Sebastien Loeb took his fourth consecutive Rally Mexico win after dominating the second day of the event, taking the championship lead from Mikko Hirvonen in the process.
Loeb won all but one of Saturday's nine stages, overhauling Citroen Junior team driver Sebastien Ogier and the then leader Petter Solberg to move into a 55 second lead after stage 18, the fourth of five super special stages on the event.
”This victory's done us a power of good,” Loeb said after crossing the line. “We controlled our race well and I think that we can look forward to the next events with confidence, as they'll be run on similar surfaces. Thanks to this victory we've taken the lead in the championship and opened up a small gap over Mikko Hirvonen.”
Petter Solberg, running a Citroen C4 similar to Loeb's had taken advantage of starting on the Mexican gravel stages further down the order than normal after only finishing ninth in the season opener in Sweden. The Norwegian won five of the days stages, Ogier (who was running fifth on the road) took the other four stage wins.
However, crucially, Solberg refused to play the tactical game and slow down on the day's later stages, as is common on gravel rallies, and so he found himself defending a rally lead, running first on the road for the second day.
The result was predictable enough.
Just as Solberg had enjoyed a road cleared of the worst of the loose surface on Friday, Loeb was the beneficiary on the second day and on a final day of only three stages (intended to be for but S20 was cancelled) Loeb's margin proved insurmountable. Both Ogier and Solberg tried, cutting the Frenchman's lead in half, Solberg describing “driving on the door handles” to chase Loeb as well battle Ogier for second, a battle Solberg won.
They secured a podium sweep for Citroen ahead of four Fords, headed by Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala.
There was also further drama on day two as the opening stage claimed the weekend's of three drivers running in the top-ten at the time.
Ford driver Matthew Wilson beached his Focus on rocks only 2km before the end 30km stage and the similar machine of American Ken Block, making his WRC bow, slid into a ditch under braking for a downhill hairpin tearing apart the left front corner of the Monster Energy backed Ford. The third driver to stop on stage was Loeb's Citroen Total World Rally Team teammate Dani Sordo.
“I was just a bit off line in a slow section and we hit a stone,” Sordo explains. “We tried to carry out repairs, but we couldn't as a part was twisted. It's a huge disappointment as I was on the same pace as Seb [Loeb] in the first part of the stage.”
All three were able to restart the rally on Sunday under SupeRally rules. Not so lucky was Kimi Raikkonen.
The Finn had struggled on the opening day with mechanical maladies. A bent steering arm on the very first stage, a fuel pump problem delaying them to the extent that there was no time for the team to change tyres before the final coup de grace on stage seven.
“The car just slid into the side of the road as we were going into a corner,” stated Raikkonen. The car rolled seven times tearing the car apart, though both Raikkonen and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom were unhurt.
The WRC circus next visits Jordan on April 1, where new championship leader Loeb will be opening the rally clearing the gravel roads.