Petter Solberg maintains his advantage into day two of the Rally Mexico after the leaders eschewed the opportunity to slow and gain better road positions for Saturday.
With the Mexican stages extremely dusty, the drivers early in the running order have struggled for grip all day, while those further down the start list – such as Solberg and current second place man Sebastien Ogier – have benefited from cleaner stages. As the problem is expected to be even worse Saturday, most drivers anticipated that at least some of the frontrunners would slow down on today's final full-length stage to try and drop places and ensure a better starting spot for leg two. But instead the top crews all went through this afternoon's stages flat out, with Solberg leading Ogier by 15sec at the end of the day.
"I have no reason to slow down," said Solberg. "I'm here to drive as fast as possible, and then we will see the result on the last day - and that's it. I'm not here for playing. I have no plan, no strategy, I just want to get back on top again. I have no problem with being first on the road tomorrow, I'll take it as it comes."
Ogier won the last three stages of the day to trim a few seconds from Solberg's lead. The Citroen Junior driver acknowledged that starting tomorrow from second would be tough, but was undaunted.
"For sure the road position helped me a lot, but now it will be different tomorrow," Ogier said. "But OK, it's part of the learning process for me to try to clean the road."
Sebastien Loeb is now in a good position for Saturday, as he holds third place, 27sec down on Solberg.
"A very good first day for me, we couldn't do better," said the Citroen number one. "Second on the road seems to be much better than first, but those behind are very fast. I'm satisfied with my day."
Loeb's cause was aided by Mikko Hirvonen's unhappy day. Ford's lead driver was off the pace throughout the leg and is only sixth behind Dani Sordo (Citroen) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford). Hirvonen, who lost over a minute to Solberg, did not think his lack of pace was solely due to running first on the road.
"I really don't believe it, that was a really perfect stage, a really good drive and I'm still losing time," he lamented after SS7. "I really don't understand why we are so slow."
Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg is right on Hirvonen's tail in seventh, with his team-mate Matthew Wilson eighth ahead of Federico Villagra (Munchi's Ford) and Ken Block (Monster Ford).
Kimi Raikkonen barely had a chance to feature in this rally as he clipped a rock and bent his steering on SS1, stopped for half an hour to fix a fuel pump issue on SS2, and then crashed heavily on SS7.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Petter Solberg Citroen 1h23m39.9s
2. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 15.0s
3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 27.5s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen + 40.8s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m01.2s
6. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 1m31.5s
7. Henning Solberg Ford + 1m37.5s
8. Matthew Wilson Ford + 2m47.2s
9. Federico Villagra Ford + 4m19.8s
10. Ken Block Ford + 4m33.3s