Jari-Matti Latvala produced a rare performance that saw him comprehensively beat his more illustrious Volkswagen teammate Sebastien Ogier.
Volkswagen Motorsport took a 1-2 finish at the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) Rally Mexico but not in their usual manner. This time it was Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala who got the better of defending triple WRC champ Sebastien Ogier, and it was not even close.
The erratic Finn took the overall lead of the rally on Friday and never looked back, eventually finishing the near 400 km of special stages over a minute ahead of Ogier. A further two minutes behind was Hyundai Motorsport’s Dani Sordo whose i20 was in far better shape than that of teammates Haydon Paddon and Thierry Neuville. The New Zealander suffered a broken suspension on stage 12 of the 21-stage rally but enough repairs were done to the car to bring him home in fifth.
Neuville, however, had to retire altogether after a big off on stage 12, which resulted in his car going off a drop in the road and coming to a rest on a rock.
Even more bad news followed for Hyundai, however, as a penalty for going beyond the designated number of tyres during a WRC event dropped him to fourth place and promoted the M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC of Mads Ostberg to third.
After two rallies and two no scores, victory in Mexico was a much needed boost for Latvala whose title challenge had all but evaporated. The championship gains weren’t massive here - only six points on runaway leader Ogier - but in terms of confidence this was a significant result. Latvala didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend and played the perfect strategic game. He’s still way down the standings but that will give him another road position advantage on the next round in Argentina. Another rally like Mexico would do him very nicely.
If it hadn’t been for Latvala, Ogier would have won last weekend on his 100th WRC start. And that would have been a truly stunning result given he was first in the running order for two whole days on some of the loosest roads of the year. Ogier wanted to be judged against those closest to him in the points who faced conditions more in line with those he encountered. And he demolished them all.
Latvala’s poor start of the season means that not much difference is made to the overall drivers’ championship in which Ogier has 77 points after three rounds and sits 35 points ahead of Ostberg.
The Norwegian driver has capitalised on the inconsistent performances by drivers who were supposed to be a challenge to the combination of Ogier and the Polo WRC this year. But with Latvala, Neuville, Mikkelsen and Paddon not exactly stepping it up, it appears that the Frenchman will end the year as a four-time WRC champion.
And who would bet against him carrying on beyond that as 2017 sees the introduction of updated WRC technical regulations that has cars with more power and wider tracks. For now though, we can look forward to seeing if Latvala can carry his form from Mexico to Argentina for the next round of rallying’s travelling circus.
Rally Argentina, the fourth round of the championship, will be based once again in the City of Villa Carlos Paz near Cordoba with stages run through the surrounding three valleys.
Saturday’s original itinerary featured a trio of stages north of Villa Carlos Paz that haven’t been used since 2003. But that was changed following an inspection by FIA World Rally Championship safety delegate Michèle Mouton in late February.