LIVE COMMENTARY: RALLY MEXICO - RALLY MEXICO, LAS VEGAS NASCAR
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As it happened: Rally Mexico, Las Vegas NASCAR
By Pablo Elizalde, Matt Beer, David Evans and Scott Mitchell
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Good morning from Mexico, good afternoon Europe, and welcome to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live's coverage of Rally Mexico 2014.
From the moment you arrive in Leon airport, you know there's a rally on – especially when you come across Hyundai's massive banner on display there.
Rally Mexico is our main event this weekend, with the first full-length stages beginning in just over half an hour.
We'll be following every stage live as it happens bar the evening superspecials, and bringing you all the news, gossip and analysis from the service park too.
We'll also be throwing in updates from MotoGP testing in Qatar, and just after the rally finishes on Sunday, it's straight into round three of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup from Las Vegas.
Stage one took place last night. Less than a mile in length, it was the traditional curtain-raiser on the streets of host city Guanajuato.
Vast crowds, slippery asphalt, and a narrow early lead for Sebastien Ogier...
Thursday night report
...which is just as well, as he's "angry"...
'Angry' Ogier wants points lead back in Mexico
In case you didn't get the idea at the airport, wait until you're on the road into Leon.
Having passed countless Benito Guerra hoardings, you come across this sign spanning the main drag.
Leon likes to shout about its round of the World Rally Championship, which makes a refreshing change.
This isn't quite the Safari, but by modern World Rally Championship standards, we're in for a bit of an endurance test this weekend.
Althought today's first stage is a modest nine kilometres, it's followed by the 44.03km El Chocolate (yes, that's its real name).
And tomorrow morning includes a 53km stage, a 43km stage and two of 30km.
Needless to say, the roads aren't exactly smooth, there's plenty of loose gravel for those first onto the stages, and the high altitude saps engine power - and has sometimes been the deciding factor in the result.
The AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live underdog appreciation klaxon is already at full blast after last night, when Ott Tanak put his WRC2 Ford Fiesta second overall.
No offence to Tanak, whose resurgent WRC return in Sweden was one of the feel-good stories of last month's event, but he's not going to stay in the top three.
It's one thing to get a WRC2 car in the top three on a short street stage, but once we're on the gravel today, he'll rapidly drop back.
Tanak wasn't the only WRC2 driver in the top 10 overnight, with Lorenzo Bertelli - owner of what might be motorsport's oddest/most profane Twitter handle (we'll only link to it post-watershed) - 10th.
Here are the standings after Monte Carlo and Sweden:
1 Latvala 40 points
2 Ogier 35
3 Ostberg 30
4 Mikkelsen 24
5 Bouffier 24
6 Meeke 18
That means World Rally Championship leader Jari-Matti Latvala will be first into the stages today. The Finn said he saw this as his "good punishment" for moving to the top of the table after his win on the last round.
Latvala's team-mate Sebastien Ogier says he expects Rally Mexico to be the worst event of the season for the road cleaning.
The roads around Leon and Guanajuato are completely covered in loose gravel which will be swept by the Volkswagens to expose bedrock and better grip for those following.
M-Sport's Mikko Hirvonen has already predicted that the only way anyone will beat the VWs this year is when they're
hampered by road position
Well Mikko, here's your first chance then...
Third on the road for Mads Ostberg could be the best position, according to Latvala.
"For me," said Latvala, "third is quite a good place. The worst place is first, second is not much better, but the amount of cleaning between running second and third is usually quite big.
"Ostberg is somebody we have to watch. Obviously Sebastien will be big competition – he was very strong here last year – but Mads was also quick."
Latvala is onto SS2, we're up and running in Mexico.
(Yes, AUTOSPORT did have to correct a typo there, having suggested Ogier was first in... In word association games, 'world championship leader' does still tend to invoke 'Ogier')
Latvala completes the stage in a time of 7m43.7s.
Latvala describes the stage surface as being covered in "pollution" - by which he means loose gravel rather than an oil spill.
Ogier completes the stage 3.5s quicker than Latvala, which is far from disastrous for our points leader.
"It's difficult to see a line, and we had problems with dust in some places," Ogier reports.
Ostberg is slightly slower than Ogier, he comes in 0.6s behind the VW.
Is poor visibility from hanging dust going to negate the cars further down the order's road position advantage? Ostberg says there were times when he couldn't see where he was going.
"I felt I lost a lot in the dust. It was very difficult to see in some places and maybe I was a bit too careful. But it's not a bad start to the rally."
Next up is Andreas Mikkelsen, fresh from a maiden podium and a solid shot at his maiden win in Sweden last month.
Mikkelsen slots into third place, 1s off leader Ogier.
The Norwegian also reports a big issue with dust and times when "I didn't know where I was driving. Really bad."
There are three minute gaps between cars on this rally rather than the usual two, so the organisers are trying to pre-empt dust issues, but with very little breeze in the air, it's still not shifting between cars.
Kris Meeke is our slowest man so far, five seconds off Ogier.
Meeke confirms that running further down the order isn't helping on this stage - the road is still covered in loose gravel and you can't see through the dust.
"There was a twisty section through the bushes where I had to go right back to second gear where it was supposed to be fifth gear.
"There's not a lot of cleaning. There doesn't seem to be a hard base coming through."
Hirvonen is 3s off Ogier, and has a deflating front tyre, which he says he's carried for about four kilometres.
Top three for now is Ogier leading Mikkelsen and Ostberg.
Elfyn Evans is on another learning mission and comes in 13s off the pace. He reckons he needs to "carry more momentum" through corners as he works to figure the Mexican stages out.
Hyundai warned that it
might be off the pace
this weekend as its engine isn't a strong point.
That prediction looks correct - Thierry Neuville is slowest so far despite having no particular problems.
"There was some dust, but not a lot. I had a good clean run."
Four more World Rally Cars to come: Martin Prokop, Robert Kubica, local hero Benito Guerra and Hyundai debutant Chris Atkinson.
Two drivers in particular have "don't shunt" high up their to-do lists this weekend. Hyundai is very, very keen for mileage and Neuville's run of incidents in his first two events for the team have not been helpful.
Kubica's tally since moving up from WRC2 is six crashes in three WRC rallies.
"My aim is to finish the event with some good experience – hopefully without mistakes like those in Sweden," he insists.
Kubica's splits are looking very, very good...
The WRC timing system isn't the most reliable in the world though...
Yep, that was a false alarm, Kubica is 11s off Ogier at the end of the stage.
That's going to place Kubica seventh so far.
"It was OK. It will be tough in these conditions because we had a test in totally different conditions, with maximum grip. But that's how it is for everybody."
Next through will be local favourite Benito Guerra.
The 2012 Production class champion got a one-off outing in a Citroen World Rally Car for his home event last year and finished eighth. But that wasn't enough to convince his backers to stump up for the full season they'd hinted at.
What can he do in a Fiesta this year? He reckons he can do a similar pace to Kubica, but he's not quite there yet.
While the final cars come through SS2, the leaders are onto the 44kms of El Chocolate.
Troubled start for Chris Atkinson. He was already 20s down after SS1 following an electrical problem, and he loses more time on SS2 for an unusual reason:
"No, that's OK, but my anti-lag system switch fell off before the stage, so I had to run in road mode, with no power."
He says he'll have to get the pliers out before SS3.
