Esapekka Lappi rocketed into the Guanajuato Rally México lead on Friday morning as several frontrunners, including championship leader Ott Tänak, ran into trouble.
The Finn, who held third place overnight, became embroiled in a morning-long scrap with six-time Mexico winner Sébastien Ogier, ending the loop just 1.4sec ahead of the Toyota Gazoo Racing part-timer before the stages are repeated this afternoon.
Lappi, driving a Hyundai i20 N, climbed to the head of the leaderboard with the benchmark time for El Chocolate, passing overnight leader Ott Tänak in the process as the Estonian nursed a failed turbocharger on his M-Sport Ford Puma.
While Ogier was able to regain a few tenths during the Ortega test, Lappi made it two stage wins out of three with a plucky run through Las Minas, which preceded the mid-leg service.
“I have to be satisfied with this,” Lappi said of his morning. “Séb [Ogier] has won this rally so many times and we can match his pace, so I need to be very pleased with that.
“The driving is never perfect and there were a few places where I lost a few tenths here and there. There is room for improvement, so let’s try to do that in the afternoon.”
Tänak’s chances of scoring his second victory of the season now look almost impossible. He languishes more than 12 minutes adrift of the top spot after limping through the morning with minimal power. His team-mates Pierre-Louis Loubet and Jourdan Serderidis also faced their share of problems in the opener. Both had to retire due to suspension damage, marking a disastrous start to the rally for the British team.
In third place, and avoiding the drama so far, is Ogier’s Yaris colleague Elfyn Evans. The Welshman ended the loop 11.1sec adrift of the runner-up spot, with Dani Sordo only 0.6sec further back despite struggling to keep his Hyundai in the clean line.
Thierry Neuville’s hybrid unit failed when he hit a compression in Ortega, leaving his i20 N down on power in the high altitudes. He arrived at service 10.1sec down on Sordo but 6.0sec clear of sixth-placed Kalle Rovanperä, whose Toyota suffered a similar fault.
Takamoto Katsuta retired from seventh overall after going off the road in a high-speed section of Las Minas. He lost control of his Yaris’s rear end, sliding down a steep embankment.
Emil Lindholm, the defending WRC2 champion, leads his category in a Toksport WRT2-entered Škoda Fabia Evo and holds seventh overall ahead of Gus Greensmith in a Škoda Fabia RS, while Adrien Fourmaux (M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta MkII) and Oliver Solberg (Škoda Fabia RS) round out the top 10.
In the battle for FIA WRC3 glory, Paraguay’s Diego Dominguez leads Masters Cup entrant Jason Bailey from Canada by 56sec, both in a Ford Fiesta Rally3.