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WRC Volkswagen's Ogier turns up the heat after day one in Mexico

RALLY GUANAJUATO CORONA 2014, March 6-9, 2014
2014 FIA World Rally Championship, round 3

For immediate release
Friday, March 7th, 2014

VOLKSWAGEN’S OGIER TURNS UP THE HEAT
IN MEXICO TO LEAD AT THE END OF DAY ONE

· Østberg holds second place for Citroën; Latvala ends day in third place
· Volkswagen’s Mikkelsen damages Polo and retires on third stage
· Eighth stage disappointment for Mikko Hirvonen and Kris Meeke
· Protasov holds comfortable lead in WRC 2; WRC 2 woes for Tanak and Fuchs


LEÓN (Mexico): Frenchman Sébastien Ogier and Norwegian Mads Østberg fought out a tense day one battle in the 11th Rally Guanajuato Corona on Friday and it was Ogier who reached the end of 11 timed gravel special stages with an overnight lead of 26.1 seconds.

With championship leader Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland acting as the ‘road sweeper’ through the day’s stages, the door was open for his Volkswagen team-mate Ogier to snatch an early lead courtesy of running in a more favourable second position on the road.

But Østberg had other ideas and the DS3 WRC driver delivered an impressive performance for the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, setting three quickest times on his way to second position. Oversteering issues cost him valuable time on the second run through the El Chocolate stage and that was the decisive moment in a tense opening day of the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

“It was a difficult day, with the temperatures and the tricky stages but a good afternoon for us in the end,” said Ogier, who was quickest on six of the day’s 10 specials. “Obviously I am happy with my position.”

Østberg was also upbeat: “To be honest I am very pleased with the day. We struggled a bit in the afternoon, and we need experience of the car to know what to do. We tried something and it did not work out as well, but there is a long way to go.”

Pneumatic gearshift system problems cost Robert Kubica time during the morning and the Pole looked set for fourth position until he dramatically rolled his Ford Fiesta in front of the crowds on the penultimate super special stage and was refused permission to start the final test of the day with his damaged car.

His demise handed fourth position to Welshman Elfyn Evans in another M-Sport Ford. Evans’s cause was helped no end when Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen and Ulster’s Kris Meeke hit heat-related electrical and suspension problems in the eighth Las Minas stage. Meeke had overtaken third-placed Latvala on the previous special after finding a useful rhythm in his DS3 WRC.

Hyundai Motorsport struggled to find the right set-up during the morning and had to overcome a number of niggling issues, but Thierry Neuville’s and Chris Atkinson’s stage times improved in the afternoon, with Neuville reaching Parc Ferme in an excellent fifth position, a mere one and a half seconds behind Evans, after using the loose surface stages to gather technical data for the team.

Czech Martin Prokop, who complained of too hard a suspension set-up over the second loop of stages and top Mexican driver Benito Guerra were sixth and seventh. Atkinson crashed into a series of plastic bollards on the super special stage and managed to keep going to maintain eighth place.

Estonian Ott Tanak and Peruvian Nicolas Fuchs left the WRC 2 fight on the first loop of morning stages and this paved the way for the Ukraine’s Yuriy Protasov to reach the overnight halt with a comfortable lead over Lorenzo Bertelli; the ninth-placed Ford Fiesta R5 driver’s cause was helped when his 10th-placed Italian rival lost time with brake issues and then a puncture on stage seven.

Friday – as it happened

Twenty-six drivers headed towards the 9.88km of the opening Los Mexicanos stage and ‘road sweeper’ and championship leader Latvala lost 3.5sec to Ogier, despite the Frenchman and Østberg complaining of dust hanging in the air.

Mikkelsen hit a rock in the dust on the third corner and dented his Polo’s bumper but, with the exception of Hirvonen who collected a puncture, the leaders emerged unscathed from the opener. Ogier extended his lead to 1.4sec, but the Hyundai i20 WRCs were clearly struggling on their WRC gravel debut; Neuville was 14.4sec slower than the stage winner and Atkinson suffered turbo anti-lag system issues, tackled the stage in ‘road’ mode and dropped over 40 seconds. “The switch fell off before the start and I couldn’t fix it,” said the Australian. “So no anti-lag, no power.”

El Chocolate, at 44.03km in length and rising to a height of 2,637 metres above sea level, was the first demanding test of the rally and Latvala set the target time of 30min 18.7sec. Ogier was 10.9sec quicker than the Finn, but ceded the rally lead to a flying Østberg by 1.1sec. Mikkelsen slid wide in a narrow section, slid off the road and damaged the Polo’s suspension and lost his second position. Atkinson used a mole grip to turn his anti-lag system on and off at the start and finish of the stage.

WRC 2 front-runners Ott Tanak (accident) and Nicolas Fuchs (broken suspension arm) both stopped near the start of the special, Benito Guerra suffered steering rack issues and Robert Kubica was struggling on with transmission woes potentially caused from overheating.

