Rally Mexico - after stage 5
Ford's new Fiesta RS World Rally Car led the new-generation cars into gravel action for the first time when Rally Mexico headed into the hills this morning. The car, winner of the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship in icebound Sweden three weeks ago, headed the start order as drivers buckled down to serious competition in the power-sapping Sierra de Lobos mountains near León.
After last night's spectacular opening ceremony in Guanajuato, drivers tackled three tough dirt speed tests this morning, before a short asphalt special stage in León. Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen ended the loop in fourth, with team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila ninth after losing time with a puncture.
A prolonged period of dry, hot weather in the region, 400km north-west of Mexico City , has left the roads covered in loose stones. Thirty-year-old Hirvonen had the disadvantage of starting first, sweeping the gravel from the surface to leave a cleaner and faster line for those behind.
However, the Finn minimised the time loss with a strong display. He was fifth through the 26.01km Alfaro and the 23.83km Ortega tests, before claiming fourth in the 18.87km El Cubilete. He ended the loop with sixth in the 1.33km blast through León to arrive at service 40.9sec from the lead.
"The roads were slippery but the morning went better than I thought, and I lost less time from this start position than I did in the same situation last year," he said. "My driving wasn't perfect in the first two stages, but that's because I need more competitive experience of this car on gravel. It feels good on this surface and it's more agile in narrow, twisty sections. The high altitude means we have less power than normal, and I can't carry speed through corners in the way I would like."
Latvala was third in the start order and enjoyed better road conditions, although the tracks were not as clean as he hoped. The 25-year-old Finn was fourth in Alfaro and third in Ortega to hold fourth overall. However, he dropped more than two minutes stopping to change a rear left puncture in El Cubilete, before ending the morning with fourth fastest time through the León street stage.
"The tyre went flat about 5km after the start and I drove another 1km before stopping," explained Latvala. "It happened on a wide, smooth section and I didn't feel an impact so maybe a sharp stone was to blame. Perhaps not cutting corners to avoid risking punctures will be part of the game this season. The tyres are very driver-friendly, quite like racing tyres, and give me a good feeling. The roads didn't clean as much as I expected but, apart from the puncture, I was happy with the morning."
Leaderboard after stage 5 of 22
1. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen DS3 43min 24.0sec
2. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Citroen DS3 43min 25.3sec
3. P Solberg/C Patterson NOR Citroen DS3 43min 42.4sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Fiesta RS 44min 04.9sec
5. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Fiesta RS 45min 02.0sec
6. E Novikov/ S Prévot RUS Ford Fiesta RS 45min 07.4sec
7. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Fiesta RS 45min 20.5sec
8. D Kuipers/F Miclotte NED Ford Fiesta RS 45min 55.7sec
9. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Fiesta RS 46min 04.2sec
10 N Al-Attiyah/G Bernacchini QAT Ford Fiesta S2000 46min 04.9sec
For more information: Contact Mark Wilford or Georgina Finney at the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team media desk in León Tel: + 52 477 7111 948. Images available at www.worldrallypics.com/ford