The Norwegian completed seven passes through the 5.55km Llano Grande stage near the rally base of Leon, setting fastest time on his final run in a Volkswagen Polo R.
He was 1.6sec quicker than Thierry Neuville's Hyundai i20, with Sebastien Ogier, preparing to start his 100th WRC event, a further tenth of a second back in another Polo R.
"We had a good test in Almeria in Spain before coming here. We did a lot of runs to get a good feeling and the feeling is there," said Mikkelsen, who finished third in Mexico last year and used the shakedown to acclimatise to the power-sapping altitude in the mountains.
"We made some ride height changes but nothing major. The car feels great and I made a lot of runs to get used to the power here. Because of the altitude I need to be in different gears than normal, so I just drove several runs to get used to that," he added.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Dani Sordo were tied in fourth, 4.2sec off Mikkelsen's pace. Sordo's second run was interrupted when a steering rod broke on his i20 and the Spaniard spent more than 30 minutes in the test repairing it before returning to service. Hyundai colleague Hayden Paddon completed the top six.
M-Sport's Eric Camilli was 10th fastest, despite returning to service following an electrical problem on the liaison section after his first pass.
Leading FIA World Rally Championship drivers have welcomed the inclusion of the 80km Guanajuato stage at this week’s Rally Guanajuato Mexico - but agreed that it is a test that will need to be treated with respect.
The headline-grabbing gravel stage is the longest to be included in a WRC event for 30 years and contains 194 junctions as it meanders through the mountains to the north and east of host city Leon.
The route has been made up by combining new pieces of road with sections of other stages that will be driven during the third round of this year's championship.
Crews will tackle the Guanajuato stage first thing on Sunday, the rally's fourth and final day, and it is anticipated to take around 50 minutes to get from the start to the finish. World champion co-driver Julien Ingrassia has 106 pages of hand-written pacenotes for this stage alone.
"It's a massive stage, but also a fantastic stage," M-Sport driver Mads Ostberg told wrc.com. "It's a mixture of so many stages we have done before and it's really nice that it's been put in on Sunday.
"It could be a deciding stage. Normally, you protect something on Sunday or try really hard to take something. But when we start this stage on Sunday morning, even a gap of 40sec will not be a lot. You can really lose that or gain that. I think all of us will be really focused and will be keeping fighting."
The final 10km of the stage are expected to present the biggest challenge to the crews as the characteristics of the terrain changes, physical fatigue sets in and the cars are pushed closer to their limits.
Volkswagen Motorsport driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, said: "On the stage you have some long straights where it's flat and it's quite clear. Then you have some sections where it's a bit more narrow and twisty. But the changes are very clear and it's easy to get into your head".
"But the last 10km are starting to get very tricky and you need to be very sharp. You will have been driving for 70km and the final 10km will definitely be more difficult."
Hyundai's Thierry Neuville said he expected the closing stages of the Guanajuato test to be "tough" because of the high altitude and high temperatures inside the cockpit, and M-Sport World Rally Team driver Ostberg agreed with his rival.
He said: "The stage has its own very unique end and is very narrow and tricky. That will be a big challenge with the car starting to get hot, the tyres overheating and the brain overheating as well"!
"We will need to cope with the technical, tricky part at the end. It’s only 10km but it will be really difficult. I think that will be crucial to doing a good stage."
The competition at Rally Guanajuato M?xico gets underway from 2010hrs on Thursday 3 March with a spectacular street stage in the heart of Guanajuato city followed by two head-to-head Super Specials in Leon. After 21 competitive stages and four days of driving the winning crew will reach the finish podium in Leon on Sunday afternoon.
Sebastien Ogier led Rally Guanajuato Mexico after claiming two wins in Thursday’s night’s three short speed tests.
The Frenchman won both runs of the 2.30km super special stage at Le?n’s race circuit in his Volkswagen Polo R to lead Thierry Neuville by 1.7sec. The Belgian led initially after winning the 1.09km street stage in Guanajuato which opened this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
“It’s not a big lead but it’s better than nothing,” said Ogier, who must open the roads tomorrow on slippery gravel. “Everything counts and we have done our job tonight, now we’re looking forward to the real start of the rally tomorrow.”
