WRC - After SS17: Meeke closes on win
Citroën driver carries strong advantage into finale
Kris Meeke strengthened his lead over Sébastien Ogier at Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Saturday to take a commanding 30.9sec advantage into tomorrow’s short final leg.
The Briton [main picture] won just one of the nine speed tests, most on dirt roads in the mountains near León, but it was a decisive victory. While Meeke carried out a planned attack to perfection, Ogier spun and a deficit of just over 20sec became almost twice that.
The duo traded seconds through the opening four special stages before Meeke pounced in his Citroën C3. Ogier promised this morning it would not be an ‘all or nothing’ day, and after pirouetting at a hairpin bend, he signalled his challenge was over.
“It has been a perfect weekend so far. That was going to be the defining loop of the rally. I had to make it stick on this loop and it worked,” said Meeke, who gambled with hard compound Michelin tyres despite the threat of rain. Fortunately for him it stayed dry.
Ogier won two tests in his Ford Fiesta and ended 39.6sec clear of Thierry Neuville, who also won a stage. The misfire which slowed Neuville’s Hyundai i20 Coupe last night, along with team-mates Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo, was traced to a blocked fuel filter and all three cars ran cleanly today.
Neuville regretted opting for soft tyres this afternoon when forecast rain failed to arrive, but with a large gap in front and behind, an error-free day kept him on course for strong points.
Ott Tänak was fourth in a Fiesta. The Estonian struggled for confidence in his car’s set-up this morning but headed a frustrated Hayden Paddon. The Kiwi punctured after hitting a rock and experimented with new settings in a bid to find his pace.
Jari-Matti Latvala overhauled Toyota Yaris team-mate Juho Hänninen for sixth in the penultimate stage. Latvala overcame morning brake problems and punctured after hitting the same rock as Paddon.
Just finishing was a victory for Hänninen. Struck down by sickness, he persevered and by the day’s end his health was improving.
Dani Sordo was eighth. The Spaniard won the first two stages and came within 0.9sec of a clean sweep of the morning tests. His fortunes looked even brighter after a 10-minute penalty imposed last night was removed, but a puncture on the liaison section after SS12 meant he tackled the following test with his car’s boot open after a hurried change!
Elfyn Evans and WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand completed the leaderboard, Evans winning two asphalt stages late in the day.
Stéphane Lefebvre crashed his C3 out of sixth while Lorenzo Bertelli rolled his Ford Fiesta. He continued but well down the order.
Yesterday’s overheating problems were a thing of the past as cooler air temperatures and teams using more tolerant engine settings ensured there was no repeat.
Sunday’s final leg comprises two tests. After a mid-morning start, crews drive the 32.96km La Calera ahead of the 21.94km Derramadero live TV Power Stage, which offers bonus points for the fastest five drivers.