Østberg was again quickest through the fourth Las Minas stage to extend his lead over Ogier to 6.6sec and a second fastest time for Hirvonen lifted the Finn into third. Atkinson damaged his right-hand rear suspension and stopped at the end of the special to make emergency repairs, while Bertelli lost his early WRC 2 lead to Protasov after ongoing brake problems.

A fastest time on the short fifth stage by Ogier reduced Ostberg’s lead to 3.3sec at the midday regroup and service at the Rally Campus in León. Hirvonen maintained third from Latvala with the third quickest time. Ostberg had been forced to take it easy after he inadvertently left the radiator shield fixed at the start of the stage and ran with the risk of the car overheating.

The three gravel special stages were repeated on Friday afternoon before three rapid-fire super special stages brought the action to a close. Ogier set the quickest time through Los Mexicanos and reduced Østberg’s advantage to just 1.2sec, as Hirvonen maintained third and Atkinson and Neuville began to put early problems behind them and set more competitive stage times with better grip in the Hyundai i20 WRCs. Protasov extended his WRC 2 lead over Bertelli to 10sec.

The re-run of El Chocolate could easily decide the outcome of day one and it did hand the advantage to Ogier. With outside temperatures a lot higher than they had been during the morning, the stage was physically more demanding for the drivers, but oversteer was the main problem for Østberg and he lost the outright lead after dropping 14.9sec to Ogier.

“Not so perfect, it was disappointing,” said the Norwegian, who trailed by 13.7sec. “I struggled with a lot of oversteer.” A flat tyre cost Bertelli over four minutes and any realistic chance of catching Protasov in WRC 2.

Ogier now had the bit between his teeth and the Frenchman was quickest again through Los Minas 2 to extend his advantage to 20.6sec, but Hirvonen’s brave run ended with electrical woes in the special and his demise promoted Latvala to third, when Meeke – who had been in impressive form over the afternoon’s stages – also stopped near the end of the timed test after a minor impact damaged a suspension arm. “We went into the corner too quickly,” admitted the Ulsterman.

“We had a technical failure and had to retire,” added Hirvonen. “That’s a shame. The pace was good. We were in the fight and loving it, but that is part of the game.”

The three short spectator stages made little impact on the top three and Ogier reached the overnight halt with a lead of 26.1 seconds and would benefit from a favourable road position through the daunting Ibarrilla and Otates stages on Saturday.

Late drama centred around Kubica, who missed a braking point for a hairpin, clipped a concrete bollard and flipped his Ford Fiesta on to its roof in front of the astonished crowd and gifted fourth position to Evans. Not to be denied, Atkinson was also in the wars in dramatic fashion at the treacherously slippery corner that had accounted for Kubica and he also clouted a series of plastic bollards with the i20 WRC. It was a dramatic end to a remarkable day in Mexico.

Saturday

Tomorrow (Saturday), there are seven varied special stages in a timetable that begins with the first of two runs through the 30.33km Ibarrilla stage from 09.28hrs. The daunting 53.69km of Otates follows at 10.46hrs, before teams return to the Rally Campus for regroup and service.

Ibarrila is repeated at 14.19hrs and is a warm-up for another punishing special stage – the 43.06km of Otatitos. The televised 8.25km of El Brinco runs at 17.08hrs and precedes two runs through the 2.21km super special stage from 18.08hrs.

2014 Rally Guanajuato Corona - positions after SS11:
1. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julian Ingrassia (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R WRC 1hr 46min 25.3sec
2. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Citroën DS3 WRC2 1hr 46min 51.4sec
3. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Volkswagen Polo R WRC 1hr 47min 07.8sec
4. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Ford Fiesta RS WRC 1hr 48min 54.0sec
5. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 WRC 1hr 48min 55.5sec
6. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Jan Tomanek (CZE) Ford Fiesta RS WRC 1hr 49min 56.4sec
7. Benito Guerra (MEX)/Borja Rozada (MEX) Ford Fiesta RS WRC 1hr 51min 31.3sec
8. Chris Atkinson (AUS)/Stéphane Prévot (BEL) Hyundai i20 WRC 1hr 52min 58.1sec
9. Yuriy Protasov ((UKR)/Pavlo Cherepin (UKR) Ford Fiesta R5 WRC 2 1hr 54min 04.4sec
10. Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA)/Mitia Dotta (ITA) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 58min 26.0sec

Ends

For further media information:
Rally Guanajuato Corona 2014, Media Centre, Poliforum Expo Centre, León, Mexico, Tel: + 52 (477) 771-4274 or + 52 (477) 771-4671, E-mail: eugenio@rallymexico.com, mauriciog@rallymexico.com or ndppublicity@googlemail.com

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Date issued: 07/03/2014

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