Sebastien Ogier stayed out of trouble to reclaim the World Rally Championship points lead with a dominant victory on Rally Mexico, beating Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke.
Despite the disadvantage of running second on the road on both Friday and Saturday, the M-Sport driver put in a series of blistering stage times to remain within striking distance of early rally leader Sordo and the Citroens of Meeke and series returnee Sebastien Loeb.
Sordo won two stages on Friday to lead the event from Meeke, but Loeb marked his first WRC round since Monte Carlo 2015 by usurping the Spaniard on Saturday morning with two stage victories of his own.
Both Sordo and Loeb suffered front-left punctures on Saturday afternoon, which allowed Ogier to hit the front.
From then on, Ogier took four stage wins to extend his lead over Meeke, who spun three times before rolling on SS20, with the world champion going on to claim his second win of the season.
Having led the opening leg, Sordo lost time to Loeb due to gambling on the softer tyre on Saturday morning.
He was primed to set a faster time than the nine-time world champion on SS14 (Guanajuatito 2) before hitting a rock early in the stage and losing 30 seconds.
Loeb hit a similarly-sized stone on the same pass and lost more than two minutes when he and co-driver Daniel Elena stopped to change a wheel.
2017 Rally Mexico victor Meeke would have challenged Ogier more were it not for two spins in successive stages (SS7 and SS8), the latter on a narrow piece of road which forced the Northern Irishman to drive the wrong way to rotate the car.
A further half-roll on SS20 after sliding on a cobbled hairpin cost Meeke another 45 seconds, dropping him behind Sordo to third.
Aside from Sordo’s podium, Hyundai endured a frustrating event, not least for lead driver Thierry Neuville.
The Belgian, who won the previous round in Sweden, suffered a loss of fuel pressure at the start of the Leon Street Stage on Friday which cut the power to his i20.
The problem was compounded with a power steering failure on SS8 (Ortega 2) and another engine cut-out on the opening pass on Saturday morning (Guanajuatito 1).
Team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen lacked speed all rally and was never in contention. The Norwegian finished fourth ahead of Loeb, while Neuville recovered to finish sixth.
Toyota suffered engine overheating caused by the Yaris WRC’s inability to take in air in the high altitude, which left Ott Tanak, Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi starved of outright power.
Lappi had “probably the slowest crash I’ve ever had” on SS7 while Latvala’s alternator failed on the road section before SS9.
Tanak had been primed for an assault on the podium places on Saturday morning but suffered a turbo failure after SS11.
The Estonian however returned on Sunday and adopted the same Power Stage tactics as Ogier did in Sweden by arriving late for the stage, copping a penalty.
The decision paid off for Tanak, who took the stage win from Ogier to claim five points, while Neuville, who also arrived late, could only manage fourth.
Pontus Tidemand took WRC2 honours at a canter by beating Brit Gus Greensmith by over six minutes and claiming a superb seventh place overall.
|1||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||3h53m58.0s|
|2||Dani Sordo, C.del Barrio||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||1m13.6s|
|3||Kris Meeke, P.Nagle||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||1m29.2s|
|4||Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||1m48.4s|
|5||Sebastien Loeb, D.Elena||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||2m34.6s|
|6||Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||5m03.0s|
|7||Pontus Tidemand, J.Andersson||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda||10m34.7s|
|8||Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||15m47.1s|
|9||Gus Greensmith, C.Parry||Ford||17m19.3s|
|10||Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||31m07.8s|
|11||Teemu Suninen, M.Markkula||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||33m16.3s|
|12||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||58m22.8s|