Sebastien Ogier wins 2019 Rally Guanajuato Mexico
Reigning WRC world champion Sebastien Ogier has won the 2019 Rally Guanajuato Mexico after an action-packed weekend.
Ogier led close to every stage of the event from Friday afternoon onwards, avoiding the massive rocks his fellow competitors had ripped up across the rally’s harsh roads.
By the end of Rally Mexico, just half of WRC’s 10 competitors remained in the premier class without restarting. But despite the turmoil, Ogier still managed to carve his way through to his second victory of the season and fifth Rally Mexico title.
Ogier’s weekend showcased a mixture of his experience, talent, and sheer luck. Early Saturday afternoon, the French driver momentarily dropped a position following a puncture on the red-flagged Otates stage — his teammate Esapekka Lappi stranded in-stage on a blind corner, sparking safety concerns from rally officials.
But Ogier regained his lead on the following stage and extended his advantage across the weekend. He went on to win Sunday’s Las Minas Power Stage, claiming five bonus championship points. Citing his own problems during the rally, such as his puncture on Otates, Ogier still managed to rise above his rivals.
“It’s been a tough weekend, honestly — very difficult conditions,” Ogier said in an interview with WRC, just before he stepped onto the podium.
“Not a trouble-free weekend for us, but we managed to make the best of it and came out with maximum points.”
Ogier’s fifth Rally Mexico win puts him just one victory behind nine-times world champion Sebastien Loeb, who holds the current record with six Rally Mexico victories.
Rally Mexico was a fairly tepid affair for Toyota’s Ott Tanak, who had the arduous duty of sweeping the road for Friday’s stages; a somewhat begrudged privilege granted to the current championship leader at the start of each round.
Tanak managed to play it safe and stay within striking distance of the podium. A last-minute aggressive push on Sunday’s Alfaro stage saw Tanak snatch second place from Wales’ Elfyn Evans.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville’s hopes of fighting for the win in Mexico were hampered as early as Friday morning, as his left-rear tyre delaminated during the first pass of El Chocolate; setting him more than half a minute behind then-rally leader Andreas Mikkelsen.
In an end-of-stage WRC interview, Neuville (who was also plagued with a cold) summed up his rally as a “difficult weekend for us after the puncture”.
“We were missing the speed for sure. Every year we come here, we struggle with the performance,” Neuville said.
Neuville’s broader title fight remains alive, if not in need of some lifeblood. Neuville clings to third place in the overall WRC drivers’ championship; albeit down from the second place he held when coming into Mexico. And at fourth place in Rally Mexico, he’s still within touching distance of rivals Tanak and Ogier.
The understated hero of the weekend was M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans. The Welsh driver stuck with Ogier for much of the rally, setting consistently quick stage times as rivals behind vied for his position.
“I think we can be happy from the fact we made no mistakes at all during this weekend,” Evans told WRC after the race.
However, Evans was powerless to hold off Tanak’s late-Sunday charge, dropping down to finish Rally Mexico in third place.
“[We’re] still disappointed — I think the second place was definitely on the cards, so we still need to be that little bit better. But at least it helps for road position in Corsica,” Evans said.
Mexico’s own WRC 2 winner Benito Guerra spent most of the weekend fending off younger team-mate and fellow Skoda R5 driver Marco Bulacia Wilkinson. Guerra eventually claimed the win with more than three minutes’ advantage, and told WRC “it’s a great, great result — the best result ever!”.
“It’s my first victory in WRC 2. I have been fighting for this win for two years, and I’m really happy that my first time is in Mexico,” Guerra said.
Competing in his first intercontinental rally, WRC 2 Pro entry Lucasz Pieniazek finished in 12th overall. A broken steering arm saw him fall behind the other South American drivers late Friday.
However, as the only participant in Mexico’s WRC 2 Pro category, Pieniazek recovered to claim a full 25 points towards his campaign.
The 2019 WRC championship title fight will continue to be a nail-biting ride: Tanak persists in the lead with 65 points, just ahead of Ogier in second with 61 points and a close third for Neuville with 55 points.
The WRC manufacturers’ championship race is beginning to heat up with Toyota leading on 86 points, Citroen now in second with 78 points, Hyundai just behind with 77 points, and M-Sport a distant fourth with only 45 points this season.
Cars and drivers alike return to more familiar climates this 28-31 March, as the WRC roadshow heads back to Europe for Rally Corsica Linea. Corsica is the first tarmac event of the season before the WRC heads back to gravel surfaces for the following five events.
Neuville will look to kickstart his title fight against Ogier and Tanak with a win in Corsica, which could see him step to the top of the podium for the first time since last year’s Rally Italia Sardegna win.
Hyundai’s Dani Sordo could also show his pace again in Corsica, after an electrical issue brought a disappointing and premature end to his Rally Mexico campaign.
Ogier is in line to continue his winning form in a chase against overall championship leader Tanak.
Christopher Leon Rushworth is a Tasmanian-based motorsport enthusiast and journalist. He has participated in motorsport since the age of 12, including Targa Wrest Point and circuit racing. Chris now writes as a freelance journalist while working in ICT at the University of Tasmania.