Sebastien Ogier’s stunning victory on Stage 16, which helped create a sizable lead on Rally Mexico, was “something unique”, according to Toyota World Rally Championship boss Jari-Matti Latvala.
Ogier will enter the final day of the gravel event with a 35.8-second advantage over Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans as the eight-time world champion sets out in search of a record seventh WRC victory in Mexico.
Ogier took the lead after Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi crashed on Stage 11, but it was Ogier’s performance on Stage 16 that blew away the opposition.
The Frenchman managed to win the El Mosquito test with a whopping 8.1s from Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, a performance that surprised Ogier and his team boss Latvala.
“When I saw the time that he was over eight seconds faster than anyone else I said ‘woah that’s something’ because these days you don’t see gaps like that in normal conditions,” said WRC winner Latvala in Mexico. in 2016.
“It was something unique. But he loves this rally, he is the master of this rally, he knows how to attack with clean driving and not be too aggressive.
Sebastien Ogier, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Photo by: Toyota Racing
While Ogier said he was happy with his performance on Saturday, the part-time WRC driver says he can’t afford to relax ahead of Sunday’s stage, which includes the longest stage of the test at 35.63 km.
“I think this lead is good and I’m happy with my day,” Ogier said.
“It was a bit of a different approach because Esapekka started this morning, it changed our race because we didn’t need to take too many risks.
“We still managed to set good times and increase our lead because you never know what’s going to happen because Sunday is long which means we can’t afford to relax.”
Toyota is likely to face a battle to maintain a 1-2 in the rally standings with Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville just 4.3 seconds behind second-placed Evans.
Rovanpera rolls with the championship in mind
Kalle Rovanpera, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Photo by: Toyota Racing
While Ogier and Evans led Toyota’s charge, world champion Kalle Rovanpera couldn’t fight for the podium spots in Mexico.
The Finn was hampered by road position on Friday, which resulted in a compromised tire strategy for Saturday, having opted to ride soft to limit the damage from the open road.
As a result, Rovanpera heads into Sunday 53.9 seconds off the last podium spot in a solitary fourth position.
Latvala believes the 22-year-old has been driving smart with his eye on the Championship already, however.
“He suffered from the position on the road and I guess he realized he had lost so much that he didn’t want to start taking risks after that,” Latvala said.
“You can see now that he is only thinking about the championship and driving smart. I think he will attack on the final Powerstage to get some extra points.
“He knows that taking good points here after Ott Tanak’s problems will give him the championship lead.
“He knows that Seb doesn’t make the full championship, so he just has to focus on the drivers who make the full championship.”