The excitement was kept to the rallying itself this time, with the WRC entourage of cars, drivers, co-drivers and teams making their way to the other side of the Atlantic, with everyone out to tackle the harsh gravel conditions at Rally Mexico, with a surprise from the very beginning, as Ford WRC driver Petter Solberg taking the early lead of the rally on the qualifying stage, leading by under half a second from the current standings leader, Sebastian Loeb.
It was also good to see Australian rally ace Chris Atkinson, who drove for Subaru, having been given his first drive for over three years by the Monster World Rally Team, partnering Gymkhana star Ken Block this time, who run the Ford Fiesta WRC cars as well as the works outfit, with the Aussie relishing the chance to hopefully have a competitive finish in the event, based on his past track record in Mexico. Block, due to his varied commitments with the X-Games and RallyCross being just part of his schedule, he has stated officially that he will be competing in a limited amount of rallies this season.
But anyway, back to the action at hand. Again, we saw some great action from the 'pocket rockets', which pack an incredible 300bhp punch from their 1.6 litre turbo-charged engines. Sebastian Loeb, once again, was the man streaking ahead with the lead, and kept a cool head without any major incident, to yet once more, extend his lead at the top of the table. The 8-time WRC Champion captialised on the clear and unfortunate mishaps suffered by his main rival, Jari-Matti Latvala, who suffered a break on part of the Fiesta's suspension after leading on Friday morning, before the Finn's spectacular exit on Stage 22. He crashed heavily, whilst trying to claw back time, as well as stating that he was avoiding the remnants of the fellow M-Sport Fiesta, which at the hands of Russian driver Evgeny Novikov, met a nasty fate after its second crash of the rally. Latvala was told by officials that his challenge for third place was over, after further inspection revealed the Finn's Fiesta to have roll cage damage, meaning the main safety cell was not conforming to the regulations set out by the FIA.
This then meant that Petter Solberg was promoted into third, replacing his shaken team mate, who had suffered some misfortune himself, even though he jumped into the lead, ahead of the now 6-time winner of Rally Mexico, Loeb, after the first stage. The Norwegian ace suffered two punctures on the Friday morning loops, forcing him to play catch-up, but denied Loeb of gaining the maximum points for the weekend by winning the Power Stage. It seemed as if M-Sport Ford had better pace this time, in comparison to previous years, but suffered an unfortunate turn of luck this time out.
Mikko Hirvonen brought his DS3 WRC back home safe and sound in the first 1-2 finish for the works Citroen outfit, in an uneventful outing for the Finn on all accounts, apart from leading after stage 1 of the rally, before Loeb got ahead and stayed there. Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah finished well, taking sixth place in only his second outing for Qatar Citroen, ahead of Portugal Mini's Armindo Araujo, Former Citroen and now VW driver Sebastien Ogier, Ken Block and local Ford driver, Ricardo Trivino.
Atkinson and young Citroen Junior Belgian driver Thierry Neuville both found themselves having to restart under the Rally 2 rules on Saturday, as both crashed early in the rally, with the Australian having to stop on stage 22, having suffered broken suspension. Whereas the young Belgian took his very first WRC stage win on a superspecial stage. Adapta's Mads Ostberg was holding station in third place for the majority of the rally, before the pace of the works Ford WRC Team drivers took the upper hand, as the young Scandinavian could not hold them off, but finished a consistently paced and well deserved fourth place, ahead of M-Sport driver Ott Tanak. The young Estonian clearly had the measure of his Russian team mate, Novikov, even though he suffered a puncture early on Saturday's proceedings.
So, with all the political happenings slipping under the surface, and the broadcast rights still in the air as of right now, this year is already providing us with some great twists and turns both on the rallies, as well as behind the scenes, as Sebastian Loeb is yet again racing of into the distance, having now stretched his lead over his team mate Hirvonen to 16 points, with Latvala's event of calamities dropping him to 5th in the standings, 40 points behind the record-breaking French legend. Petter Solberg is in the fight, with being just three points behind Hirvonen, so anything could happen this season.
Next time, Popfodder follows the action as always this season, bringing you news of what happens next, when the 4-wheeled little monsters of the WRC pound the ground at the upcoming Rally de Portugal, where Loeb will look to extend his lead, with Hirvonen catching him, and Solberg now ahead of Latvala, we could be in for another great fight.
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