Tens of thousands of fans packed the narrow streets of Guanajuato for a colourful and highly-charged start ceremony filled with music, dancing and fireworks.
Neuville topped the times in the short stage that followed, the Hyundai i20 pilot just a tenth of a second faster than Lorenzo Bertelli’s Ford Fiesta RS. Ogier was third, a further 0.2sec behind with the top six covered by less than 1.5sec.
When the action switched to the circuit, Ogier showed a clean pair of heels to his rivals in both runs. Dani Sordo was second in the first pass, with Andreas Mikkelsen his closest rival in the following run.
Neuville was third in both tests to end the evening 1.6sec clear of Jari-Matti Latvala, who complained of understeering in his Polo R. Mikkelsen, Sordo and Hayden Paddon completed a top six covered by 4.6sec.
Jari-Matti Latvala took advantage of a beneficial road position to take the lead of Rally Guanajuato Mexico in Friday morning's opening stage.
The Finn, eighth in the start order, profited from roads swept clear of loose gravel by those ahead, to win the stage in his Volkswagen Polo R by a massive 22.1sec from Dani Sordo’s Hyundai i20.
"The conditions weren’t easy, quite slippery. I didn’t know how I was driving but I have an advantage with the road position, that’s clear to see," said Latvala, who led team-mate and road opener Sebastien Ogier by 19.0sec in the overall standings.
Ogier suffered more than anyone in the loose gravel. "I did what I could, but from first on the road I had no grip. With hard tyres it would have been even worse," said the third-fastest Frenchman who opted for Michelin’s soft compound rubber.
Andreas Mikkelsen was fourth, almost 40sec down on Latvala’s pace. The Norwegian admitted to a couple of mistakes in his Polo R but was still nearly 10sec clear of Hayden Paddon’s i20.
Mads Ostberg completed the top six, more than a minute slower than Latvala, but said his choice of hard tyres was ‘a disaster’. Team-mate Eric Camilli lost more than five minutes after changing a rear left puncture.
In worse trouble was Thierry Neuville who spun into a bank over a crest and the impact broke his i20’s suspension, sidelining him for the day.
Two wins from three Friday morning speed tests enabled Jari-Matti Latvala to build a 21.2sec lead at Rally Guanajuato Mexico as the opening leg reached its midpoint.
After topping the times in the long El Chocolate stage in the mountains above Guanajuato, the Finn added a second win in the following Las Minas test before ending a successful morning with fourth fastest in the short Leon street stage.
A lower start position on the slippery gravel tracks benefited Latvala, who enjoyed cleaner and faster conditions than his rivals ahead, but he was surprised to hold such a big lead over Volkswagen Polo R team-mate Sebastien Ogier, who opened the roads.
“I didn’t expect to be so much in the lead,” he admitted. “It’s hard to know what speed you’re driving at. Sometimes you feel you can go faster but then you’re too much sideways. This afternoon I expect there will be some cleaning, but not a lot. If I can keep the same rhythm and keep taking time, that would be good.”
Ogier was second in both tests and satisfied with the morning. “I can be happy with where I am now, I should be further from the lead. My target is to keep ahead of the drivers who are just behind me in the start order. The guys further back have quite a big advantage,” said the Frenchman.
Dani Sordo retained third after two top three times in his Hyundai i20, 12.2sec further back. The Spaniard was 10.5sec ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen, who was fastest through the city street test in his Polo R.
Mads Ostberg relegated Hayden Paddon in their fight for fifth. Both regretted opting for hard compound Michelin rubber and Kiwi Paddon lost more time when he swiped a wall in Las Minas, damaging his i20’s rear suspension. The gap between them is 7.4sec.
Paddon burned his hand making repairs and received treatment from team doctors on arrival at the Le?n service park.