1 Ogier 7m40.2s; 2 Ostberg +0.6s; 3 Mikkelsen +1.0s; 4 Hirvonen +3.2s; 5 Latvala +3.5s; 6 Meeke +5.8s.
1 Ogier; 2 Mikkelsen +1.4s; 3 Ostberg +1.9s; 4 Latvala +4.3s; 5 Hirvonen +4.6s; 6 Meeke +6.4s.
narrowly fastest and maintains lead
* Little benefit to running further down the order as dust hangs in the air and leaves drivers
struggling to see
* Atkinson's Hyundai has to run in 'road mode' after its anti-lag system switch
, costing him 40s.
And for Kubica fans, he's currently seventh.
Do you think Mexican journalists come to Britain and take photos of their breakfast, incredulous that their beans are baked and not refried?
Sorry about the half-eaten omelette – it was very nice.
News coming in that Andreas Mikkelsen might've gone off on this stage and stopped... He was second overall.
Latvala completes the long El Chocolate stage, the splits suggest he's going to lose 15s at least to Ogier but he's pretty happy with that - felt it could've been a lot worse.
Ogier is 10s faster than Latvala at the finish.
Ogier is guarded about how things are going. He's finding being early in the running order tough and just has to wait and see how those behind are coping.
"It's very, very slippery, but we do what we can."
Splits are suggesting Ostberg might be about to take the lead from Ogier...
Not for the first time in recent WRC history, the timing system is a little off the pace of the drivers, but Ostberg is cautiously happy and may well be our new rally leader.
With a bit of maths, we reckon Ostberg now leads overall by one second from Ogier.
A gap in the cars now as Mikkelsen has definitely stopped. No information yet on what's happened to him.
Quick update on the Kubica crash tally from earlier... turns out it's now seven shunts in four rallies - he put his recce car off the road earlier this week.
Ostberg was 3.0s faster than Ogier so now leads the rally by 1.1s.
Latvala is a further 15.2s back.
This is a repeat of 2013 so far, as Ostberg (then in an M-Sport Ford) stepped up to battle Ogier for the day one lead, before retiring from second on the Saturday with mechanical problems, leaving Ogier to dominate.
Looks like Mikkelsen crashed out - here's news from Meeke as he completes the stage:
"He was off in the narrow section. Really narrow, tight and twisty, and I think he just ran wide and hit a big rock."
Meeke's time is 6s down on pacesetter Ostberg, a very fair effort on his Mexico debut across a 30km stage. He says he's not paying any attention to times until he knows he's got the rally cracked and is properly on the pace.
WRC timing system declares that Hirvonen is 26 minutes quicker than anyone else on the stage.
Tracking system suggests last night's WRC2 hero Ott Tanak has stopped early on El Chocolate. He was leading the class after SS2.
Neuville and Hyundai are still well off the pace - he's nearly a minute own on Ostberg's time as he completes SS3.
You'd normally assume something went wrong, but the i20's slow pace on SS2 suggests that might be a pure lack of speed.
Sure enough, Neuville confirms that's as fast as the car will go for now.
"I tried my best, but we still have some changes to make on the car. We're missing a bit of power..."
With the leaders through, the order is Ostberg a second ahead of Ogier for the top spot, then an 8.5s gap back to the battling Hirvonen and Meeke, who are 1.3s apart.
Kubica is sixth quickest of those in so far, about half a minute down on Ostberg. He came into this stage in seventh overall.
Both Hyundais are a
long way off the pace
, Atkinson's splits suggests the switch that fell off before SS2 isn't back where it should be.
Kubica reveals that he was driving without his specially adapted hydraulic system in the gearchange for over half that stage.
That's going to leave Kubica sixth overall now Mikkelsen is out, 10s ahead of team-mate Evans.
A few more WRC runners to complete El Chocolate, but the VWs are already onto the following Las Minas stage, which is a relatively modest 15.59km.
Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere,
reaches Twitter to update everyone on his incident:
"Went off in a narrow section, suspension damaged, has to be picked up by the team. That's it for today. Sad."
He wrote "sad" rather than :( too. AUTOSPORT approves.
Local favourite Guerra loses over 1m40s on that stage and reports that his steering is worryingly loose.
1 Ostberg 30m04.8s; 2 Ogier +3.0s; 3 Meeke +6.4s; 4 Hirvonen +6.9s; 5 Latvala +13.9s; 6 Kubica +33.5s.
1 Ostberg; 2 Ogier +1.1s; 3 Hirvonen +9.6s; 4 Meeke +10.9s; 5 Latvala +16.3s; 6 Kubica +45.0s.
Confirmation that Tanak is out, he crashed early on SS3.
Latvala completes SS4 in 11m24s. He began the stage clinging on in fifth overall as he cleans the road for everyone else.
The Finn is perky.
"I felt good on this stage. This was the stage I felt best on today, so hopefully the time will be good."
Ogier is faster than his team-mate, but only by 0.3s.
That leaves the two remaining VWs (for those just joining us, Sweden hero Mikkelsen crashed out on SS3) 15s apart overall. Let's see where they stand as Ostberg, Hirvonen and Meeke come through.
Ostberg is flying, he completes the stage with the fastest time so far and brings his rally lead up to 6s over Ogier.
Here's Ostberg's verdict:
"It's a very good start. I'm very pleased. The pace is good, the car is working really well. So far, I'm on my target: to have fun. I'm really enjoying it and we're fast."
Update from the previous stage, brake problems now adding to Atkinson's woes. He's way down in 13th overall.
This is where we have our gap due to Mikkelsen shunting on the previous stage.
But if you're missing him, you could take these few minutes to learn more about his career...
After Mikkelsen's breakthrough podium in Sweden, DAVID EVANS recounted the tale of the VW number three's rise, fall and rise again:
The 'spoilt kid' who lost it all and came back
Meeke has made it through smoothly, but looks set to lose a little time to Hirvonen in their battle for third.
He certainly does, as Hirvonen is second quickest, so not only edges away from Meeke, but trims a little from the gap to Ogier.
Meeke falls from fourth to fifth provisionally, dropping back behind Latvala.
While up front, Ostberg leads Ogier by 6s, then it's another 6s gap back to Hirvonen in third.
Elfyn Evans continues his Mexican education with a time 16s off the pace. Should be safe enough for maintaining his seventh place overall.
Neuville is slowest so far, 25s down on Ostberg. The Belgian makes clear that this is just the pace the Hyundai wants to do right now
"I think I'm driving quite well... We have to due some adjustments so that the car feels more like I want it to."
He also reckons he had a slow puncture towards the end of that stage.
Ford privateer Martin Prokop doesn't get too many chances to battle with people, but Hyundai's lack of pace means he's in a tight fight with Neuville for eighth at the moment. Looks like he might fall back behind the i20 on this stage, though.
Next through will be Kubica, who was driving one-handed on the last stage as his hydraulic gearshift system finished.
Nope, the mid-stage splits were deceptive, Prokop actually extends his advantage over Neuville to 5s.
Kubica reports that his car is back to full health on this stage, though he's taking it easier after a near-miss on the previous stage. He's going to hold sixth place overall.
Next stage is just 10 minutes away, and it's very short indeed, then it's off to midday service.
1 Ostberg 11m18.2s; 2 Hirvonen +3.0s; 3 Ogier +5.5s; 4 Latvala +5.8s; 5 Meeke +14.3s; 6 Kubica +14.7s.
1 Ostberg; 2 Ogier +6.6s; 3 Hirvonen +12.6s; 4 Latvala +22.1s; 5 Meeke +25.2s; 6 Kubica +59.7s.
Big stories outside that lead order so far are that
out on SS3 while running second,
on the same stage while leading WRC2 and the
are a long way off the pace.
