WRC Mexico: Ogier inherits healthy lead after Lappi exit

Sebastien Ogier has inherited a comfortable Rally Mexico lead from Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans after overnight leader Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi crashed out on Saturday.

WRC Mexico: Ogier inherits healthy lead after Lappi exit

The eight-time World Rally Championship title winner had been locked in a fight with Lappi throughout Friday, and faced a 5.3s deficit to the Finn heading into Saturday.

However, Lappi’s exit on the morning’s first test, stage 11, promoted Ogier to the lead, which he took into Saturday’s midday service.

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans trailed his part-time team-mate Ogier by 28.5s, with an inspired Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville only 8.7s behind the Welshman after scoring three stage wins.

World champion Kalle Rovanpera continued to battle with road-cleaning but ended the loop in fourth, 1m13.8s back, ahead of Hyundai’s Dani Sordo who was 1m56.9s off the overall lead.

Former WRC driver Gus Greensmith led the WRC2 class to sit sixth overall in his first WRC event of the 2023 season. The WRC2 field only completed one stage after stages 11-13 were cancelled for the second tier following Lappi’s crash.

M-Sport duo Pierre-Louis Loubet and Jourdan Serderidis rejoined the action along with Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta after crashing out on Friday.

The battle for the lead was turned on its head in stage 11. Lappi had found himself 2.3s down on Ogier at the first split before his run, which had been ragged at points, came to an abrupt end.

Lappi lost control of the i20 N and nosed into an embankment which fired the car rearwards into a telegraph, causing significant damage to the front and rear of the car. Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm were unscathed but had to act quickly to extinguish a small fire that broke out at the front of the car, while the broken telegraph pole rested on the roof of the car.

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Officials quickly red-flagged the stage to allow for the wrecked i20 N to be cleared, while WRC2 runner Greensmith and co-driver Jonas Andersson, who were first to arrive at the scene of the accident, helped extinguish the fire.

The accident undid all of Lappi’s hard work in building up a lead during Friday, which the Finn labelled among the best drives of his WRC career.

With Lappi the last Rally1 car into the stage, Ogier emerged as the stage winner, as the Frenchman moved into a 26.6s lead over team-mate Evans.

“I always enjoy the fight and yesterday he was really having amazing speed, so it's a big shame,” said Ogier.

Evans was second-fastest on the stage which helped the Welshman extend the gap over third-placed Neuville to 11.6s, while Rovanpera climbed to fourth comfortably ahead of Sordo.

Tanak managed to complete the test without suffering from the issues that hampered his progress on Friday, but the Estonian was still fighting his M-Sport Ford Puma.

“Yesterday afternoon's issue seems to be fixed, but I can't drive the car fast at the moment,” said Tanak. “It's not working for me and I am really struggling, but okay, we will try to learn.”

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Neuville emerged as the driver to beat on stage 12 as the Hyundai driver narrowly edged Evans to win the 22.56km blast through El Mosquito.

The Belgian reached the stage end 0.7s faster than Evans, to increase the pressure on the Toyota driver in the fight for second overall.

With Lappi out of the rally, Ogier didn’t need to push but still ended the test only 1.4s adrift with the third-fastest time, 5.3s quicker than Rovanpera.

Neuville built on his stage 12 success by winning stage 13, a run through the 21.7km Derramadero.

"The target is to go as fast as possible but we have to be clever as well - we need to keep the car on the road. I tried to manage the speed in here but it's not easy,” said Neuville.

Incredibly, half a second split the top three cars at the stage end as Neuville pipped a measured Ogier by 0.1s, while Evans was four tenths further back.

"I am even more in safe mode with my driving now. It's not a big gap, but we are trying to avoid every rock and being as safe as we can," said Ogier.

Neuville scored a hat-trick of stage wins after setting the fastest time on the 3.7km Las Dunas superspecial to take 1.7s out of Evans in the fight for second. Ogier was second-fastest on the test, protecting his overall lead in the process, before the crews returned to the service park.

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