LEON, Mexico - Ford World Rally Team drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson finished third in Rally Mexico yesterday. The Norwegian driver and his British co-driver also won the final Power Stage speed test in their Fiesta RS World Rally Car to claim maximum bonus points in their FIA World Rally Championship challenge.
Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila retired from third place with two special stages remaining after rolling their Fiesta RS WRC when they were distracted by another crashed car. The accident damaged the car’s roll cage and the Finns had to withdraw for safety reasons.
This third round of the series was characterised by demanding gravel roads in the rolling mountains near León, 400km north-west of Mexico City, and temperatures which topped 30ºC. The combination of the heat and long stages guaranteed tough conditions for the engine, brakes and transmissions in the Fiesta RS WRCs, as well as Michelin’s durable rough road tyres.
Altitude also played a key role in the four-day rally, which comprised 384.18km over 22 stages. The roads climbed to more than 2700m in the Sierra de Lobos mountains, and the lack of oxygen at such heights reduced all cars’ power output by around 20 per cent.
Solberg led the rally after the short street stage through the former mining tunnels in the picture postcard city of Guanajuato on Thursday night. The 37-year-old fell back to 13th during the first leg after twice puncturing tyres when he hit a bank and a rock. He ended the day in fifth and climbed to fourth on Saturday, despite minor brake difficulties, after setting a string of consistently fast times.
Solberg moved into third when Latvala crashed, sealing a strong performance on his first gravel rally in a Fiesta RS WRC when he won the Power Stage by a crushing 1.4sec.
“My speed was very good throughout the rally and I was towards the top of the time sheets all the way through,” he said. “The team made some great improvements before the rally and that allowed me to be consistently fast from the very first kilometre.
“I really wanted to win the Power Stage because the bonus points are important for the championship. The extra three points means I scored the same as the second-placed driver, so it’s like finishing a place higher. I’ve now driven on three different surfaces in the Fiesta in the opening three rallies and I was really comfortable on each, so I feel confident for the season ahead,” he added.
Latvala led during the first full day before hitting a rock and breaking his car’s front left suspension arm. The 90sec time loss relegated him to eighth, but he recovered to fourth at the end of the day with three consecutive stage victories. A further four wins on Saturday promoted him to third, but his chances of a podium ended in the 54.30km Guanajuatito stage when he crashed.
“I approached a fast right bend which led into a left-right combination of corners,” said 26-year-old Latvala. “From a distance I saw Evgeny Novikov’s car on its roof and it appeared to be on the side of the road. I braked hard and the car slid into a bank and rolled back onto the track. I think I rolled twice. The impact punctured the front left tyre which we changed, and then I drove slowly to the end.
“I drove on to the refuel point where an FIA official noticed a dent in the roll cage on my side, at the front of the car. We then went to the start of the next stage, where the official informed me that he had reported the damage to the rally’s clerk of the course. I wanted to carry on because the dent was small but the officials regarded the cage as unsafe and I had to stop. I’m extremely disappointed, but I must put this behind me and look forward to the next round,” he added.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson said he was encouraged by the pace of Latvala and Solberg. “We won 11 of the 22 stages and both drivers led the event, which shows a great improvement on our performance at altitude in recent years. Petter displayed his experience to take a podium after some setbacks on the first day. Jari-Matti’s accident was hugely disappointing, but I’m confident we can take this pace forward into the other gravel rallies,” he said.
Ford Racing motorsport manager Gerard Quinn said: “I’m delighted Petter and Chris finished on the podium and collected a Power Stage win, but the result was tinged with disappointment following Jari-Matti’s retirement. We appear to have made a big step forward on gravel and that’s a big boost as the remainder of the season is predominantly on that surface.”
News from other Ford teams
Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson finished fourth in the Adapta Motorsport World Rally Team’s Fiesta RS WRC, despite losing almost two minutes with a rear right puncture in the long Guanajuatito stage. Just 11.1sec behind in fifth were M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk. Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino finished ninth after losing almost seven minutes with a flat tyre in the long stage, and the top 10 was rounded out by the Fiesta RS WRC of Ricardo Trivino / Alex Haro. Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet retired after crashing heavily in Guanajuatito, while Chris Atkinson / Stephane Prévot stopped in the same stage after an oil leak in the suspension.
The championship returns to Europe for round four. The all-gravel Rally de Portugal is based in the Algarve resort of Faro on 29 March - 1 April.
1. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen DS3
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen Citroen DS3
3. P Solberg/C Patterson Ford Fiesta RS
4. M Østberg/J Andersson Ford Fiesta
5. O Tänak/K Sikk Ford Fiesta RS
6. N Al Attiyah/G Bernacchini Citroen DS3
8. S Ogier/J Ingrassia Skoda Fabia S2000
9. K Block/A Gelsomino Ford Fiesta RS
10 R Trivino/A Haro Ford Fiesta RS
||Citroen Total WRT
||M-Sport Ford WRT