And big logistical news this year is that after being indoors in the poliforum in recent years, the service park is outdoors for 2014.
But AUTOSPORT is to wonder at the organisers' decision now.
The temperature is wandering up past the 30 degree mark and there's barely a breath of air. This time last year? Air conditioned in the teens.
Yes, it was noisy and there was always the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning, but the chances of skin cancer were far more remote. Isn't that what they call Hobson's choice?
More problems for Atkinson... He's got a broken wheel.
"It was on a long left corner, I felt something strange and thought it was a puncture, but it came so quickly. I guess an arm's broken or something. We didn't hit anything."
He reckons it's possible to fix but is concerned about the time that might take.
There aren't a lot of things that haven't broken on his car during these first four stages.
Atkinson lost another 1m18s on that stage.
The drivers are heading for SS5 in the Bicentennial Park, on the road from Leon to Guanajuato now. This short asphalt stage (1.5 miles) will be packed with local fans, running so close to big population centres.
The park itself is a place of culture and learning with a big exhibition about climate change running in the Pavilion of Tomorrow.
So, instead of doing tyre pressures, maybe the crews could pop along and see why it was so warm in Sweden last time out.
Latvala completes that short Bicentennial Park stage.
"It's been a decent morning, but it's not been easy. I'm not on vacation in my office here!
"But it should be a bit easier this afternoon.
"For sure I'm in a bit of a difficult position, but at least there will be a bit of a line."
He adds that "the privilege of being first car on the road is that you know there will be no rocks on the road", which won't be the case on the repeat runs later on.
Ogier is 0.4s quicker than Latvala and says the stage is "fun", although he doesn't sound totally convinced about that as he also adds "...a lot of hairpins".
Bit of drama for Ostberg - he loses 3.3s to Ogier, bringing his lead down to 3.3s.
"We forgot to take the radiator masks off," Ostberg confesses.
Those are put on between stages but need to come off when at competitive pace to avoid overheating the engine.
Meeke has now started the stage (he's about a minute in), and we'll have his time soon.
It's 2m26s for Meeke, so he shades Ostberg but is a little off the two VWs.
"Some parts are just so slippery, not cleaning at all," is Mexico debutant Meeke's verdict after that stage.
"I'm still not completely comfortable. Maybe we can pick it up a little bit."
Hirvonen's next through. He's quicker than Meeke and 2.0s slower than Ogier. That means he's slipped 11.3s behind the champion overall now.
In comes Elfyn Evans. He's slowest of all through so far, 6.4s down on Ogier.
"It's been an interesting morning, a lot to learn," says the M-Sport youngster. "We've not pushed too much, we just need to look at improving the technique and hopefully the speed will come with that."
Neuville brings the struggling Hyundai to the end of the stage. He admits that more changes are needed to boost performance, but he's only 3.5s slower than Ogier that time and beats Evans.
Prokop's in, and we just have Kubica, Guerra and Atkinson to go (of the main runners).
Prokop proks-up (that doesn't work) the timing screen now. He's slower than Evans by 0.3s, and Ogier by 6.7s.
Kubica through now. Overheating problem for the Pole but he thinks they can fix it. He's not sure though. "If I was a mechanic I'd know but I'm not even a rally driver, I'm a race driver!"
AUTOSPORT is now wondering whether or not Kubica can still claim to be a "race driver". He's a man of mud now, is he not?
Anyway, despite those issues, Kubica nipped in ahead of Evans and Prokop. He completed the stage in 2m27.5s.
Guerra's now done for the morning, and has a bit of a launch control issue. So Prokop's pushed up and the home favourite slots into 10th, 9.9s slower than Ogier.
Atkinson completes the morning's work for the main runners, and the Hyundai is well down – 17.1s slower than stage winner Ogier.
Atko's not ebullient, but that's unsurprising. It was "not the easiest morning I've ever had," he admits, "but we're still here so I'll keep trying".
1 Ogier 2m23.2s
2 Latvala +0.4s
3 Hirvonen +2.0s
4 Meeke +3.1s
5 Ostberg +3.3s
6 Neuville +3.5s
2 Ogier +3.3s
3 Hirvonen +11.3s
4 Latvala +19.2s
5 Meeke +25.0s
6 Kubica +1m00.6s
So, that's it for the morning loop. Here's SS5 in brief:
wins the stages to halve
* ...as the M-Sport man
radiator mask removal mistake
closes to within 20s of the lead
But if you want more info...
Our report after SS5 is live here
Race Centre Live will take a bit of a break from full-time rolling updates now, though our man DAVID EVANS may pop in with golden nuggets from the service park.
We'll return just before 8pm UK time for the start of SS6. See you then.
Typically detailed lunchtime chat with championship leader Jari-Matti Latvala. VW's Finn was very upbeat ahead of his plate of pasta, admitting he'd feared losing as much as 40 seconds while running first on the road this morning.
Rally leader Mads Ostberg explained his issue on the morning's final stage in more detail, telling AUTOSPORT: "Basically, Jonas [Andersson, co-driver] told me before we started the stage that he hadn't taken the plate out.
"I don't have experience of this with this car, so I took it steady - I didn't know what might happen if we pushed, but we didn't have any warning lights or anything like that."
Ostberg's six second lead was halved in the 1.5-mile dash around the Bicentennial Park.
M-Sport has fitted extra cooling to the hydraulic system on Robert Kubica's LOTOS-backed Fiesta RS WRC ahead of this afternoon's six stages.
Kubica was forced to drive 15 miles of the Chocolate stage using the car's back-up manual shift after the hydraulics overheated and stopped working this morning.
Among the other interesting service park stories was Kris Meeke's new role as a Citroen hooker. The Dungannon driver might not have the build of your average number two in a rugby team, but he was forced into the role when his headset came lose and dropped into his footwell in SS4.
"I was having to try and hook it out from behind the pedals," he said. "That was quite exciting at times."
He made it through, though and goes into the afternoon 25 seconds off the lead.
The afternoon is go. J-ML is on the road and into SS6.
The Los Mexicanos stage starts from just outside Guanajuato. Ogier was quickest through this morning, six tenths up on current rally leader Mads Ostberg.
Latvala's job as road-sweeper will be slightly easier this afternoon. Talking about the job ahead, the Finn said: "I will get more traction out of the corners and the braking sections will be a little bit cleaner, but in a lot of the corners I will still have to clean. The cars, especially the front-wheel drive cars which followed us through this morning take a different line and cover the road with loose gravel again."
Ogier into the stage, but no first split for him yet.
Latvala through in 7m37.6s.
Latvala very upbeat at the end of the stage - despite almost spinning.
"It was easier this afternoon, there was a lot more grip," he said, "but there were some soft sections as well. We almost had a spin at a hairpin where we caught some soft ground on the inside of the corner."
Ogier 3.9 quicker - making three seconds in the final split. Great finish to the stage for the champion.
Ogier breaks the stage record in SS6 - and he could have been quicker.
"We almost spun at the first hairpin," said the Frenchman. "I lost at least two seconds there. After that it was a good stage."
Ostberg's lead won to 1.2 seconds after he drops time to Ogier in SS6.
Ostberg admits he could have pushed harder in a couple of places in Los Mexicanos.
Hirvonen fastest at the first split 0.5s up on everybody.
Meeke completes the stages 5.8s down on Ogier's scratch, but 5.5 up on his first run through the stage this morning.
"I'm happy with that," says the driver who's not interested in the times - while staring intently at the times at the stage end...
