Sebastien Ogier maintained his victory-streak with a third consecutive win in Mexico.
Ogier had predicted a win was impossible due to an unfavourable start position. But he overcame the odds to win the four-day gravel event by 1min 18.8sec and extend his lead in the drivers’ standings to 34 points after three rounds.
Mads Østberg won an exciting all-Norwegian battle for second. He headed Andreas Mikkelsen by 6.3sec after Mikkelsen lost his chance by spinning in this morning’s opening stage.
Ogier took the lead on Thursday night’s second special stage and was never again headed. Despite opening the roads on Friday and sweeping slippery gravel from the surface, his selection of two soft compound Michelin tyres in unusually cold conditions proved inspired.
The Volkswagen Polo R driver smashed his rivals in the 44km El Chocolate test to build a lead. Once Thierry Neuville rolled and team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala retired on Saturday, after hitting a bank and destroying his suspension, Ogier cruised home.
“I think we can be proud, we did an amazing job this weekend,” said the Frenchman. “I think it’s one of the best wins of my career. To open the road in Mexico and win is special. A lot of people made mistakes, but we put maximum pressure on them.”
An early spin left Østberg languishing at the bottom of the leaderboard in Citroen’s DS 3. He recovered quickly and held off Mikkelsen, who insisted he was driving cautiously to gain experience of roads that were mainly new to him.
Elfyn Evans matched his career-best fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS after a clean run. He was over a minute clear of Dani Sordo, who returned after breaking two ribs in a cycling accident and overcame gearbox problems to drive his Hyundai i20 to fifth.
Czech driver Martin Prokop finished sixth ahead of WRC 2 winner Nasser Al-Attiyah. Neuville recovered to eighth, but slips to third in the championship, with Nicolas Fuchs and Jari Ketomaa completing the top 10.
It was a rally of attrition with Kris Meeke, Hayden Paddon, Robert Kubica, Benito Guerra, Lorenzo Bertelli and Ott Tänak all crashing on Friday’s first full day.
Tänak’s accident was the most serious, the Estonian and co-driver Raigo Mõlder escaping from their Fiesta RS seconds before it plunged five metres to the bottom of a lake after rolling. Amazingly the car was winched out of the water and went onto finish the rally.
The championship pauses for a seven-week break before Rally Argentina (23 – 26 April).