Columns And Opinions
French ace Ogier ominous even in semi-retirement
Toyota appears to be regaining its winning ways while the Hyundai and Ford teams have displayed glimpses of racing potential in an exciting, closely fought FIA World Rally Championship with 10 rounds left.
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier returned to WRC Mexico, last held in 2020 before this year’s edition, to claim a seventh title.
The race, just like WRC Kenya, Croatia and Italy, is all gravel.
Ogier gave Toyota Gazoo their second victory this year after his Monte Carlo win with teammate Elyfn Evans losing second place by just 0.4 seconds on the final stage to Hyundai lead driver Thierry Neville, followed by world champion Kalle Rovanpera. The Japanese manufacturer missed a 2022 WRC Safari Rally 1-2-3-4 repeat performance.
Ogier, retained by Toyota as a part-time pilot, is leading the championship, developing a winning formula with his new co-driver Vincent Lanais, and showing more refined skills in his semi-retirement.
Mexico, with some sections as high as 2,700 metres above sea level, has never been the easiest of WRC rallies, at one time demanding a car setting that was similar to what the old WRC Safari Rally required to conquer the high altitude sections of Taita Hills, Mt Kenya and Cherangani Hills.
Ogier, Landais and the Toyota Hybrid were in sync, especially on the last section, Otates, also the longest of the 21 stages at 35.63km.
Ogier scored six extra bonus points at the Power Stage which added the spice to his win.
It was a nerve-racking ride for Ogier whose gritty determination, concentration and speed safeguarded his 35.8-second cushion lead that allowed them to take a safe approach on the final day.
His victory on Sunday breached another personal record. He won there three years ago and retained his title only six weeks after winning his ninth title in the season opening Monte Carlo.
What next for the seven-time world champion?
Japanese Takamoto Katsuta reached the finish of his first-ever Rally Mexico, driving a fourth GR YARIS Rally1 Hybrid with the support of the TGR WRC Challenge Programme.
He and co-driver Aaron Johnston returned to action under restart rules on Saturday after a spin had taken them off the road on Friday.
“It has been an amazing weekend and I’m very happy to take this victory. We came here with a clear goal to win this rally. The car was great this weekend; it was a faultless weekend for us and a strong weekend for the team, so thank you to them for making this possible,” said Ogier.
“When you end up taking 30 points it’s really a perfect weekend. We had great pace when we needed it, and great management too when it was required.
“It’s not easy when you need to manage a gap like that and I think today was the toughest loop of the weekend. I could afford to lose a bit of time but it was important to stay focused.
“I felt I had to go for it in the Power Stage because I love that stage, and it’s important to score the points, also for the team. Records and numbers are always nice and of course, I’m proud of them, but the most important thing for me is this victory.”
Back home, Karan Patel scored a double after winning the Equator Rally which is the second in the Africa Championship series, in Voi and openning a big lead in his national title defence.
Ugandans Yasin Nasser (second) and Jas Mangat (third) demonstrated patience especially in the two days of the competition despite the leadership firmly remaining in the hands of Patel, Hamza Anwar and Jeremiah Wahome until late on day one and the opening stage of the second day. Anwar was the first out, followed by Wahome.
The Croatia Rally on April 20-23 is the first pure asphalt round of the season, held around the capital city, Zagreb, followed by Portugal and Italy before the Safari in June.
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