Hirvonen just 0.2s down on Ogier's fastest second split time. Can the Finn win the stage?
No. He drops a bit in the final split. Third quickest.
Quick leaderboard update: 1 Ostberg; 2 Ogier +1.2s; 3 Hirvonen +11.7s; 4 Latvala +21.0s; 5 Meeke 28.7s.
Elfyn Evans through the stage.
"There was a lot more grip in there this time," he said, "but I've still got some work to do."
Evans was 8.4 down on Ogier's fastest time.
Neuville comparatively quicker second time through Los Mexicanos - 14 down on the fastest this morning, he was only nine slower second time through.
Kubica through and reporting no problems with the hydraulic shift, but as he points out - it was in the long stage which follows where the drama came this morning.
And that long one is just minutes away...
Actually, why wait a couple of minutes - Latvala's into SS7.
Fri 20:39 SS6 results:
1 Ogier 7m33.7s
2 Ostberg +2.1s
3 Hirvonen +2.5s
4 Latvala +3.9s
5 Meeke +5.8s
6 Evans +8.4s
2 Ogier +1.2s
3 Hirvonen +11.7s
4 Latvala +21.0s
5 Meeke +28.7s
6 Kubica +1m11.2s
Ogier in to SS7 and Ostberg under the lights... and go!
No first split for Latvala in SS7. Meanwhile in SS6, Atko gets through without any problems. That's a first for the chipper Queenslander.
Probably should have mentioned, there is a second split for Latvala in SS7 - so Finnish fans can stop holding their breath.
And Atko update... WRC Live reporter Colin Clark is reporting a 40cm trail of oil left by the i20 WRC.
"More than a thimble, less than a cup," was the Scot's deeply informative and engineering-based explanation.
Splits being a bit rubbish through the first part of SS7. Have Latvala at third split, but that's about all from the five cars into the stage.
It's hard to get much of an impression with quite a few split times not being transmitted, but we have seen some good times from Meeke on El Chocolate as he tries to come back at Latvala for fourth.
Meeke's certainly not flustered by long stages such as this one. When he was squeezed out of the WRC after the Prodrive/Mini deal collapse a couple of years ago, one of the ways he kept busy was contesting the Baja 1000 (which included just one stage… of 1,121 miles) on a motorbike on his own in 2012. Meeke finished the Mexican event in 40 hours and 18th in class.
"I love those longer stages and when you've done the Baja, 55km [the longest Mexican stage] is just a bit of a blip!" joked Meeke.
"Definitely it'll take its toll when it's 30 degrees and above outside and we're going to be going flat-out in the car for 35 or 40 minutes at a time, but this is why we put in all the hardwork, this is what it's all about."
Still good pace coming through from Meeke, who is a couple of seconds faster than his rally-leading Citroen team-mate Ostberg at split three.
Also on the Race Centre Live schedule for this weekend is round three of the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Las Vegas.
Carl Edwards has just gone fastest in opening practice, ahead of Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr was fourth despite a mild smack of the wall, while there was more bad luck for Martin Truex Jr, whose Furniture Row Chevrolet dumped a large amount of oil on the track as it erupted in a cloud of smoke early on.
Still not a single split for Ogier through El Chocolate. Latvala into the final sector of the stage though.
Meeke eight up on Latvala at split five, just over halfway in - but all a bit pointless when we don't know how fast the champ's travelling...
Latvala has made it through.
"It felt alright, but the stage was still quite slippery," he reports.
"I think it was a similar speed to this morning."
Asked if he still thinks he can fight for the win, Latvala replies: "it's looking a little bit less realistic now I'm losing more time..."
He remains the slowest of the first batch of cars on the splits, as you'd expect for the man getting the worst of the loose gravel.
Despite the timing system failing to provide any of his splits, we can confirm that Ogier was on the stage and has indeed finished it.
Not a clue what his time was yet, though...
Rally leader Ostberg completes the stage - and he's not at all happy.
"Not so perfect. I struggled a little bit on the stage, with a lot of oversteer. Disappointed. I thought at the start it was going to be a long stage... and it was."
If the times listed at the stage end are correct, Ostberg has lost a massive 17s to Ogier and the rally lead.
Meeke finishes the stage 7s slower than Ogier and 10s quicker than Ostberg.
"I got into a really good rhythm. To see '10 up' on Ogier, '10 up' on Ostberg is quite nice. It was comfortable."
Next up will be Hirvonen. This happened to one of Mikko's tyres at the start of SS3.
Hirvonen then drove the remainder of the monster Chocolate stage and the two following tests after puncturing his only spare on the day's opener.
Hirvonen doesn't stop to talk to the media at the end of that stage - which is highly unusual. Problems? Hard to tell with no timing information right now.
Hirvonen's time is now in and it's 11s down on Ogier. Not perfect but not terrible, so no obvious problem there.
With some results finally trickling in, we can confirm that it's Ogier leading the rally again, 13.7s ahead of Ostberg after that poor time for the Citroen man.
But while one Citroen loses ground, the other is flying. Meeke has taken fourth back from Latvala.
Kubica is sixth quickest, just behind Latvala.
"It's all good, after service everything is working," says Kubica, who had problems with his hydraulic gearshift system earlier.
A better afternoon for Hyundai so far. Neuville has pulled clear of Prokop after their earlier battle for eighth, and Atkinson's car is actually working.
1 Ogier 29m29.0s; 2 Meeke +7.8s; 3 Hirvonen +14.9s; 4 Ostberg +14.9s; 5 Latvala +17.9s; 6 Kubica +25.9s.
1 Ogier; 2 Ostberg +13.7s; 3 Hirvonen +21.8s; 4 Meeke +35.3s; 5 Latvala +37.7s; 6 Kubica +1m35.9s
SS8 is now live, Latvala is onto Las Minas.
Leon is famed for its shoe making, which probably explains why this oversized boot was found in the Poliforum next to service. Not sure about the anti-car sign though...
Latvala is at the finish.
"To be honest, the long stage was really difficult. It was slightly better than this morning but still surprisingly slippery and I really had to work hard over there.
"But now on this third stage, this is what I like. I hope we will have a good time on this stage."
He went onto Las Minas in fifth overall, just behind Meeke.
Ogier is 3s quicker than Latvala and generally relaxed, saying with a lower temperature on Las Minas it was an easier stage than El Chocolate.
Again we're pretty short on split times info, but what we can see is not good news for Ostberg, who is set to lose more time to Ogier.
Ostberg comes through and has dropped another 3s to Ogier.
"For sure we are not so perfect on the second pass. It looked really good on the first pass, we were a bit concerned for the second, and it's not bad but it's not where we want to be."
Ogier's lead is up to 16s, and Ostberg could come under threat from Hirvonen for second now.
No he won't, because Hirvonen is in trouble - M-Sport reports he's stopped with an electrical problem.
The Finn had been holding third place, 5.1s down on Meeke and closing in.
And another shake-up in the order on the way... split times suggest trouble for Meeke and a one-minute time loss.
We know better than to always trust the split times, but the clock is ticking and no sign of the Citroen yet.
Meeke has now come to a halt on the stage.
This is going to elevate Latvala to third and Kubica to fourth.
Here's a man that
still running: Elfyn Evans finishes the stage.
Evans says from what he could see both Meeke and Hirvonen were parked with mechanical problems. M-Sport has confirmed it was an electrical issue for Hirvonen.
"Kris has stopped, Mikko's stopped as well. It's a tricky rally and it obviously bites."
