Ogier not taking Rally Mexico lead for granted

Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Vincent Landais (FRA) Of team TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT are seen performing during the World Rally Championship Mexico in Leon, Mexico on 18,March 2023 // Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202303190030 // Usage for editorial use only //

Sebastien Ogier insists he will be taking nothing for granted heading into the concluding day of Rally Mexico despite holding a sizeable 35.8s lead from Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans.

Ogier seized the initiative on Saturday’s opening ‘Ibarrila’ test when Esapekka Lappi – whom he trailed overnight by 5.3s – crashed out. As a consequence, organisers opted to cancel the stage as in the melee, the Finn had scythed down an electricity pole with his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 car.

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From that moment on, Ogier – a six-time winner of the event who could become the most decorated in Rally Mexico history if he can hold on and make it a seventh – applied all of his know-how to pull clear of Evans and the third-placed Hyundai of Thierry Neuville.

Blistering pace when it was needed, as evidenced by a stage win on ‘El Mosquito 2’, combined with smart preservation of his hard compound Pirelli tyres on the rough and rutted mountain roads, has put the 39-year-old in a commanding position with only four Sunday speed tests to play out.

“I think I can be very satisfied with my day. To be in the lead tonight with a bit of a gap is great, of course,” reflected Ogier, who is only signed up to a partial programme in this season’s World Rally Championship as part of his car share arrangement with Takamoto Katsuta.

“It was another strong day with a bit of a different approach once the battle with Esapekka ended this morning. I felt sorry for him because he was doing a great job. But this is rallying and you have to put three days together to win.

“After that, I tried to stay in more of a safe mode but still we managed to set some good times and increase our lead. It was a surprise to me to see the [fastest] time in SS16; I was just trying to be very clean and maybe my tyre management helped to make the difference.

“Tomorrow could still be the trickiest day of the rally with the longest stage to get through, so we cannot afford to relax,” he added.

Toyota Gazoo Racing Team Principal Jari-Matti Latvala said Ogier’s display was proof – were it needed – of why he was the “master of this event”.

“His gap to his competitors in SS16 is something you don’t see very often these days in the World Rally Championship,” said Latvala. “But it’s not over yet though because there’s still a very long and difficult stage to come tomorrow in ‘Otates’ and Neuville is pushing hard behind Elfyn.”

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