Sebastien Ogier tops the Rally Mexico leaderboard by 26.1sec after a tough and dramatic opening leg. Mads Ostberg lies second with Jari-Matti Latvala a further 16.4sec behind.
It was a tale of woe for many others. Mikko Hirvonen, Kris Meeke, Robert Kubica and Andreas Mikkelsen all retired from the leg.
Here are the biggest stories of the day:
Super special dramas
Robert Kubica rolled in the first pass through tonight’s two super special stages at León’s race circuit.
The Pole, lying fourth on his first visit to the rally, crashed his Ford Fiesta RS shortly after the start of the 2.21km test. After powering down the opening straight, Kubica braked late for a tightening hairpin, missed the turn-in point and hit a concrete bollard.
The impact gently tipped the car onto its roof and the stage was immediately stopped. Both Kubica and co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak were unhurt but the windscreen was smashed and the front of the car was damaged.
Rescue vehicles righted the car and Kubica slowly completed the stage, which had been immediately yellow flagged for Thierry Neuville who started alongside the ex-Formula 1 driver.
Kubica wanted to start the second pass but officials prevented him from doing so and he set off to drive back to the León service park. It is not known what penalty he will receive for missing the final stage.
After the stage was restarted, Chris Atkinson went off at exactly the same point. Rather than trying to turn into the bend, the Australian ploughed straight on through a series of bollards. Fortunately for him, the bollards were plastic rather than the concrete one that Kubica hit.
“The guys said the Tarmac was slippery, there’s oil or something on that one corner. I saw the concrete bollard and went for the plastic ones. I'm glad I did!” joked Atkinson.
Hirvonen and Meeke out
Both Mikko Hirvonen and Kris Meeke fell foul of the final mountain stage in today’s opening leg.
Third-placed Hirvonen gave an indication of problems when he quickly left the finish of the long El Chocolate test without speaking to media.
And those concerns proved true when the Finn parked his Ford Fiesta RS early in the following 15.59km Las Minas (SS8) with what his M-Sport team described as suspected electrical problems.
Meeke, who had just gone second fastest in El Chocolate to climb to fourth, was quickest at the opening split by almost five seconds. However, his times tumbled and he stopped his Citroen DS3 near the end of the stage with a broken suspension arm.
Their demise gave a very different look to the leaderboard. Behind Sébastien Ogier and Mads Ostberg in first and second, Jari-Matti Latvala now lies third. Robert Kubica, Elfyn Evans, both of whom are competing here for the first time, and Thierry Neuville complete the top six.
Ogier takes lead
A stunning performance through the second pass of the 44.03km El Chocolate (SS7) promoted Sébastien Ogier into the lead.
Having won the previous Los Mexicanos stage to close to within 1.2sec of Mads Ostberg, the Frenchman blew everyone away in the longest stage of the day. He was fastest in his Volkswagen Polo R and 14.9sec up on Ostberg to not only overhaul the Norwegian, but build a 13.7sec lead.
Ogier’s effort deflated Ostberg. “Not so perfect. Disappointing. I struggled on the stage with a lot of oversteer,” admitted the Citroen DS3 pilot.
It wasn’t a great stage for Jari-Matti Latvala either. He was 17.9sec slower than Ogier in the second Polo R and admitted that the roads were still slippery from his position of first in the running order. That allowed Kris Meeke, second quickest, to move ahead of the Finn into fourth in his DS3.
Ostberg shrugs off error
Mads Ostberg is refusing to let an oversight from co-driver Jonas Andersson cloud an otherwise excellent start to Rally Mexico.
Read the full story here
Suspension woes for Atkinson
You have to feel sorry for Chris Atkinson. He worked so hard to earn a drive with Hyundai Motorsport and his debut rally has been nothing short of a nightmare so far.
His i20 stopped briefly in last night’s Guanajuato street stage and then struggled through this morning’s opening Los Mexicanos test with reduced power after a switch on the car’s anti-lag system fell off.
Brake problems haunted the Australian through the 44.03km El Chocolate and now broken right rear suspension in the 15.59km Las Minas (SS4) left the wheel sticking out at a strange angle
“It happened a long left corner,” he said. “I felt something strange and I thought I had a puncture. I didn’t hit anything but I guess an arm is broken.”
Atkinson dropped nearly a minute in comparison to team-mate Thierry Neuville and he’s already more than four minutes behind leader Mads Ostberg.
Andreas Mikkelsen’s Rally Mexico debut proved a brief one when the Norwegian’s Volkswagen Polo R retired midway through the long 44.03km El Chocolate (SS3) with broken suspension.
It is believed Mikkelsen went off the road and hit a rock. His Volkswagen team hopes he will restart tomorrow under Rally 2 regulations.
Robert Kubica was hampered for the final 30km by troubles with the gearshift on his Ford Fiesta RS. To aid his weakened right hand, the Pole uses a paddle shift system but the pneumatic operation failed, a problem Kubica blamed on the heat.
Thick gravel covered the surface and Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier, the first two cars into the stage, swept the loose stones clear for the benefit of those behind. Third on the road Mads Ostberg was one of those to benefit, the Norwegian going fastest to move into a 1.1 second lead over Ogier with Mikko Hirvonen climbing to third.
Benito Guerra damaged the steering rack on his Fiesta RS and his steering wheel was moving around in the cockpit. WRC 2 leader Ott Tanak retired shortly after the start when he went off and ripped the left front wheel from his Fiesta R5 while Nicolas Fuchs also stopped with a broken suspension arm.
Drivers handicapped by dust
Dust was the big issue as drivers emerged from the opening 9.88km Los Mexicanos stage (SS2). Organisers increased the interval between cars from the normal two minutes to three, but there was no breeze and dust lingered in the still morning air after the passage of each car.
Among the worst affected was Andreas Mikkelsen whose Volkswagen Polo R was sporting damage to the front bumper. “We hit a rock on the third corner. The dust was so bad I couldn't see the road and clipped something. The dust was terrible - really bad,” he said.
Chris Atkinson drove the stage with no turbo anti-lag system in his Hyundai i20 after the switch fell off before the start. “No ALS, no power,” said the Australian who dropped almost 30 seconds.
Mikko Hirvonen punctured the left front tyre on his Ford Fiesta RS about 5km from the finish but the Finn’s time loss over the short stage was minimal.
Fastest was overnight leader Sébastien Ogier, whose Polo R was quickest by 0.6sec from Mads Ostberg’s Citroen DS3 with Mikkelsen third.