The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle made what could well be a decisive attack over the second loop of stages on day three of the Rally Guanajuato Corona in Mexico and will take a solid lead of 30.9 seconds into the remaining two specials on Sunday.
After starting the day’s eight timed tests from a favourable 12th position on the road and three minutes behind arch rival and defending World Champion, Sébastien Ogier, Meeke controlled his pace to perfection and attacked in the second Lajas de Oro stage, his pressure coming at the same time as a spin cost his French rival 10 seconds. Ogier remains in a comfortable second position with his M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC and looks likely to regain the championship lead at the end of the event.
Meeke said: “It’s still not the end, but it’s been a good day. This morning I was a little apprehensive because I know Seb’s pace on this rally. He has won it a few times. We never knew what the pace was like yesterday because of the road position difference. This morning I did not know so I picked my rhythm and, at the end of the first stage, it was less than a second difference. I thought then that we could do something.”
Dani Sordo, Thierry Neuville, Elfyn Evans and Ott Tanak also set fastest stage times on the day, but could not match the consistency of their rivals after earlier delays. Tyre wear and tyre strategies played their part as well on the abrasive gravel and Neuville reached the night halt in a strong third position in the first of three Hyundai Motorsport i20 Coupe WRCs.
M-Sport’s Ott Tanak delivered an impressive performance to hold fourth and Neuville’s team-mate Hayden Paddon was fifth. The two Toyota GAZOO World Rally Team Yaris WRCs struggled for very different reasons. An unwell Finland’s Juho Hänninen battled on bravely under medication to reach the night halt in seventh and Jari-Matti Latvala used the day to provide data to his tyre technicians after Friday’s overheating issues cost him any chance of taking the win. He managed to overtake his team-mate late on to hold sixth by just 0.3 seconds.
A gripping battle developed in WRC 2 between Skoda’s Pontus Tidemand and M-Sport’s Eric Camilli. Separated by 35.4 seconds at the start of the day. Camilli went on a charge to hunt down his Swedish rival and fractions of a second separated the pair for several stages. Tidemand eventually came out on top by just two seconds to set up the prospect of a gripping Sunday showdown. Mexico’s Benito Guerra was plagued by brake problems and a puncture and held a distant third.
Saturday – as it happened
Dark clouds and spots of rain greeted teams to the resumption from León on Saturday’s action and it looked decidedly unsettled as the leading crews headed to the start of the 27.42km Media Luna stage at Mesa de Ibarrilla.
Twenty-three of the 24 starters began the day and the dubious responsibility of running first on the road fell to Elfyn Evans after Lorenzo Bertelli was three minutes late leaving the service park. Ogier and overnight leader Meeke were running 11th and 12th, respectively, although engine issues meant that WRC 2 entrant Hubert Ptaszek was not able to restart.
Evans had no issues in the opener and carded the target time of 17min 33sec, but the Hyundai i20s were rejuvenated after technicians had replaced blocked fuel filters in each car overnight and Sordo, in particular, posted an impressive time to claim the stage win from Ogier.
Meeke finished third and took a lead of 20 seconds to San Juan de Otates for the start of the next Lajas de Oro stage, which features several sections that had never been used before. A cautious Tidemand’s grip on the WRC 2 lead was reduced to 6.3 seconds by a flying Camilli in his Ford Fiesta R5.
Lefebvre slid down a steep slope in his C3 WRC 35km into the next stage and was unable to extricate his car. Bertelli rolled and managed to continue with the loss of over 18 minutes, as Sordo snatched the quickest time and Meeke increased his advantage over Ogier to 22.7 seconds. Camilli continued his impressive start to the day and closed to within one second of Tidemand with another pulsating time in WRC 2.
Neuville and Meeke shared the fastest time through the televised El Brinco stage and that enabled the Ulsterman – who confessed that this has been his bogey stage in the past – to extend his advantage over Ogier to 23.5 seconds. Latvala and Paddon both punctured but a focused Camilli moved 1.1 seconds ahead of Tidemand in the gripping WRC 2 duel. Guerra held third.
