too much to make up through driving alone.
"We've had so many problems today it’s almost unbelievable," said Arai. "I don't really understand how it happened, but for the rest of the day the car hasn't felt right either. Something is wrong with the front end, the engine seems down on power and now we have a misfire as well!"
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX driver Miguel Angel Baldoni maintained his third place all day. The Argentinean is well cushioned in the position - with a gap of 4min 14sec ahead to Arai and 10min 14sec behind him to fourth placed Benito Guerra.