Sebastien Ogier is within touching distance of a record-breaking seventh WRC Rally Mexico victory after establishing a commanding lead on Saturday’s second leg.
The eight-time FIA World Rally Champion, who’s elected to run a part-time program with Toyota Gazoo Racing, moved into the lead of the grueling gravel event when Esapekka Lappi — who led Ogier by 5.3s after Friday’s opening leg — crashed his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 into a concrete electricity pole during Saturday’s opening stage stage.
From that moment on, GR Yaris Rally1 driver Ogier never looked back. Armed with an advantage of almost half a minute over Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans at the day’s midpoint, the 39-year-old Frenchman was in no mood to compromise.
He managed his speed — and his hard compound Pirelli tires — flawlessly over the afternoon’s stages, taking a dominant win on El Mosquito 2 to end the day 35.8s clear of the field.
Victory on the third round of the championship would be particularly special for Ogier, since Mexico was where he made his WRC debut back in 2008. A win on Sunday would also make it two wins from two 2023 starts for Ogier, after he dominated January’s season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.
“I think this lead is good,” said Ogier. “It’s been another strong day for me. We had a little bit of a different approach after Esapekka went off in the first stage this morning. We didn’t need to go for too much risk, but still we managed to set some good times and increase our lead. Tomorrow is still long which means we cannot afford to relax.”
Evans’ position in second overall was much less secure, thanks to a charging Thierry Neuville breathing down his neck. The Belgian Hyundai driver reeled in his rival, grabbing four fastest times to trail the Welshman’s Yaris by just 4.3s heading into Sunday’s four-stage final leg.
Toyota’s reigning WRC champ, Kalle Rovanpera, found himself sitting almost one minute adrift of Neuville in fourth overall. A stall in the Derramadero 2 stage cost the 22-year-old Finn a handful of seconds, but thanks to a hefty 47.2s gap to Dani Sordo behind, he had no reason to be alarmed.
Sordo, a lonely fifth, was unwilling to take any unnecessary risks. The Spaniard focused instead on testing new setups throughout the day, but despite the ongoing tweaks he still found it difficult to keep the rear end of his Hyundai under control in the loose conditions.
WRC points leader Ott Tanak recovered from Friday morning’s turbo failure to haul his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally 1 back up to 11th overall. Pierre-Louis Loubet, driving a similar car, retired for the second time in as many days with damaged rear suspension in the afternoon’s third stage.
Such was the high rate of the attrition among the Rally1 entries that cars from international rallying’s second tier, WRC2, filled out the rest of the top 10 behind Sordo and ahead of Tanak.
Gus Greensmith preserved his lead at the front of the WRC2 pack on a shortened Saturday leg. The WRC2 crews waited until the final stage of the morning loop for their day to get fully underway after the opener was red-flagged following Lappi’s altercation with the power pole. As a result, all WRC2 crews were redirected to the beginning of the morning’s fourth stage, Las Dunas Super Special 2.
Despite the delayed start, there was some good news for Greensmith when the Skoda Fabia RS driver saw his lead extended from 8.5s to 18.5s as a result of his closest rival, M-Sport Ford Fiesta pilot Adrien Fourmaux, starting the leg with a 10s time penalty for a late check in the day before.
Greensmith could afford to relax and opted to trial different setups on his new car during the afternoon. While the changes didn’t have the impact he’d hoped for, he still managed to strengthen his advantage over Fourmaux, ending the day 31.6s in front going into Sunday’s four-stage finale.
Sunday may be shorter than Saturday’s leg, but it’s set to be no less challenging. It opens with another blast through Las Dunas, which is followed by Otates — the longest stage of the rally at a daunting 22.14 miles. San Diego is up next, before the event ends with the bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage in 5.95-mile El Brinco stage.
WRC Rally Mexico, leading positions after Day Two, SS19
1 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h35m37.6s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +35.8s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +40.1s
4 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m34.0s
5 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +2m21.2s
6 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson ((Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 leader) +10m33.4s
7 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Fiesta MkII – WRC2) +11m05.0s
8 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hamalainen (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +11m11.0s
9 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +11m52.2s
10 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +12m54.3s
Check out WRC.com, the official home of the FIA World Rally Championship. And for the ultimate WRC experience, sign up for a WRC+ All Live subscription to watch all stages of every rally live and on demand, whenever and wherever.