Sébastien Ogier seized a commanding lead at Guanajuato Rally México on Saturday morning, capitalising on the misfortune of rival Esapekka Lappi.
With the duelling duo starting Saturday’s penultimate leg separated by a mere 5.3 seconds, the tension was palpable. Both drivers knew that every tenth of a second would count on the unforgiving terrain in the mountains around León.
However, the closely-fought battle that was expected failed to materialise when Lappi, who had held the upper hand, crashed his Hyundai i20 N just 10.01km into the opening Ibarrilla stage. The Finn’s car collided with a utility pole before briefly catching fire.
“There was right with a cut, and it went straight into a left over a crest,” Lappi explained. “I was a bit caught out with this cut and I was delayed on the entry to the left. We went wide and hit the bank which spun us out immediately, and we hit the rear of the car.
“It’s hard to swallow. But on the other hand, when you fight for the wins, you still need to push. I felt I was maybe not pushing hard enough, actually – I did not have the correct rhythm and I was not having the same flow as what you really have when you attack.”
His demise left Ogier with a comfortable lead of almost half a minute over Toyota GR Yaris colleague Elfyn Evans. The Frenchman, a six-time winner in Mexico, went into safety mode for the morning’s remaining three stages, reaching the mid-leg service with an 28.5sec advantage.
Thierry Neuville’s morning was a positive one, with the Belgian taking three stage wins aboard his Hyundai. As well as moving into podium position at Lappi’s expense, he also reduced his deficit to Evans to just 8.7sec.
Another 36.6sec behind in fourth overall was Kalle Rovanperä. The Finn’s Toyota lacked traction on the loose gravel stages, but he carried a sizeable advantage over Dani Sordo, who ended the loop 43.1sec further back with his Hyundai.
Road blockages due to Lappi’s incident meant the WRC2 field only completed SS14. Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 star Gus Greensmith continued to lead the category from Adrien Fourmaux, while Emil Lindholm, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Oliver Solberg completed the top 10.