In sizzling hot conditions, the Toyota Yaris man avoided the drama of those around him to end the first full day’s competition with a 13.2sec lead over M-Sport Ford pilot Teemu Suninen. Elfyn Evans was third, snatching the position from Ott Tänak in the final Street Stage León blast.
Ogier grabbed the early lead from Tänak on Friday’s opening El Chocolate speed test and led for the remainder of the day, capitalising on an uncharacteristic mistake which saw the Estonian forced to nurse his Hyundai i20 to the end of the stage with rear suspension damage.
"I am happy with the day - of course being in the lead is always good. I knew that being third on the road would give us a chance to make good time. I think we have all had challenges today, like slippery roads and a lot of rocks to avoid, so it’s never easy to drive here but I enjoyed it. Day one is done now, but there is a long way to go and at least we have the best road position," the overnight leader told WRC All Live.
Suninen’s strong performance on the tricky Mexican roads was overshadowed by the gut-wrenching retirement of his teammate Esapekka Lappi, whose Ford Fiesta became engulfed in flames immediately after the re-run of El Chocolate. Despite the best efforts of fire teams, the car completely burned out.
“On the stop line, Janne opened the door and said the car is burning. I didn't realise how big the fire was, so I tried to drive. Luckily we are fine, but I don't know what caused it. We were fine on the stage," Lappi explained shortly afterwards.
Championship leader Evans ended the leg with third in a Yaris. Running first on the road, the Welshman struggled with low grip levels and rounded out the day 33.2sec back from the rally lead.
Despite dropping over 40-seconds to the leaders during the day’s opener, Tänak showed true determination to climb back up the leaderboard. A daring drive through the Las Minas 2 speed test saw the i20 driver climb four places within one stage. Just 0.2sec separated him and Evans at close of play.
Tänak’s return to the sharp end of the timesheets was partly due to the demise of teammate Thierry Neuville. The Belgian had been battling in the top three when his i20 ground to a halt with electrical gremlins. Dani Sordo’s similar car also succumbed to a technical maladies, making it a day to forget for the Germany-based team.
Kalle Rovanperä was fifth after a challenging day. He overcame a slow puncture on Friday morning to lie just 2.3sec further back from Tänak. Gus Greensmith steered clear of trouble to round out the top six in his Fiesta. As the crews returned to the León service park, he trailed Rovanperä by 41.1sec.
WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand held seventh place at the wheel of a Skoda Fabia, 51.1sec ahead of Russian rival Nikolay Gryazin in an i20. Marco Bulacia was ninth, rounding out the day’s action with a commanding WRC 3 lead in his Citroën C3, whilst Emilio Fernández completed the leaderboard 2min45.5sec further back.