Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia took the overall lead on day one in their C3 WRC, also ending today’s opening leg as top performers with four stage wins in sweltering temperatures and high altitudes of close to 3,000 metres above sea level. Fifth overnight, just behind the fourth-placed crew, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm meanwhile made up for their lack of knowledge of the rally by adapting well to the conditions.
Scheduled for Thursday evening in the streets of the famous former mining city of Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the rally’s opening stage was interrupted when the ramp of a purpose-built jump was deemed unsafe after it moved from its initial position. And so it was on Friday’s leg that the battle began in earnest. The highlight was expected to be two runs on the famous El Chocolate (31.57km) stage, reputed for being particularly technical (contested at an average speed of just 80kph).
And it was precisely on this stage – on the second pass as temperatures peaked – that Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia struck a telling blow, moving into the overall lead with their second stage win of the day. The number 1 C3 WRC crew then confirmed their undeniable competitiveness, in spite of the extreme conditions at this unusual round, as they immediately grabbed a third stage win on Ortega 2, the high point of the rally (2,756 metres above sea level). Although they were then held up slightly by a puncture on SS7, they nonetheless made it to the end of day one in the overall lead, 14.8s ahead of the second-placed crew.
Competing at this rally for only the second time in their fledgling WRC career, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm adopted a considered approach on the first loop. With confirmed pace notes, they upped their pace at the start of the afternoon loop, finishing fourth fastest on El Chocolate (31.57km), 6.2s behind their team-mates. A spin on SS6 did not prevent them from continuing their progress, this time with a second fastest time on the following stage, just two tenths off the pace. They ended the day in a promising fifth position, just 2s behind fourth place. A position that means they will start fifth on the road in tomorrow’s stages, therefore enabling them to continue to nurture high hopes of good result.
The weekend’s longest day, Saturday’s leg sees the crews tackle a competitive distance of 138.37 kilometres (over nine stages). The leg includes two runs on Otates (32.27km), the rally’s longest stage, the technical character of which means drivers and cars alike will be sorely tested.
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
“Running in third position on the road, Sébastien and Julien produced a remarkable performance today, holding off crews that had significantly better grip conditions than they did. I think that confirms that they also have a good feeling in the C3 WRC on gravel. Esapekka and Janne have a lot less experience on this event but I think they can be pleased with their performance too. Although we’re well aware that the hardest part of the rally is yet to come, with a very long leg scheduled tomorrow and big risks ahead, especially from loose stones, the target is definitely to keep up the momentum with both crews.”
Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver
“Clearly, it has been a very good day for us, despite the very difficult conditions. The level of grip was low, especially this morning, but I enjoyed having a line in front of me. It was important to finish in a good position today so that we are well placed in the running order for the longest leg tomorrow. We’ll still need to make the most of our position and also be careful because I expect there will be a few really tricky sections, with narrow and possibly quite rough roads.”
Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver
“I’m learning to drive the C3 WRC bit by bit on these low-grip roads. I still lack experience but the times are gradually moving in the right direction. I expect there to be a lot of road cleaning for the rest of the rally and my direct rivals have a better road position than us, but we’re going to keep fighting to secure the best possible result.”
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
1. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) 1:18:33.8
2. Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +14.8
3. Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +21.1
4. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +37.1
5. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +39.1
6. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:00.7