The ninth Rally Guanajuato Mexico got underway with a spectacular Special Stage through the cobbled streets and historic mining shafts of the stunning world heritage city of Guanajuato last night. With huge crowds lining the DC Shoes Street Stage, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team drivers Ott Tänak and Evgeny Novikov thrilled spectators over the 1.05km stage.
An impressive effort from Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk saw the Estonian duo set the sixth fastest time to equal that of Ford factory driver, Jari-Matti Latvala. Elsewhere however, there was early disappointment for Novikov and experienced navigator Denis Giraudet as an issue with the intercom rendered the pairing 12th overall.
Based to the north and east of Guanajuato, the first full day of competition saw the M-Sport crews get their first taste of gravel in this the 2012 edition of the World Rally Championship (WRC). Tackling two new stages and overcoming the demands of continuous changes in grip, M-Sport’s rising stars rose to the challenge with Novikov securing seventh overall and Tänak sixth at the end of Day 1.
Eager to climb the leaderboard, Novikov had a strong run over the first full day of competition. Getting to grips with his Ford Fiesta RS WRC over the morning loop, the young Russian set the seventh fastest time on SS2, climbing four positions to secure eighth overall. Producing competitive times over the following tests, Novikov set another seventh fastest time on SS4, 6.4 seconds clear of previous Rally Mexico podium finisher, Chris Atkinson. Despite issues with his gear shifts – missing the shift light on his dashboard for much of the morning – the Muscovite set the fifth fastest time on the final 23.69 km test to claim fifth place overall.
Following Thierry Neuville’s retirement after service on SS6, Novikov was propelled into fifth position – seven places up on where he had started in the morning and just 12.7 seconds adrift of team mate Tänak. Despite setting the fifth fastest time on Las Minas 2 (SS7), Novikov lost out to a charging Latvala in the factory Ford Fiesta RS WRC. With SS9 cancelled, the final stage before service saw the crews tackle the 1.23 km Monster Street Stage within which the Russian maintained his seventh position overall.
After the final service, only two Super Specials remained. With the packed Autodromo in León illuminated with fork lightning and heavy rain, Novikov set the 12th and 10th fastest times and will start Day 2 eighth on the road.
Despite running early on the road in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Tänak mastered the slippery conditions over the morning loop. Setting the sixth fastest time on the first 22.12 km stage, the Estonian maintained his overall position just 1.1 seconds adrift of last month’s Rally Sweden podium finisher Mads Østberg. Tänak’s consistency continued over the following tests as the youngster set the sixth fastest time on four consecutive stages. Despite suffering from aggressive brakes, the final test of the morning saw Tänak set the fourth fastest time as he climbed to fifth in the overall standings, just 17.4 seconds adrift and closing on Neuville in fourth.
Following the Belgian’s retirement on SS6, the M-Sport driver was propelled into fourth place, just 25.7 seconds adrift of the podium. Despite setting competitive splits throughout SS7, the Estonian lost out to a blisteringly quick Latvala in the overall standings. Gaining experience with each competitive kilometre, the youngster set another fifth fastest time on the second pass over Los Mexicanos (SS8) to keep a recovering Petter Solberg at bay. In the absence of SS9, the Monster Street Stage followed with Tänak impressing once again with another fifth fastest time. Unfortunately for the Estonian, a late check-in saw him incur a 10-second penalty to put Solberg ahead going into Day 2.
With just the final two Super Special stages left to run, Tänak set the third and fourth fastest times on the rain-soaked track to bring the gap to Solberg down to just 1.3 seconds and will thus start Day 2 ninth on the road.
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“This afternoon was ok. We had no dramas. The conditions weren’t too bad and there were far fewer rocks out there than there had been this morning. The surface is quite hard so it wasn’t too bad. In some places it’s really clean and you have quite good grip, but in others it was still a bit dusty and slippery which is what makes it a bit tricky.
“I think for tomorrow we will just stick with pretty much the same set-up as we have now. We’ll try to keep the pace and stay in front of Evgeny [Novikov]. It’s all good experience for me.”
Evgeny Novikov (7th) said:
“This afternoon was a lot better than this morning but still not so good and I’m not 100 per cent satisfied with the result. But we are trying to do something about it; we will try a few things out in service and just see what the result is at the finish – there are still two days to go so you never know.
“Tomorrow, of course, it will be the same approach – maximum attack. We will just try to do our best and see what happens.”
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