Ott Tanak kept out of trouble in eighth in his Ford Fiesta RS, with Martin Prokop, Lorenzo Bertelli and WRC 2 leader Nicolas Fuchs completing the leaderboard.
Benito Guerra joined Thierry Neuville on the sidelines when the Mexican damaged his Ford Fiesta RS after a heavy landing over a crest in Las Minas.
Jari-Matti Latvala extended his Rally Guanajuato Mexico advantage to more than half a minute in Friday afternoon’s repeated El Chocolate test.
The Volkswagen Polo R driver was fastest by 10.0sec from team-mate Sebastien Ogier to stretch his lead to 31.2sec with one gravel mountain test and two passes around the Leon race circuit stage remaining today.
“My road position advantage isn’t as big as this morning so I have to be pleased with my time,” said Latvala. “I have to be patient. I don’t need to take all the time in one stage.”
Ogier was more focused on the gap to team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen behind than to Latvala. “That’s the guy I’m fighting with. The roads were cleaner than this morning but still loose in places. The slower cars in the first run don’t slide as much as we do, so my rear tyres were always in the loose and it’s like having grip at the front only,” he explained.
However, Mikkelsen’s challenge was temporarily derailed after a horrible stage. “I missed a junction early on and had to turn round. After that something felt really strange with the car. It was so unstable, maybe it’s the differential? It was moving so much that I had a lot of time on the brakes and lost them too,” said the Norwegian.
Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon was third fastest, albeit 32.9sec off Latvala’s pace, with team-mate Dani Sordo fourth. The Spaniard endured a frustrating stage as his i20 was moving a lot and a sticking throttle added to his woes.
Sordo retained third overall, 24.7sec ahead of Mikkelsen. Paddon relegated Mads Ostberg to sixth, the Norwegian picking up a 10sec penalty for a jump start.
Ott Tanak spun his Ford Fiesta RS while Eric Camilli yielded more than two minutes after losing first and second gear and struggling to downshift in his Fiesta RS.
Jari-Matti Latvala exploited favourable road conditions to dominate Friday's first full leg at Rally Guanajuato Mexico and build a half-minute lead over team-mate Sebastien Ogier.
Starting the high-altitude gravel speed tests eighth in the order, Latvala benefited from roads swept clean of dirt by those ahead to win all four loose surface special stages and head Ogier by 32.1sec.
The Frenchman endured the worst of the conditions by running first through the dusty mountain roads and was powerless to restrain Latvala. He regained a few tenths of a second on the three short spectator tests in Leon, but faces a tough task to preserve his unbeaten start to the WRC season.
"I'm happy with the gap tonight," said Latvala, who will again benefit from the road conditions in Saturday's leg in his Volkswagen Polo R. "I have to be a bit careful and patient because I don't need to take all the time in just one stage."
Ogier drove on the limit and was far from disheartened. "I'm happy so far. This afternoon was very good. I've been pushing as much as I can and couldn't do better," he said.
Dani Sordo held third all day in a Hyundai i20 to end 1min 15.6sec off the lead. The Spaniard was unhappy with his car's handling and a sticking throttle ensured nervous moments as he fought to keep the i20 on the road.
Norway's Andreas Mikkelsen topped the times in Leon's street stage, but an overshoot and handling problems upset his chances of closing on Sordo and they were split by 31.1sec.
Hayden Paddon and Mads Ostberg fought for fifth all day and were separated by 14.8sec at the close. Both regretted their choice of Michelin's hard compound tyres this morning, Ostberg labelling the decision as 'one of the biggest tyre mistakes I've done'.
He was penalised 10sec for a jump start while Paddon damaged his i20's suspension after swiping a wall and burned his hand while making repairs. He also slid into a ditch after his car mysteriously filled with dust in the final mountain stage.
Ott Tanak was seventh in a Ford Fiesta RS despite a spin and what the Estonian believed to be a broken differential, while Martin Prokop, Lorenzo Bertelli and WRC 2 leader Teemu Suninen completed the leaderboard.
