Hyundai Motorsport holds an early lead at the end of the opening ten special stages of Rally México, the third round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Spaniard Dani Sordo leads the pack with an advantage of 7.2s over Sébastien Loeb, having taken two stage wins on Friday. Andreas Mikkelsen is involved in a close fight for the top-five, while championship leader Thierry Neuville, opening the road on the Mexican gravel, battled through to seventh overall.
Hyundai Motorsport has completed its first full day of action at Rally México, the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), with Dani Sordo leading the overall classification by 7.2 seconds in the #6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
The Spaniard, alongside co-driver Carlos del Barrio, scored two stage wins to establish an advantage over the chasing field, led by nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb in his Citroën.
It was a tougher Friday for the two other Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team crews of Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger and Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul, as they completed the day in sixth and seventh positions respectively.
Following Thursday evening’s 2.53km Monster Street Stage in Guanajuato, which was won by Neuville, Friday’s itinerary took in a total of nine competitive stages. A repeated loop of Duarte-Derramadero (26.05km), El Chocolate (31.44km) and Ortega (17.23km) was separated by a short 1.11km León Street Stage (SS5) in the early afternoon. The day concluded with two timed runs around the 2.3km Autodromo de León bringing Friday’s stage action to a total of 155.15km.
Sweet like El Chocolate
For Sordo, making his second WRC appearance of 2018, the first run through El Chocolate delivered a sweet result with his first stage win of the season, a feat he immediately followed up in the subsequent Ortega stage.
As the first gravel event of the season, road position played a key role with an increasingly clear driving line emerging on the dusty stages benefitting the later runners. As championship leader, following his win in Sweden, the honour of being first on the road went to Neuville.
The Belgian did well to minimise the time loss but, in SS5, unforeseen over-consumption of fuel in his car and the high temperature resulted in a drop in fuel pressure and an ultimate loss of position before mid-day service. He then experienced power steering issues in the afternoon, further hampering his progress.
The hot Mexican conditions offered a stark contrast to the cold, ice and snow of Monte-Carlo and Sweden, while also presenting crews with important tyre strategy decisions.
Crew Notes: Sordo/Del Barrio (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Two stage wins on Friday morning moved the Spaniards into the rally lead.
Mixed tyre choice in afternoon loop proved a risky strategy but they defended their position.
Sordo said: “I have been happy with our pace and rhythm today, particularly on the morning loop when we could really set some good times, making the most of our road position. To be leading the rally at the end of the opening day is a great feeling but we know it is very close and we will have a fight on our hands tomorrow. I have to say thanks to the whole team for their hard work. They have given us the perfect car. The stage wins on Friday morning were very nice but we knew the repeat loop would be tricky. We thought the soft tyres might be a bit on the limit but it was a risk that did not really pay off; we didn’t generate enough lateral grip. We have been quick in Mexico before so we hoped to be in the fight, and we will do all we can to remain in the podium battle.”
Crew Notes: Mikkelsen/Jæger (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Steady start to Rally México sees the Norwegians fighting Ogier for fifth.
Two two-three stage times on Friday shows potential for rest of the weekend.
Mikkelsen said: “We have tried to push as hard as we could today in the circumstances. I’ve been happy enough overall, but we know there is room for improvement. In the morning loop, our focus was on getting to grips with the car, and how to control it on the dusty mountain stages. In the afternoon, we opted for harder compound tyres, which felt very slippery at times. It was difficult to know where to push, and how hard, because you lose the line so easily. There were a few mistakes here and there but generally it’s been a solid first day. We’re involved in a close battle for the top-five, which gives us something to build on.”
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Secured a stage win on the rally-opener during Thursday evening.
First on the road dictated pace with technical issues preventing improvements.
Neuville said: “Not the most positive day for us. Our motivation level was quite high even if we knew it would be difficult as first on the road. We did our best not to lose too much time on the morning loop. Before the start of the short SS5 we were in seventh overall. Unfortunately, we had an unforeseen over-consumption of fuel, which caused a loss of fuel pressure in the stage. We lost around 20 seconds and two positions. It was really disappointing. The afternoon didn’t really improve and we struggled again in SS8 (Ortega 2) with some power steering trouble losing another 40 seconds of time. Tomorrow will be another hard day but we’ll keep pushing to get the best that we can out of the weekend.”
Eye on the podium
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “Today has been a day of mixed fortunes for our crews. It is great to see Dani out in front after a positive start to his rally. He made the most of his road position, managing himself well and taking two stage wins. He took a gamble on tyre choice in the afternoon, with a combination of hard and soft tyres, which didn’t really work, but he appears to be in good shape. Andreas has had a trouble-free day, but perhaps not with the confidence required to get the best out of himself and the car. For Thierry, we knew he’d have a disadvantage starting first on the road, but that was compounded with a few other issues. There was the fuel pressure problem just before lunchtime service and then in the 17km Ortega stage he lost the power steering. Road position will again be a key factor on Saturday with our crews both benefitting and being disadvantaged in equal measure. That’s just part of the rallying game.”
Saturday’s itinerary at a glance
Nine stages will be contested on Saturday, covering a total stage distance of 140.35km.
A repeat loop of the 30.97km Guanajuatito, 26.37km Otates and popular 9.98km El Brinco stages will be followed by two more runs around the short 2.3km Super Special at the Autodromo de León.
The day will conclude with a repeat of the street stage in León, the shortest stage of the rally at just 1.11km, held in the evening.
Classification after Day One
1 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:47:55.4
2 S. Loeb D. Elena Citroën C3 WRC +7.2
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Toyota Yaris WRC +11.0
4 K. Meeke P. Nagle Citroën C3 WRC +25.0
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC +30.2
6 A. Mikkelsen A. Jæger Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +31.7
7 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:01.9