Sebastien Ogier surged towards a fifth career Rally of Mexico victory following a dramatic Saturday that saw Esapekka Lippi’s Citroen partially block the road after sliding into a ditch.
Finland’s Lippi went off script in the opening speed test in Guanajuato, his car stranded at the side of the road. Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans squeezed past before organisers stopped the stage for safety reasons.
Before the stoppage Ogier had suffered a puncture on his Citroen, leaving Meeke with a 1.3sec overall lead.
World champion Ogier was back at the top of the time sheets after the next stage when Meeke lost valuable ground after puncturing his Toyota. The latter suffered a further setback after damaging his suspension to finish the day down in fifth.
Frenchman Ogier extended his cushion in the afternoon session, despite hitting the barriers on the short Leon street circuit, to head into Sunday’s concluding three stages leading Evans by 27sec.
Championship front-runner Ott Tanak is another 2.2sec adrift in third after picking up wins in specials 14 and 15.
“It wasn’t a smooth day. First I had a puncture and then it was a long day with hot temperatures. I finished the day with a small issue… and the car was hardly driveable in the final stage,” Ogier told the world rally championship’s website.
“When you do not have another spare, there’s always pressure not to make mistakes.”
Thierry Neuville faces an uphill struggle in his bid for a third successive podium finish with the Belgian languishing in fourth at 1:15.7.
“We knew we couldn’t do more in terms of our own performance, so we just drove and tried to enjoy the stages while taking care to avoid punctures,” said Neuville.
“We have three more stages to survive and see what we can salvage from this weekend.”
Jari-Matti Latvala was quickest in stages 11 and 12 but is down in eighth, more than 16 minutes off the lead. He was penalised for deliberately starting late to enjoy better road conditions.