Thierry Neuville retired in the opening stage when he spun into a bank and broke his car's suspension, while Eric Camilli dropped many minutes with a puncture and later lost first and second gears.
Saturday's second leg is the longest of the rally. Drivers face six gravel tests in the mountains north and east of León before two short stages at the city's motor racing circuit and a night test next to the service park.
Jari-Matti Latvala extended his Rally Guanajuato Mexico lead to almost a minute after a stunning performance through Saturday morning’s opening Ibarrilla speed test that even surprised himself.
Like yesterday, Latvala had the benefit of cleaner road conditions due to a lower start position and he won the test by 14.1sec from Hayden Paddon. The Finn was 19.8sec faster than road opener S?bastien Ogier to increase his lead over the Frenchman to 51.9sec.
"I didn’t expect such a good time, I more or less expected to be equal with Ogier," said Volkswagen Polo R pilot Latvala, who feared a puncture after hitting a rock in a hairpin near the finish. “I reacted just before I hit it but I was a little panicked.”
Team-mate Ogier opted for Michelin's hard compound tyres to combat the slippery loose gravel and believed he did all he could in the worst of the conditions.
Paddon opted for a mix of hard compound rubber at the front and soft at the rear of his Hyundai i20 and, combined with overnight set-up changes, it gave the Kiwi a more precise feeling. “I think I can push with a bit more confidence,” he said.
Team-mate Dani Sordo made similar changes but was less happy with the grip available. He was sixth fastest but retained his grip on third ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen.
Mads Ostberg reported a possible gearshift problem in his Ford Fiesta RS and slipped more than half a minute behind Paddon in sixth, while team-mate Eric Camilli retired after crashing shortly before the finish.
Jari-Matti Latvala completed a hat-trick of stage wins in Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Saturday morning to stretch his lead over team-mate Sebastien Ogier to 1min 16.3sec.
Having mastered the opening Ibarrilla test, the Finn was fastest through the long Otates by more than 18sec before ending a hugely satisfactory morning by edging out Andreas Mikkelsen over the famous El Brinco jump.
“This morning was better than I expected. It will be good to get to service now, have a coffee, relax and look at the rear brakes,” said the Polo R driver, who thought his brakes were overheating in slower sections.
Ogier was third and fifth through the two tests but resigned to his fate after cleaning the gravel as road opener. “What can I do? My target is to beat Andreas who is the guy behind me in the championship and that’s what I’m doing. There’s so much gravel….” he said.
Dani Sordo retained third in his Hyundai i20, 52.7sec behind Ogier, but despite top four times in both tests it wasn’t plain-sailing for the Spaniard. A spin near the finish of Otates cost 10sec and a broken fan caused the engine to overheat and reduce the available power.
Andreas Mikkelsen closed the gap on Sordo to 14.9sec after clean runs but Hayden Paddon yielded fifth to Mads Ostberg after breaking the left rear suspension arm in Otates.
“We touched a bank just 1km after the start and it broke the rear toe arm. It’s exactly the same as yesterday so that’s something we have to work on,” said Paddon, who replaced the strut before El Brinco, in which he was fourth fastest.
He was 1min 12.9sec behind Ostberg’s Ford Fiesta RS with Ott Tanak and Martin Prokop next up, the Czech driver complaining of handling issues. Lorenzo Bertelli and WRC 2 leader Teemu Suninen completed the leaderboard.
Thierry Neuville was the second major casualty following Eric Camilli’s earlier demise. He crashed heavily near the finish of Otates, both Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul unhurt.
Sebastien Ogier appeared to concede victory to Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala at Rally Guanajuato Mexico following Saturday afternoon’s live TV Agua Zarca speed test.
The Frenchman, who has cleaned the mountain tracks of slippery gravel since the start in his position as road opener, was third fastest in his Volkswagen Polo R but conceded a further 5.6sec to stage winner and leader Jari-Matti Latvala.
That extended Latvala’s advantage to 1min 21.9sec and prompted Ogier to say at the finish: “I’m not really pushing anymore.”