Neuville comes through without problems, he'll be up to sixth now.
"I'm really pleased with myself so far," he says, "I'm doing really well.
"We know that we're not at the pace of the others so we can't do any more, we just have to give the information to the engineers so they can work on it."
Here's an update on Meeke: it's a damaged suspension arm.
Kubica is in and confirms the gear problem from earlier has eased. It's impressive from the Pole, 11m14.8s, and he's fourth quickest and now fourth overall too.
"It's enjoyable but very, very difficult," he says. "I would really like to finish this rally."
M-Sport probably would too...
Prokop before Kubica came through in 11m32.0s, but it seems the WRC timing system is a little behind its drivers. Guerra and Atkinson are both through.
Guerra slots in behind Prokop, and is philosophical as his learning experience continues.
"I'm doing better but other drivers are doing better," he muses. "I think the rally's getting very rough. I need to stay focused and learn how to drive the car.
"Today I want to stay on the road. It's very easy to go off."
He's not wrong, as Kris Meeke will testify.
1 Ogier 11m06.1s
2 Latvala +3.1s
4 Kubica +8.7s
5 Neuville +11.4s
6 Evans +19.6s
1 Ogier 1h40m36.7s
2 Ostberg +20.6s
3 Latvala +40.8s
4 Kubica +1m44.6s
5 Evans +2m17.5s
6 Neuville +2m27.0s
So, if you're joining late, here are the big stories on SS7/8:
as the latter
struggles on SS7
drop out on
suspension arm damage
move into the
And on to SS9 we go. Race Centre Live will cease for the day after that, but there's plenty to get through first.
Latvala gets SS9 out of the way quickly, and he's pretty happy with his work so far - 2m22.2s for the Sweden winner.
Ogier's point is clear as he finishes the stage, 0.5s slower than his team-mate: "The rally is very long."
It may be, Sebastien, but your lead is rather healthy. Latvala will need to take more than half a second out of the champion if he's to overhaul him.
That'd be a spectacular couple of days if he did, mind.
"It's not been difficult it's just not been perfect," reflects Ostberg as he comes through 3.0s slower than Latvala and falls to 23.1s behind Ogier. "To be honest I am quite happy with what I've done so far."
Can he beat Ogier or is he defending from Latvala?
"It depends what we can do," is his coy reply.
Coming through soon will be Kubica, who will no doubt be delighted with his running at the moment - particularly as M-Sport looks like to have solved that pesky hydraulics issue.
The ex-F1 driver explained to David Evans earlier the impact the issue was having on his rally:
"I have been at 70 per cent sometimes this morning. The conditions are tough anyway, but especially for me when I have the limitation with my arm. And, if you obligate me to put my hand on the gear lever and use only one hand then it’s even harder.
"It was not such a nice moment when the problem came this morning – I was downshifting and the car wouldn’t shift down. We almost went off.”
There is a trio of drivers due before Kubica, though - and the first of them (Elfyn Evans) is on the stage now.
Meeke and Hirvonen's absence is very noticeable on the timing screen, with two big gaps on the split times.
It's a shame for both, not least the former who - on his Mexico debut - was set to inherit third following the latter's electrical problem.
Meeke, in his first time competing on Mexico's high-altitude stages, will have added reason to be disappointed with his incident.
He had hoped, despite his inexperience, his experience of Super 2000 rallying would help him. And it was, for a while...
"I was talking to Sebastien Ogier in Sweden about Mexico," said Meeke.
"He told me it was like driving a Super 2000 car because of the altitude. If that's the case, I have pretty good experience of that!"
Meeke won his 2009 IRC title at the wheel of a naturally-aspirated Peugeot 207 S2000.
Evans is in, by the way, and is 5.2.s slower than stage leader Latvala.
Neuville gets in between the VWs and Ostberg, just 2.8s slower than Latvala.
The Hyundai has definitely found some pace -
despite the team's fears
to the contrary before the event.
Prokop is through, 0.3s slower than Evans.
"It's going OK," says Kubica as he comes in in 2m24.9s, and third quickest. "I would be happy to keep this pace. It's quite difficult to approach these stages for the first time. I think the pace is good.
"We have to stay on the road. Otherwise the learning process will not be there."
1 Latvala 2m22.2s
2 Ogier +0.5s
3 Kubica +2.7s
4 Neuville +2.8s
5 Ostberg +3.0s
6 Evans +5.2s
1 Ogier 1h42m59.4s
2 Ostberg +23.1s
3 Latvala +40.3s
4 Kubica +1m46.8s
5 Evans +2m22.2s
6 Neuville +2m29.3s
So, that's that for AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live's Friday coverage of Rally Mexico.
The afternoon report will be live on AUTOSPORT.com in just over an hour's time - after the day's final two superspecials - and we will be back with live updates of the resumption of the event from 3pm UK time tomorrow.
We'll leave you with the biggest storylines of that short SS9 blast, which were:
by half a second, but the Frenchman has a strong lead as
loses more time
holds comfortable fourth after being beaten
only by VWs
closes in on
for fifth for
Hello and welcome back to live coverage of Rally Mexico. Action resumes on SS12 in about half an hour – will we have another breathless day of action?
Friday's running provided plenty of talking points – and here's a look at the biggest ones:
led after the morning for Citroen but Volkswagen's
fought back with a
quartet of stage wins
to hold a 26.1s lead
suffered a mechanical problem before
on a dramatic afternoon
* Chaos around them elevated
Evans, Neuville and Prokop
Of course, if you want more, then you'll love our full report from yesterday:
Ogier leads after chaotic first day
Despite his roll, Kubica's not been classified as a retiree. He did attempt to take part in the final superspecial but was stopped and given a standard +2m30s time.
So while he's now almost seven minutes off the lead, he's still in the running for points. In fact, he's still ninth - very close to Chris Atkinson's Hyundai and not a million miles away from the top six (such has been the Rally Mexico drama thus far).
Speaking of Atkinson – who was the subject of some possible new-haircut gossip on Thursday (no, really) – he is today’s sacrificial lamb running at the front of the field in his Hyundau i20 WRC.
The Australian will be hoping for a better day than yesterday, when he suffered a multitude of problems on his debut with the Korean manufacturer.
And here’s the full running order for day two: Atkinson; Benito Guerra; Martin Prokop; Thierry Neuville; Elfyn Evans; Robert Kubica; Jari-Matti Latvala; Mads Ostberg; Sebastien Ogier; Andreas Mikkelsen; Kris Meeke and Mikko Hirvonen.
Don’t forget, the retirements from WRC now run at the back of the World Rally Car pack.
On that last point, AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live quizzed man-on-the-ground DAVID EVANS about the likelihood of there being more retirements today.
Actually, it was a bit cheekier than that.
"Is anyone going to finish?"
"Er, no. I reckon me and my hire car could be on for some points if I ditch the laptop and head for the hills!"
One man who isn't so jovial about the attrition rate in Mexico is Citroen's Kris Meeke.
It was a gutting SS8 incident for Meeke that robbed him of what was about to become third place overall, though Citroen boss Yves Matton said he would return under Rally 2 rules.
"My strategy was pretty much the same as in Sweden," said Meeke. "I drove at my own pace without worrying too much about the times the other drivers were setting.
"On some stages, I was fairly comfortable although there was a lot of dust. The roads were also very slippery.
"On SS8, we hit a rock on a bend. The suspension arm broke. We tried to continue but we decided it was better to stop so that we could rejoin tomorrow in better shape.
Oh, and for those of you wondering about the weather – wonder no more…RAIN!
