Citroen works drivers Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen sit proud atop the leaderboard at the end of the opening day of Rally Mexico, over a minute clear of their nearest challenger.
Both Loeb and Hirvonen were consistent through the opening day's stages, sharing wins on four of the day's twelve stages between than, Loeb topping the times on the first runs through Los Mexicanos and Ortega tests on Friday morning. By the time the rally left the same roads after the afternoon leg (and misfortunes for Ford rival Jari–Matti Latvala) Loeb had a 4.5 second lead over Hirvonen, with Ford privateer Mads Ostberg in third, though the Norwegian reportedly survived a hair-raising two-wheeled moment on the morning loop.
The teammate's lead held strong through the three Super Special stages around Leon that ended the day, despite heavy rainfall mixing up the stage standings on both runs through the 2.21km stages, leaving the fastest drivers overall languishing down at the bottom of the top ten times on both runs. While Ostberg lost another nine seconds to Loeb overall as there were rare stage wins for Nasser Al-Attiyah on the stage 11, before Australian Chris Atkinson scored victory on stage 12 for the Monster World Rally Team.
“I got off to a bit of slow start on SS2, but then I found the right pace,” said Loeb. “Mikko seems to be getting to grips with the DS3 WRC and I really had to go at full pelt to build up a small lead. Overall, it was a very good day, as the two CitroÃ«ns hold a clear lead over the rest of the field. Under normal circumstances, I don't think we can be caught, but there are over 250 kilometres of timed stages still to go!”
Though the standings at the end of the day paint a Citroen dominated picture, Loeb and Hirvonen were second best on most stages to Latvala.
The Ford man had assumed the overall rally lead after stage three, deposing Hirvonen after beating his countryman by just two seconds. Latvala's lead, however, disappeared when he lost a full 90 seconds on stage five, as the Rally Sweden winner explains; “It happened about 12km into the stage at a sixth gear, blind left curve over a crest. In my pace notes I had a rock marked on the inside so I couldn't cut. I saw another rock next to it that wasn't there during the recce, and because I was in sixth gear there was no chance to avoid it. I tried to steer the car wider, but it was slippery off line so I had to turn in and hit the rock.”
Luckily Latvala's incident happened on the final stage of the morning loop and with Fiesta repaired he was unleashed onto the road for the afternoon to begin a stunning comeback run that saw him win stages six, seven and eight, clambering back up to fourth, though he only cut ten seconds from his overall arrears.
Latvala was not the only driver to find trouble on the Mexican roads. Ford teammate Petter Solberg ended the day fifth overall after suffering a puncture. Citroen Junior driver Thierry Neuville was running as high a fourth following Latvala's problems, but was himself forced to retire on stage six after crashing his DS3.
The Belgian's final legacy on the rally – somewhat unfairly – was to be cited as a competitor who had had stones thrown at his car on stage five – the first visit to the Orgeta stage – causing the cancellation of stage on the afternoon loop. With Latvala having won the three stages leading up to the cancelled stage, it is left to the imagination to fathom what impact another 23km could had had on the overall standings.
At the end of the day Ott Tanak and Evgeny Novikov were scored sixth and seventh, on course to score manufacturer points for Ford, ahead of Atkinson, Al-Attiyah and MINI driver Armindo Araujo tenth, 3:30 off Loeb's leading marker.
The PWRC contingent was dominated by Benito Guerra on his home event as he opened up a 30 second lead in his Mitsubishi Evo X, promising more to come as he moved onto more familiar roads on the rally's second day.