Rally Mexico: Lucky red flag gives the victory to Sebastien Ogier
Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Total WRT) wins the Rally Mexico, the third round of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship. It’s the fifth win for the Frenchman and his navigator Julien Ingrassia at the Mexican gravel and 46th WRC victory in a career.
Ogier climbed to the top podium spot for the second time this year but Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja (Toyota Gazoo Racing) retained the championship lead after they finished second in Mexico, following their third-place finish in Monte-Carlo and a victory in Sweden. M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans and his navigator Scott Martin completed the podium.
Sebastien Ogier was not the fastest in the #1 Citroen C3 WRC but he was the luckiest and he made fewer mistakes than other rivals during the Mexican four-day event which saw the poor entry list of just 23 cars, including ten World Rally Cars. The gravel roads were extremely tough and almost every driver experienced some problems.
Even Thursday evening’s street stage at Leon was problematic after a jumping ramp was damaged and the stage had to be halted. On Friday morning, the famous El Chocolate stage took two victims – Teemu Suninen crashed in a Ford Fiesta WRC while Thierry Neuville lost more than forty seconds with a punctured tire on his Hyundai i20 WRC.
Neuville’s teammate Andreas Mikkelsen had a good pace in the #89 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC and he finished the morning loop as the rally leader, in front of Sebastien Ogier. But, the puncture and suspension damage forced Mikkelsen to stop on Special Stage 5, the first in the afternoon loop. Sebastien Ogier took the lead, followed by third Hyundai driver Dani Sordo.
A bad day for Hyundai continued with Sordo’s retirement on the road section between SS6 and SS7. The next on the list of retirements was Jari-Matti Latvala whose Toyota stopped in the light-fitting zone before the Special Stage 8.
The drama continued on Saturday morning, at the 25.9km stage Guanajuatito. Esapekka Lappi slipped out of the road and his Citroen was stranded with the front of the car partially on the road. There was enough place to pass and some cars did it. However, Lappi pushed the SOS button and rally organizers had to stop the stage.
In the same time, Lappi’s teammate and rally leader Sebastien Ogier suffered a puncture and he reached the finish line with almost one and a half minute loss. The red-flag meant that he and some other drivers get a notional time. That annulled Ogier’s loss and he was just 1.3 seconds behind new leader Kris Meeke, instead of losing more than a minute. There were accusations that Citroen manipulated with the stoppage of the stage. Of course, Citroen rejects all allegations.
Kris Meeke was not in the lead for long because he suffered a puncture on the very next stage, dropping to P5. Ogier was back on the top, in front of Elfyn Evans and Ott Tanak. The Estonian was more than twenty seconds behind the Welshman. Until the end of the day, the gap dropped to 2.2 seconds.
Ott Tanak finally progressed to the second place with the fastest time on Sunday’s opening stage. At the end, he finished 30 seconds behind Ogier, who earned additional five points with the fastest time at the Power Stage.
Behind three podium scorers Ogier, Tanak and Evans, the other drivers in the Top 10 at Rally Mexico are Thierry Neuville, Kris Meeke, Benito Guerra Jr., Marc Bulacia Wilkinson, Jari-Matti Latvala, Dano Sordo and Ricardo Trivino.
Tanak leads the championship with 65 points, four more than Ogier. Neuville is third with 55 points. Toyota is the best manufacturer with 86 points, ahead of Citroen (78) and Hyundai (77). The next WRC round is Tour de Corse, scheduled for the last weekend in March. Ninety-six cars are on the entry list for the French classic asphalt rally.