Just kidding. It’s glorious sunshine and looking like being another scorcher in the mountains around Leon.
As you may well be aware, today is International Women's Day – and that's not being ignored on Rally Mexico.
The First Lady of WRC Live Rebecca Williams has just tweeted this snap:
: "A Mexican wave for #Internationaldayforwomen with all the ladies of the @OfficialWRC @RallyMexico #FIA #WRC"
Right, back to the rallying. There is plenty to look out for when running resumes in just a few minutes time on the first running of the 30km test that is Ibarrilla.
Incidentally, this is the second-longest stage of the rally so far – but only the third-longest we'll see used today!
Rally Mexico's about to get even tougher...
There's absolutely no way that Sebastien Ogier can relax – despite holding a 26.1s lead over Mads Ostberg.
Yes, Ostberg is more likely to be focusing on the VW behind him than the one in front, but this rally will bite you if you underestimate it.
Just ask Mikkelsen, Hirvonen, Meeke or Kubica...
Here's what Ogier had to say yesterday (note the I-can't-afford-to-take-it-easy rhetoric):
“The day went much better than expected. The gravel is extremely slippery, plus it is very hot in the cockpit – it is very easy to make mistakes.
"First place is more than we could possibly have expected, and puts us in a great position to win here again.
"However, I think we will have an exciting battle with Mads Ostberg and my team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala from now on."
We were expecting a 15:28 (GMT) start time but that might be a little bit delayed.
Here we go! The longest day of Rally Mexico – seven stages totalling 170km – has begun. Atkinson is on Ibarrilla.
Atkinson's through the first split in 2m42.5s. How good is that? We have no idea. But he's through, which is promising – Hyundai might score its first points of the season if he and Neuville avoid any serious drama...though there's a long way to go yet!
Guerra, Prokop and Neuville have made it four cars on the stage.
Lots happening on the stage now – Atko's not yet completed it but is on the verge of doing so after clicking past the fifth split.
Latvala's on the stage now and absolutely flying – he's considerably quicker than Kubica and Neuville at the first split.
Incidentally, Evans – who is locked in a battle for fifth with Hyundai's Neuville – is also running strongly. He's slightly quicker than the man he replaced at M-Sport after the first two splits.
We have had our first times. Atkinson and Guerra are both through, with the former doing so in 18m42.9s.
The Mexican is 3.5s slower.
Latvala is storming through this stage. He's 10s quicker than Kubica at the second split, and Ostberg can't keep up either.
Could the Finn be about to take a chunk out of the Norwegian's advantage in the battle for second?
Prokop comes through and beats Atkinson's early benchmark. But then Neuville's 18m26.1s totally blitzes the Ford privateer.
There's the quickest time so far, and it's 18m24.6s for Evans. Good job from the M-Sport man.
However, Kubica is about to come through...and this might knock Evans down to second.
Yep, the Pole goes 2.5s quicker than Evans. Latvala is still flying, with Ostberg about 3s adrift...though Ogier is probably going to outpace the pair of them with a blinding first couple of splits!
Wow, great effort from Latvala. 17m48.8s. But Ostberg and Ogier are still to come – and Mikkelsen is also looking quick.
Drama for Ostberg! Looks like the left-rear suspension is damaged. Is that his rally over? Certainly his victory bid is in tatters...
Confirmation from Ostberg that somewhere he's "hit the bank on the outside quite hard".
He's through 10.6s slower than Latvala. That means there is just 6s between them – but will Ostberg be able to continue?
The two VWs, Kris Meeke and Mikko Hirvonen are the remaining World Rally Cars to come.
Ogier is in, 17m44.3s. Quickest so far. There's some gravel in the left-rear. A moment?
"Slightly, but it's nothing," he says when asked if he ran wide into a bank. Certainly nowhere near as concerning as Ostberg's off...
Ostberg has suffered a broken left-rear upright. What can he do? Is there a short-term fix?
In comes Mikkelsen and it's a strong run for the Rally Sweden podium finisher. 17m55.2s, only Ogier and Latvala are quicker.
Meeke completes his stage. He ends up sixth quickest, as Hirvonen finishes his run shortly afterwards and falls just 0.3s short of breaking the VW 1-2-3.
Still, it's fourth for the M-Sport man. What could have been if not for that mechanical issue...
1 Ogier 17m44.3s
2 Latvala +4.5s
3 Mikkelsen +10.9s
4 Hirvonen +11.2s
5 Ostberg +15.1s
6 Meeke +27.2s
1 Ogier 2h04m09.6s
2 Ostberg +41.2s
3 Latvala +47.0s
4 Evans +3m09.0s
5 Neuville +3m12.0s
6 Prokop +4m28.2s
Kubica jumped Atkinson for eighth after that stage, incidentally.
Ostberg will continue! He and co-driver Jonas Andersson have made a "Viking fix" to their hobbled DS3. They are staying positive, but you fear for them – there's a 53.69km stage until they get to service!
That was a storming effort from Hirvonen on that last stage to nearly break the VW stranglehold.
DAVID EVANS reports that after the issue yesterday that dropped Hirvonen out of podium contention, Malcolm Wilson has given him a free reign to push the Fiesta RS WRC to the limit through today's stages.
"Mikko did a great job yesterday and I'm sorry we let him down, but I want to see him carry on from where he left off," said Wilson.
"I want to see more good stages times from them. I've told Mikko not to worry about the car, just get out there and push."
A little WRC2 update. Tanak, Fuchs and Protasov are through (listed there in pace order) – with the latter still running 10th overall! Worse news for Bertelli, though. It sounds like he's rolled.
Ostberg-watch. That repair job was the result of cable ties and ratchet straps.
Would you trust that to hold for 53km?
That issue for Bertelli is good news for Protasov. He may be 10th overall but he's suffering at the moment. With this mammoth stage approaching, he's got no power steering (and brake issues to boot)...
Almost ready for SS13. Have we made it clear how long this stage is? Very, very is the answer.
Will Ogier's serene progress continue? Will Ostberg's viking fix hold? Will Evans fend off Neuville in the battle for fourth?
I'd say we'll know soon...but we'll know in 53km!
We're just waiting for the stage to start, so apologies for the silence...
While we wait, here's a timely message from DAVID EVANS as the crews move into the event's longest stage so far.
Jari-Matti Latvala has told AUTOSPORT that he was worried about the engine temperature from his Polo R WRC on the second run through El Chocolate yesterday.
"To be honest, I was having engine temperature a little bit too high. The engine management looks after itself, reducing the response and the power, but for some sections in the long stage I was a bit worried, to be honest.
"The engine was getting very hot for long sections where it was twisty - you know in some of the hairpins it felt like you couldn't get out there. But once we get into the faster sections then it comes back, the response and the power - once it cools again."
Maybe if another VW hits engine troubles we could have more of an interesting lead fight. Though we'd never wish that on anyone.
More from Latvala on the possibility of engine issue on this stage specifically.
"It should be fine on the longest stage of the rally on Sunday - yes that's long, but it's also early in the morning, so it will be cooler conditions.
"Maybe there is a chance this afternoon that we might face a little bit of a problem, but I think yesterday in Chocolate was the worst."
Otates, bring it on. Atkinson is on stage.
If you're just joining us, here's what happened on the previous stage:
extended his lead to a massive 41.2s after
hit a bank and
broke the left-rear upright
closed to just 5.8s behind
, who is now running with a "
" of cable ties and ratchet straps
adds a second to his small buffer over
in the battle for
as his recovery from
Back to SS13 and some split info: Guerra is slower than Atkinson after the first two of nine splits, with Prokop a fraction quicker and Neuville (unsurprisingly) blitzing the lot.