Latvala was not totally convinced by Ogier’s apparent decision to give up the fight. “There’s maybe a little belief, we’ll see in the next stage,” said the Finn, alluding to the long 42.62km Otates stage which followed.
“There was some pollution on top of the road which was difficult for him and he had to clean it. It’s a good lead but there is the long 80km stage to come tomorrow and we have to keep a margin over him for that,” added Latvala.
Andreas Mikkelsen split Latvala and Ogier in the stage times, but there is a threat of a penalty hanging over the fourth-placed Norwegian after appearing to check his Polo R into the mid-leg service in Leon one minute early.
Hayden Paddon was fourth despite stalling his Hyundai i20 at the start. “I lost a few seconds. I was too anxious to get into the stage and dropped the clutch a bit too quickly,” explained the Kiwi.
Thierry Neuville, who rolled his i20 heavily this morning, has been given a clean bill of health by doctors after being taken to hospital for checks.
Andreas Mikkelsen’s hopes of overhauling Dani Sordo for a podium at Rally Guanajuato Mexico ended when he crashed on Saturday afternoon.
The Norwegian was only 4.5sec adrift of the Spaniard when his Volkswagen Polo R went off the road about 10km from the finish of the Otates test. Neither Mikkelsen nor co-driver Anders Jaeger were hurt.
Jari-Matti Latvala continued to dominate the leaderboard in his Polo R, fastest times in Otates and El Brinco giving him an unblemished tally of six wins from six stages today.
The Finn’s lead over Ogier rose to 1min 36.3sec, the world champion struggling so much in the loose gravel that he questioned whether there was a problem with his car after Otates.
“It was much more difficult than this morning. I don’t know if I have a problem or not but there’s no grip at the rear. It’s undriveable. The lines on the road are really dirty, it’s never been so bad this weekend so I have to check,” he said.
That check revealed nothing untoward, the Frenchman confirming the car was ‘fine’ after El Brinco.
Mikkelsen’s demise left Sordo in a comfortable third in his Hyundai i20, more than two minutes clear of Mads Ostberg in fourth. Sordo bemoaned the lack of grip on the slippery gravel tracks while ?stberg said he was ‘flat out on the limit’.
Fifth-placed Hayden Paddon struggled in Otates with problems in his Hyundai i20. “I had to manage a lot of temperatures in the car. The brakes overheated then I lost the paddle-shift gearchange and had to use the manual system. In the slower sections the car was getting too hot and I lost my rhythm with everything going on,” he said.
Benito Guerra reported overheating brakes in his Ford Fiesta RS while Martin Prokop was concerned about an alternator warning light in his similar car.
Saturday wrap, Latvala unchallenged in Mexico mountains
Jari-Matti Latvala takes a comfortable lead into Sunday's final leg of Rally Guanajuato Mexico after an imperious display over sun-kissed mountain roads on Saturday.
The Volkswagen Polo R pilot won all six gravel speed tests to add to his clean sweep of dirt road wins yesterday, demoralising world champion Sebastien Ogier and leaving his rivals to pick up scant consolation in the short spectator stages that closed the third day.
The Finn started with a 32.5sec lead over team-mate Ogier but extended that to 1min 35.7sec during the longest day of this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, covering nine stages and 152.40km.
Latvala was eager to build a big enough lead to carry into tomorrow's marathon 80km Guanajuato test, the longest in the WRC since 1986.
"The feeling in the car was brilliant. The way Miikka (co-driver, Anttila) read the pace notes was perfect. Everything has come together. It's important to have a 1sec/km difference for tomorrow because you can then back off if the tyres or brakes become too hot," he said.
Latvala's low start position again handed him a big advantage with the benefit of cleaner roads, swept clear of gravel by those ahead. As yesterday, Ogier had the hardest job as first in the start order and by the middle of the afternoon the Frenchman had thrown in the towel.
"I'm not really pushing anymore," he admitted, hoping to bank solid championship points for second in his quest for a fourth successive world title.
