So ends the first proper gravel test of the year, and what a rally it turned out to be in Mexico! The clear favorites going into this weekend had to be Mikko Hirvonen and the BP Ford team, however it was not to be as the Citroens would prove to be too much.
Day 1 was exciting as Petter Solberg would set a dominant pace all day long. Sebastian Ogier would run a clean and consistent second as the two factory Citroen efforts would take the third and fourth positions. The two factory Fords would struggle all day with Jari-Matti Latvala taking the five spot and Mikko Hirvonen just behind. The Fords had the honors of sweeping the roads in the morning stages which guaranteed they would have no grip at all. However, even in the afternoon when the gravel had been cleared, the Fords would be off the pace considerably. Both Hirvonen and Latvala were stunned and were a bit unsure on how they could respond. Day 1 would also see the battle of the PR icons as both Kimi Raikkonen and Ken Block would compete in rallies top class at the same time. Block would come out the overall winner in this round between the two high profile rookies. Kimi would suffer early with a suspension issue after hitting a rock and then would run into a fuel injector issue that would see his chances erased. The Finn would continue until SS7 when the inevitable happened and Kimi rolled the car out of the rally. Another disappointing run for Raikkonen and there is really not a lot that can be taken away from yet another accident. The accident would add to the fact that Kimi’s overall rally experience has been sad at best and a real waste of Citroen dollars. There is only so many vehicles that can be totaled before the cost of having Kimi outweighs the level of PR he brings an already highly decorated Citroen outfit. Ken Block on the other hand would run fantastic on the first day with only a few minor issues. The American would also hit a rock and stall the car, but was able to continue and run as high as eighth overall. The day would end with Block in 10 position and times that were comparable to both Matthew Wilson and Federico Villagra.
Day 2 would see the Citroen privateer of Petter Solberg perform road sweeping duties for the rest of the competitors. His times through the early stages would show just how much gravel the 2003 champion was moving as he lost his 27sec lead over Loeb only two stages in. SS10 was the first stage of the day and would prove to be devastating to many cars running in the top 10 as Dani Sordo, Ken Block, and Matthew Wilson were all forced to retire from the event with suspension related issues. Another poor result from Dani Sordo really has the pressure on from Sebastian Ogier for the second factory seat. Ken Block made a minor pace note error that seen the American snap a control arm…ironic considering he claimed victory in the 100 Acre Wood Rally when Travis Pastrana did the same. Loeb would take advantage of all the gravel clearing and open up a huge lead with Ogier slotting into second place and Petter falling to third after terrible road conditions. Both Petter and Ogier were clear surprises for the weekend and the excitement would not end on day 2 as day 3 would bring fantastic performances from both drivers.
Day 3 would be a walk in the park for Sebastian Loeb as the real battle would be between Solberg and Ogier. Solberg would close all morning and then on the penultimate stage put himself only 0.7 seconds back from the Citroen Junior ace. A gap that the Norwegian would erase at the spectator super special and surpass Ogier by 1.1 seconds on stage. A fantastic result for Petter Solberg after the woes of Sweden and a clear message that Petter will be a force in this year’s title fight. Mikko Hirvonen would claim the fourth position after Jari-Matti pulled over and let his teammate through to claim crucial points in his title fight with Loeb.
So all in all a great weekend of rally from Mexico with a few surprises and a lot of promise from Ken Block. Ford will walk away scratching their head as to why they had no pace for the Citroens all weekend as well as if a move to the factory for Ogier may be the best chance at taking the constructor’s title given Sordo’s bad season start. The next rally will be Rally Jordan and that takes place April 1st through the 4th. Be sure to download the next episode of the Open paddock podcast as we get more commentary about Mexico and a look forward.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h42m41.7s
2. Petter Solberg Citroen + 24.2s
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 25.3s
4. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 1m47.5s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 2m15.1s
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 2m48.0s
7. Federico Villagra Ford + 10m13.4s
8. Xevi Pons Ford + 18m44.4s
9. Martin Prokop Ford + 19m02.0s
10. Armindo Araujo Mitsubishi + 21m32.5s