Atkinson took to the stage about 15 minutes ago now, and thereafter drivers are starting at three-minute intervals. This one will run for another hour or so we reckon.
Evans hasn't been able to match Neuville at the first split. Could there be a change for fourth on the cards?
M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson's advice to Evans was a bit different to his "just go for it" tip for Hirvonen.
"I've asked him to keep an eye on Thierry, but if it gets a bit ragged then let him go and settle for fifth."
Race Centre Live would be shocked – shocked! – if Ostberg retains second after this stage. He's missed his official starting time for Otates, so will pick up a time penalty now as well...
To be fair, he'll do well to still be in the rally. Viking fix – it's a thing.
If Neuville keeps this pace up, he'll move into fourth overall. Not bad for a car that's supposed to be
well off the pace
Hey, that's the team boss's words – not ours.
Latvala's making good progress on stage, and the good news doesn't stop there for the Finn. Ostberg still hasn't made it to the stage start...
The reason for Ostberg stopping on the road section? He's had to remove left-rear driveshaft...something that involves bleeding the brake system.
No surprise that added a lengthy delay to his Otates start. It's proving tough already for the viking – and there's STILL that 53km stage to come yet!
Fair play to Evans, who is only 4s slower than Neuville after a quartet of splits. He looks certain to drop out of fourth, but as long as he keeps it on the road there's no doubt he and M-Sport will be thrilled.
Earlier, he told DAVID EVANS that on the longer stuff, gaining experience had to come before gaining big points. The rest, he reckons, will come in time...
"It is going to be tough, especially when some of the rocks start being pulled out. But, for me, it’s all about the personal development and seeing how much quicker I can get as the event passes.”
Has Mikkelsen stopped on the stage? Weirdly, it's Ogier not showing up on our timescreen. But it doesn't appear to be the champion who is in trouble.
The other VW, meanwhile, is flying – 14s quicker than Neuville after three splits!
After half a dozen split just down on Atkinson, Guerra's picked it up and looks like he might be about to go quicker. Though even Atko is several km from the stage end, so anything could happen!
Uh-oh, Kubica's had a moment. He's continued, but has lost a fair chunk of time – about 15s we think.
Meeke's just passed Mikkelsen on the stage, so the VW has definitely halted.
Atkinson is in! 38m38.2s is the first time on Otates. Now, where're the rest?
All World Rally Cars apart from Ostberg are showing up on the splits now. Has he made it to the start?
Guerra, meanwhile, is about to outpace Atkinson considerably. Strong end to the stage for the Mexican.
Ogier and Latvala look like they're neck-and-neck on time. Just 0.1s between them after the third split!
Atkinson bemoans the disability that is running first today: "The last half of the stage was so loose, it was ridiculous. Some places were like ice, you just can't push at all."
Ouch, Mikkelsen rolled out. He cut a corner and over it went. He's out and VW are off to collect the car. He's OK, as is his co-driver.
Guerra goes quickest, 14.4s faster than Atkinson.
Finally, good news for Ostberg. He's ready to begin the stage!
Prokop is through and takes 16.5s off Guerra, but Neuville's also in...and this will be much, much quicker.
Stunning from Neuville. He could go third here! 37m19.7s for the Hyundai man.
Oh, Kubica! He's rolled out again! Both driver and co-driver are OK but what a nightmare for the Pole.
Evans comes through 14.1s slower than Neuville, so he's fallen behind him – but could still be fourth after Ostberg runs.
Neuville impressive, but we're about to see the difference between a promising new car and a refined, championship-winning one. Latvala's flying.
Evans mentions the word "confidence" after that run, and that's what these events are all about for the young Welshman. The fact he's running at all while more experienced drivers are shunting is a testimony to his intelligence.
Seems Ostberg has been delayed again. He's still not started the stage.
Could that be it for Ostberg? It's been half an hour since he was first supposed to enter the stage...and that's the official time limit up.
In comes the mega-quick Jari-Matti. 36m42.1s – great effort. Ogier is about a second off that with a couple of splits to go. Superb battle between these two.
Intermittent splits from Ogier so we can't give you the full details of that battle.
Doesn't look like Mikkelsen and Kubica will return today.
Great end to the stage for Ogier yields a 36m40.1s – 2s quicker than team-mate Latvala. There's no letting up here for the Frenchman.
We've got Meeke and Hirvonen to finish before we can give a proper overview of that incredible stage, so bear with us while we wait for the Rally 2 regulation runners.
Meeke and Hirvonen are in, in fifth and third respectively.
1 Ogier 36m40.1s
2 Latvala +2.0s
3 Hirvonen +17.6s
4 Neuville +39.6s
5 Meeke +41.3s
6 Evans +53.7s
1 Ogier 2h40m49.7s
2 Latvala +49.0s
3 Neuville +3m51.6s
4 Evans +4m02.7s
5 Prokop +5m55.4s
6 Guerra +7m51.8s
So, the biggest mover there is Neuville, up to third, with Guerra now sixth on his home rally!
Report from a dramatic couple of Saturday stages to come shortly. Stay tuned.
Right, you can breathe again! Struggling to digest all that excitement from SS12/13? This should help – it's our Saturday morning report:
Ogier leads, Ostberg out as Neuville goes third
Race Centre Live is going into service hibernation now. SS14 is scheduled to start at 20:19 GMT, so we'll resume full coverage at 20:00.
Thanks for joining us for the first two Saturday stages – but there's a lot to look forward to still. We'll see you again shortly.
Hello and welcome back to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live's continued coverage of Saturday's running on Rally Mexico.
The second running of the 30.33km Ibarrilla stage awaits in about 10 minutes time. And there's plenty for us to be excited about.
So if you're just joining us, here's what happened:
* Sebastien Ogier stormed into a
with VW team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala now his
* Mads Ostberg
hit a bank
, broke his Citroen's left-rear upright and was
of the rally
* Thierry Neuville assumed
with Hyundai chasing its
* Elfyn Evans in
but M-Sport team-mate Robert Kubica
rolled out again
- as did
The full report is available by the link just below the picture of Ogier doing his thing.
We are underway on Ibarrilla.
Just to keep you up to speed, the running order is now: Atkinson; Guerra; Prokop; Neuville; Evans; Latvala; Ogier; Meeke; Hirvonen.
We've obviously Ostberg, Kubica and Mikkelsen, none of whom will reappear before tomorrow under Rally 2 rules.
Atkinson, meanwhile, is through the first split in 2m39.4s.
Looks like Atko's woes regarding running first will not stop just yet. Guerra, Prokop and Neuville are all quicker at the first split.
Evans and Latvala are both on the stage too.
Atko's in: "Bit better but the line's not great," he says. "I struggled to find a good rhythm and push but it's not too much of a problem.
"I think we're making a lot of steps forward. I think it could be better during the longer stages but we'll have to wait and see."
Atkinson's time is 18m15.6s. That's almost 30s quicker than on the first run.
Guerra's through to the end. He's happy, "feels more comfortable" and is looking to consolidate a shock top six finish.
"It's a little bit tricky but I think we improved a lot. We have to be fast, we have to keep sixth position so we can get a big smile [for] the sponsors!"
Guerra is 1.9s slower than Atkinson, and now Prokop's in as well. We're just waiting for a time. Neuville's also reached the stage end.