Dani Sordo overcame a host of minor issues to hold third in a Hyundai i20, 1min 04.7sec behind Ogier. The Spaniard struggled to find a balance he was happy with on the slippery tracks, while a spin and a broken fan which caused his engine to overheat cost more time.
Andreas Mikkelsen had closed to within a handful of seconds of snatching Sordo’s podium place until he crashed out in this afternoon’s long Otates test.
His demise promoted Mads Ostberg to fourth, the Norwegian wringing every second out of M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta RS. His fight with Hayden Paddon swung his way when the Kiwi glanced a bank and the impact broke his i20’s rear left suspension arm. Further issues for Paddon included overheating brakes and gearshift problems and he ended 53.3sec behind.
Ott Tanak avoided serious problems to hold sixth in a Fiesta RS, with Martin Prokop, Lorenzo Bertelli, WRC 2 leader Teemu Suninen and Valeriy Gorban completing the leaderboard.
Eric Camilli and Thierry Neuville restarted under Rally 2 regulations but both were in the wars again. Camilli flipped his Fiesta RS onto its roof after hitting a rock while Neuville crashed heavily.
Just two stages comprise Sunday’s final leg but they are not for the faint-hearted. The action begins with the 80km test and is followed by the final live TV Agua Zarca Power Stage, with bonus points for the fastest three drivers.
The longest WRC special stage since 1986 did little to disturb the status quo on the Rally Guanajuato Mexico leaderboard on Sunday morning.
Many of the fast roads in the 80km Guanajuato in the mountains above Leon had already been driven earlier in the weekend.
Sebastien Ogier celebrated finally being relieved of road sweeping duties by setting fastest time in his Volkswagen Polo R. The Frenchman completed the test in a little over 48 minutes and was 25.3sec quicker than team-mate and leader Jari-Matti Latvala.
“It was much better than yesterday. I had some brake issues during the last 45km. I struggled a bit and couldn’t really push, but it wasn’t the plan to push anyway. It all went quite smoothly,” said Ogier.
Latvala also reported brake problems but the Finn emerged with a 1min 10.4sec lead over Ogier with just the final 16.47km Agua Zarca Power Stage remaining.
“I started with a good rhythm and pushed between 10km and 50km. But when I reached about 58km I started to lose the rear brakes. I had to be really safe for the last 20km and drove very steadily,” explained Latvala, who was beaten on gravel for the first time this weekend.
The Volkswagen drivers were in a class of their own, third-placed Hayden Paddon more than a minute further back in his Hyundai i20. Mads Ostberg, Dani Sordo and Ott Tanak completed the top six, all content to measure their pace with large time gaps separating them on the leaderboard.
Sordo also reported brake issues while Ostberg said his decision to mix soft and hard compound Michelin rubber benefited him in the technical twisty parts but was not so good in faster sections.
Jari-Matti Latvala ended his disastrous start to the season with an unchallenged victory at Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Sunday afternoon.
Latvala failed to score in the first two rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship but dominated the opening gravel event of the year in a Volkswagen Polo R to win by 1min 05.0sec.
Team-mate Sebastien Ogier retained the championship lead by finishing second in the hot and dusty mountains near Leon. Dani Sordo completed the podium on the four-day event in a Hyundai i20, a further 2min 32.9sec behind.
Ogier also won the final live TV Power Stage to claim three bonus points. Latvala took two points for second while Hayden Paddon claimed the final point in third in an i20.
Hyundai’s Dani Sordo lost his podium finish at Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Sunday evening after being handed a two-minute penalty for using one more tyre than allowed during the four-day event.
The penalty relegated the Spaniard from third to fourth and promoted M-Sport’s Mads Ostberg to third. Just 1.5sec split the pair in the revised classification.
Rally stewards received a report from the FIA Technical Delegate stating that Sordo used 29 tyres, one more than authorised.
Team principal Michel Nandan and team manager Alain Penasse told stewards that due to a communication error three new and two used tyres were assigned to Sordo’s i20 in a tyre fitting zone instead of three used and two new units.