Sébastien Ogier is on the verge of a record-breaking seventh Guanajuato Rally México victory after establishing a commanding lead on Saturday.
The eight-time world champion, who drives part-time for Toyota Gazoo Racing, moved into the lead of the grueling gravel event when Esapekka Lappi — who he trailed by 5.3 seconds after Friday — crashed into an electricity pole in the opening stage. From that moment on, Ogier never looked back.
Armed with an advantage of almost half a minute over GR Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans at the day’s midpoint, the 39-year-old was in no mood to compromise. He managed his speed — and his hard compound Pirelli tires — flawlessly over the afternoon’s scorching speed tests, taking a dominant stage win at El Mosquito 2 to end the day 35.8 seconds clear of the field.
Victory at this third round would be particularly special for the Frenchman, as it was here in Mexico where he made his FIA World Rally Championship debut back in 2008.
“I think this lead is good,” Ogier said. “It’s been another strong day for me. We had a little bit of a different approach after Esapekka went off in the first stage this morning. We didn’t need to go for too much risk, but still we managed to set some good times and increase our lead. Tomorrow is still long which means we cannot afford to relax.”
Evans’ position in second overall was much less secure, as he had a charging Thierry Neuville breathing down his neck. The Hyundai driver reeled in his rival, grabbing four fastest times to trail the Welshman by just 4.3 seconds heading into Sunday’s four-stage finale.
Kalle Rovanperä found himself sitting almost one-minute adrift of Neuville in fourth overall. A stall in Derramadero 2 cost the Toyota youngster a handful of seconds but, with a hefty 47.2-second gap to Dani Sordo behind, he had no reason to be alarmed. Sordo, a lonely fifth, was unwilling to take any unnecessary risks. The Spaniard focused instead on trialling new set-ups throughout the day, although he found it difficult to keep the rear end of his Hyundai under control in the loose conditions.
Such was the high rate of the attrition that WRC2 cars comprised the remainder of the top 10. Gus Greensmith continued to lead the category ahead of his former M-Sport Ford team-mate Adrien Fourmaux, while Emil Lindholm, Oliver Solberg and Kajetan Kajetanowicz completed the leaderboard.
Championship leader Ott Tänak recovered from Friday morning’s turbo failure to haul his Ford Puma back up to 11th overall. Pierre-Louis Loubet, driving a similar car, retired for the second time in as many days with damaged rear suspension in SS17.
Sunday may be shorter, but it’s no less challenging. It opens with another blast through Las Dunas, which is followed by Otates — the longest stage of the rally at a daunting 35.63 km. San Diego is up next before the event ends with the Wolf Power Stage in El Brinco.