It appeared that the previous day’s overheating issues had been averted and Evans led the surviving 21 cars into a repeat of the morning’s three stages after a regroup and service stop at the Rally Campus. The Mexican duo of Francisco Diaz (Mitsubishi) and Miguel Medina (Ford Fiesta) joined Lefebvre on the sidelines.
Evans benefited from a cleaner stage surface and limited tyre wear to better his first run through Media Luna by 30 seconds. Toyota’s Juho Hänninen had been sick at the end of the previous stage but he received medication at the service point and felt a little better at the start of the afternoon.
Tyre choice was critical amongst the front-runners and Ogier was able to claim the quickest time. Meeke stayed clear of trouble to set the second fastest time and head to Lajas de Oro with a lead of 21.3 seconds.
Rally officials also announced that 10 minutes that had been imposed on Sordo after his delays on the super special stages on Friday evening had been rescinded and the Spaniard moved back into eighth overall. Camilli continued his relentless charge towards WRC 2 glory and extended his lead over Tidemand to 6.8 seconds, but Guerra lost a further minute with ongoing brake issues.
A spin cost Ogier vital seconds in Lajas de Oro and enabled a flying Meeke to reach El Brinco with a 39.5 second lead. The Ulsterman admitted that there would be a point where he needed to push and this could well have been the defining moment in the rally. As Latvala used the special to source tyre data for his Toyota technicians, Tidemand hit back in the WRC 2 contest and reduced Camilli’s advantage to just 0.8 seconds.
Tanak came out on top in the rerun of El Brinco. Ogier managed to claw back 2.6 seconds from leader Meeke, although the Ulsterman was in defiant mood. “It’s been a perfect weekend so far,” said the C3 driver. “That was going to be the defining loop. I had to make it stick on this loop and it worked.”
The WRC 2 pendulum swung back in Camilli’s favour with the Frenchman beating Tidemand again to take a 2.7 second lead into the three remaining super specials. But Tidemand was quicker at the Autódromo and led by six-tenths of a second heading to service.
A heavy rain shower made the surface at the Autódromo extremely slippery after Tanak and Latvala had completed their first pass through the 2.3km special in dry conditions. A large crowd gathered to witness Evans benefit from dry conditions to set the fastest time through both passes. Meeke had a slow puncture but took no risks and reached the Rally Campus Service Park with a lead of 33.4 seconds, prior to the final spectator stage later that evening.
There are only two special stages on a short final day. Crews will tackle the 32.96km of La Calera, starting at 10.43hrs, and then the action concludes with the traditional televised Power Stage at Derramadero. The stage will run for 21.94km from 12.18hrs and precedes the podium finish at the Rally Campus Service Park at 14.30hrs.
Rally Guanajuato Corona 2017 – leading positions after SS17 (unofficial @ 22.10hrs):
- Kris Meeke (GBR)/Paul Nagle (IRL) Citroën C3 WRC 2hr 47min 33.3sec
- Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC 2hr 48min 04.2sec
- Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2hr 48min 43.8sec
- Ott Tanak (EST)/Martin Jarveoja (EST) Ford Fiesta WRC 2hr 49min 45.9sec
- Hayden Paddon (NZL)/John Kennard (NZL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2hr 50min 58.8sec
- Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC 2hr 52min 05.9sec
- Juho Hänninen (FIN)/Kaj Lindström (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC 2hr 52min 06.2sec
- Dani Sordo (ESP)/Marc Marti (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2hr 52min 49.4sec
- Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC 2hr 55min 55.4sec
- Pontus Tidemand (SWE)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Skoda Fabia R5 2hr 56min 59.7sec
- Eric Camilli (FRA)/Benjamin Veillas (FRA) Ford Fiesta R5 2hr 57min 01.7sec
- Benito Guerra (MEX)/Daniel Cue (ESP) Skoda Fabia R5 3hr 03min 06.9sec