Esapekka Lappi leads Rally Mexico by 5.3s to Sebastien Ogier after a tightly fought battle on Friday where they traded stage wins. Ogier’s teammate, Elfyn Evans ended the day in third as trouble hit the field as soon as they took to the gravel stages.
Day 1 of Rally Mexico took place on Thursday night with two super special stage runs on the streets of Guanajuato. The 1.2km test runs partly through tunnels underground that date back to when Guanajuato was the silver mining centre of the world.
Tanak went on to thrill the masses of spectators that lined the streets and take the rally lead heading into Friday. With the first twelve cars running in reverse order, Tanak had the perk of being the last one out of the gates, with which he took advantage.
The Estonian went 0.8s quicker than Toyota rival Kalle Rovanpera and kept up the pace in the second run to lead the reigning champion by 1.7s.
“Today was a bit of fun, tomorrow is the job” commented Tanak who was wary of his road opening duties on the next day.
Despite this, the M-Sport driver enjoyed the crowd support with the rally returning to the country for the first time since 2020.
“When you are arriving here it is just full of crowds and you are driving in a tunnel of people,” Tanak said, “It is something different – they are really really passionate…with all this support it is fun.”
Esapekka Lappi joined his fellow Finn in the top three, the new Hyundai driver finished just 0.5s back from Rovanpera after they couldn’t be separated over the shakedown. Fellow Hyundai teammate, Thierry Neuville, was next in fourth having beaten returning Toyota driver, Sebastien Ogier, around the tight confines of Guanajuato.
Standings after Day 1
- Tanak – 1min 54s
- Rovanpera +1.7s
- Lappi +2.2s
- Neuville +2.8s
- Ogier +2.8s
- Evans +3.8s
Three stages make up the morning of the second day of running. The famous El Chocolate, Ortega and Las Mina are tackled first before the first service. The afternoon sees a repeat of them but with two new super specials to close out the action. Las Dunas is a short 3.84km course that runs through some gravel quarry roads before the crews finally head to Distrito Leon Mx Rock & Rally for a 2.83km test over asphalt and cobblestones.
Lappi grabbed the advantage in the morning after a tight battle with Sebastien Ogier. The Finn jumped to the front from third place after setting the fastest time on El Chocolate with Tanak hitting trouble on the stage. Tanak didn’t have to worry about how far road sweeping would set him back because the Estonian hit mechanical trouble with a failed turbocharger being the culprit leading to the championship leader to drop significant time.
Ogier was able to close back in on Lappi through Ortega but couldn’t do enough through the final stage of the morning in Las Minas. Lappi won that stage to hold a 1.4s gap over the Frenchman.
“I have to be satisfied with this,” Lappi commented. “Seb has won this rally so many times and we can match his pace, so I need to be very pleased with that.”
M-Sport had one hell of a morning. After Tanak dropped 12 minutes with his trouble, Pierre-Louis Loubet and privateer, Jourdan Serderidis, hit suspension trouble which led to both having to retire the car marking a terrible start for the squad.
Elfyn Evans finished the morning in fourth just 0.6s ahead of Dani Sordo but 11.1s down from Ogier. Neuville in the other Hyundai didn’t have a smooth start as he suffered a hybrid unit failure when hitting a compression in SS4 which left the car down on power at the higher altitudes. He finished 10.1s down from his teammate but was 6s clear of Rovanpera who suffered from a similar problem.
In the afternoon Lappi started to take control of the day. The Hyundai driver took back-to-back wins on the second runs through Las Minas and Las Dunas to create a bigger gap back to Ogier. Ogier tried to respond at Distrito Leon but at the end of the day, Lappi had a 5.3s split to second.
“I am a bit surprised, but I take it as it is,” Lappi said joyfully. This was probably one of the best days of my career.”
Ogier’s teammate, Evans, battled through soaring temperatures and altitudes to finish Friday in third. The only struggle that the Welshman faced was a lack of traction on some stages which meant he is 24.8s in arrears to Ogier. Neuville added a seized rear right damper and damaged driveshaft to his list of issues on day 2, however, the Belgian battled through to finish fourth and only 9.7s adrift of the podium.
Rovanpera suffered from his starting position due to being second on the road after Tanak. The Finn dropped time on every stage and ended the day 19.9s down on Neuville. Despite a strong start, Sordo lost a minute on SS7 due to taking rear left tyre damage which took him from fourth to sixth. Takamoto Katsuta rolled his car down an embankment which wasn’t a great way to celebrate his birthday.
Standings after Day 2
- Lappi – 1hr 25min 12s
- Ogier +5.3s
- Evans +30.1s
- Neuville +39.8s
- Rovanpera +59.7s
- Sordo +1min 27.2s
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