Sebastien Loeb took the fifth Rally Mexico win of his career in ultimately dominant fashion once his rally-long rival Sebastien Ogier crashed out on the final leg.
The event was dominated by the two works Citroens, with Ogier leading most of day one apart from a brief period when Loeb nosed ahead.
Loeb then took charge on Saturday as Ogier lost a little – though not much – time running first on the road. But it turned around again when Loeb picked up a 50-second penalty for being late into SS15 having had to fix a gearshift issue before the stage start.
This put Ogier back in front, although he could perhaps consider himself lucky to escape any penalty for accidentally driving into service before the rescheduled regroup on Friday – an incident examined in two stewards' meeting. Loeb was soon closing in once more, helped by Ogier suffering a temporary loss of power, and the champion emerged with a commanding lead when Ogier went off on Sunday's first stage and damaged his Citroen too badly to continue. That left Loeb to cruise to the finish and get his 2011 title bid started with the 63rd win of his World Rally Championship career.
"That was a very hard weekend, a terrible fight with Ogier until today," said Loeb. "He was really, really pushing hard. I think we've done nearly a perfect weekend, some small troubles but not many for a new car. I'm satisfied with the performance – the DS3 is very fast."
Ford ended a tough event with a double podium for Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala. Hirvonen dropped back while running first on the road on Friday – and was very perturbed when he carried on losing time even when he had a better road position for leg two. But he retained the championship lead and also grabbed the bonus points for winning the rally-ending power stage. Latvala was delayed by two punctures.
The combination of rough stages, high altitudes and hot temperatures meant a high attrition rate for the still-new 2011 WRC machines. Petter Solberg recovered to fourth despite losing seven minutes with an electrical glitch on his Solberg Citroen on Friday, Stobart Ford's Mads Ostberg rebounded from a puncture to drive carefully to fifth and his team-mate Henning Solberg took sixth despite miscellaneous glitches.
The other two Stobart entries retired when well-placed: Matthew Wilson losing a possible career-best finish to electrical failure when fourth, and Evgeny Novikov losing oil pressure while fifth on his return to the championship.
Dennis Kuipers rolled the Ferm Ford out of seventh on leg two, and Ken Block managed to retire the Monster Ford no fewer than three times, thanks to two electrical failures, and a minor accident. Remarkably he was still on course for 10th until yet another electrical glitch on the penultimate stage dropped him to 13th.
The attrition rate was such that Federico Villagra came back to take a point in the Munchi's Ford despite picking up a day's worth of superally penalties when he took a wheel off the car on Friday's first stage, struggling with brake problems on his return and then breaking a driveshaft on the final stage.
Kimi Raikkonen was not present this time, Mexico being one of the events he is skipping in his reduced 2011 program.
Nasser Al-Attiyah hung on to take S2000 class victory in seventh overall ahead of the fast-closing Martin Prokop. Ott Tanak had been Al-Attiyah's main rival until crashing on Saturday, while Juho Hanninen never regained the ground lost when he spun and broke reverse gear on Friday's opener. He escaped a penultimate-stage roll to finish third in class, ninth overall.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h53m17.0s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 1m38.4s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 2m23.9s
4. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 7m18.4s
5. Mads Ostberg Stobart Ford + 8m43.5s
6. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford + 9m50.0s
7. Nasser Al-Attiyah Barwa Ford + 13m21.5s
8. Martin Prokop Czech Ford + 13m35.0s
9. Juho Hanninen Red Bull Skoda + 14m48.7s
10. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford + 48m17.2s
Other WRC finishers:
13. Ken Block Monster Ford + 1h04m04.7s
Sebastien Ogier Citroen SS20
Evgeny Novikov Stobart Ford SS13
Dennis Kuipers Ferm Ford SS11
Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford Before SS11
Leading Power Stage results:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 4m40.4s
2. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 2.1s
3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 2.1s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 2.5s
5. Mads Ostberg Stobart Ford + 7.9s