Prokop's time is 18m10.2s. Neuville, struggling a little bit with brakes and grip, beats that comfortably - by 20.8s.
"I lose the rear quite a lot, the tyres get too warm and it was moving like hell. I tried to do my best."
Evans is happier. "There was definitely more grip. It was an OK run, there was no drama. I think we have to do our best and if it's not [good enough], it's not."
He's keen not to do anything silly here, despite a podium being tantalisingly close. He loses just a second to Neuville there.
Latvala through, and he's also in a good mood - but doesn't think beating Ogier is on right now.
"It was still quite slippery but on the fast section I had a good feeling - but no risks. The only thing we can do at the moment is keep going with the same speed. We cannot catch Ogier."
Latvala beats Neuville's time by 15.9s there, so Ogier's time to beat is now 17m33.5s.
Ogier does beat that time - 17m30s, 3.5s quicker than his team-mate. It's all going smoothly for the Frenchman - well, apart from a minor incident with a rock.
"It's a nice stage. The grip is quite high now. Good fun, there was a rock in the line and I couldn't avoid it so I hit it, that's a tricky part of the rally."
Just the Rally 2 runners to go now of the main guys, and that's Meeke and Hirvonen.
Having said that, we do need to keep an eye on Yuriy Protasov, the WRC2 leader who is in the top 10 overall!
Meeke's not taking any chances now after that unfortunate incident yesterday, but he's still through quicker than Neuville and Evans. Only the VWs beat him.
Hirvonen knocks Meeke down a place, though. He's 6.3s slower than Ogier and goes third, 2.6s quicker than Meeke.
1 Ogier 17m30.0s
2 Latvala +3.5s
3 Hirvonen +6.3s
4 Meeke +8.9s
5 Neuville +19.4s
6 Evans +20.6s
1 Ogier 2h58m19.7s
2 Latvala +52.5s
3 Neuville +4m11.0s
4 Evans +4m23.3s
5 Prokop +6m35.6s
6 Guerra +8m39.3s
So, how long before Hirvonen and Meeke (the latter about 55s behind the former) overhaul Protasov?
Hirvonen took roughly 1m20s out of the WRC2 leader on that one stage (admittedly a bit of a long one). That's halved the gap already.
From Mexico, mud and four wheels to Qatar, tarmac and two wheels: Alvaro Bautista has topped the second day of MotoGP testing at Losail.
Bautista tops second day in Qatar
About 20 minutes until the start of Otatitos - and this will be another long one, 43.06km to be precise.
This seems like a good chance to tell you about our coverage plan for the rest of Saturday's action, and also Sunday as well.
We will continue to bring you live, as-it-happens coverage on Race Centre Live until the culmination of SS16 (which will probably be around 23.45 GMT). If you're a hardy WRC type, we'll have a report of the day's action after the SS17/18 superspecials just over an hour later.
Then we'll back tomorrow at 14:30 GMT primed and ready to cover what we hope - and expect - will be a fraught end to an incredibly dramatic rally.
Of course, it doesn't just end there. We'll also be bringing you live coverage of the
NASCAR Sprint Cup
race from Las Vegas. Viva Race Centre Live, eh?
Las Vegas NASCAR
, here's a quick recap of Friday night's qualifying session, just in case you missed.
A new lap record from Joey Logano secured him pole position for the third round of the Sprint Cup season. Brad Keselowski made it an all-Penske front row.
For a bit more information, including the full qualifying result, click below:
Logano on pole with new lap record
In case you're wondering about Otatitos - yes, it is Otates-lite.
Atkinson should be taking to the stage in a minute or two. SS14 was surprisingly calm after what we've experienced so far...
What is rather frustrating with WRC timing is not quite being able to tell whether or not the stage has started.
The other option is to utilise the AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live conch shell. No matter where he is in the world, DAVID EVANS will always immediately respond upon hearing its sound.
Actually, it's usually a text or an e-mail that prompts a reply from our man-on-the-ground.
But the idea of a specialised conch shell is pretty cool.
While we were talking/dreaming about AUTOSPORT conch shells, the stage started...Atkinson's kicked things off.
Guerra's a whopping 0.1s quicker than Atko through the first split.
Ace WRC snapper Colin McMaster caught DAVID EVANS in the act! No, not that, he's been papped interviewing Elfyn Evans...in a service park toilet!
Well, maybe not literally. But if you follow
on Twitter, you can see our man interrogating the M-Sport star...who is standing worryingly closer to the women's door than the men's...
No massive updates to bring you at the moment as the drivers make their way through/on to SS15. Prokop, Neuville, Evans and Latvala have joined Atkinson and Guerra on the partial repeat of Otates.
Guerra's slower that Atkinson through the latest splits, Prokop's a fair way quicker.
Neuville is pulling clear of Evans while Latvala and Ogier are typically close.
Meeke, growing with confidence as he gains experience on Rally Mexico, has just matched Latvala's time at the first split!
At the second split, Meeke's just a few tenths shy of the second VW. This is an impressive run from the Citroen man.
Huge pessimism from Atkinson after that stage. 31m51.9s for the Hyundai man.
"I thought it was a bit worse than this morning," he says, and reveals they tweaked the set-up to a negative effect. "I couldn't push at all, it was just too dangerous for me to take any risks."
Neuville is streaking clear of Evans now, and is going to put at least another 10s between himself and the Welshman on this stage.
Meanwhile, Guerra's in - and has hit a tree. No lasting damage, other than to the aesthetics of his M-Sport Ford.
Prokop's through, significantly quicker than either Atkinson or Guerra. 31m.39.7s is 24.8s faster than the Mexican manages.
We've not featured it thus far, but you could probably identify Guerra's car in a line-up...
Latvala in, almost a minute quicker than Prokop. The Belgian completes the stage in 30m37.0s as he edges ever-closer to a podium - and what would be the new Hyundai's first points finish as well.
Evans is about 14s down.
Latvala's yo-yoed on this stage quite a lot. He was a few seconds down on Ogier, then clawed it back to 0.8s, but is now further away from his team-mate again.
Meanwhile, Meeke is holding steady just a few seconds behind Latvala - though Hirvonen's picked up his pace and could beat the Citroen man to best-of-the-rest honours on this stage.
Evans loses a lot of time to Neuville, he's 24s slower in the end.
Latvala reiterates the point that this stage seems to be more difficult second time around. 30m23.5s though is still the fastest time through so far.
"To be honest it was really slippy. It was more difficult to find the grip, the grip level was changing a lot."
Ogier finishes the stage and duly knocks his team-mate off top spot, completing the stage in 30m19.9s.
That's 40 stage wins for the season for Volkswagen, and Ogier's fourth in a row. He's on a roll!
Hirvonen does indeed beat Meeke - by 6s - with the VWs again proving too strong for either Ford or Citroen.
1 Ogier 30m19.8s
2 Latvala +3.7s
3 Hirvonen +10.4s
4 Meeke +16.4s
5 Neuville +17.2s
6 Evans +45.1s
1 Ogier 3h28m39.5s
2 Latvala +56.2s
3 Neuville +4m28.2s
4 Evans +5m08.4s
5 Prokop +7m45.5s
6 Guerra +10m14.0s
inconceivable for Hirvonen/Meeke to overhaul the likes of Atkinson and Guerra.
They should both overhaul Protasov's R5 Fiesta on this stage.
Hirvonen and Meeke are a few minutes behind Guerra and Atkinson, but are about a minute quicker on the longer stages (we have the longest of all to go tomorrow) and can take anywhere between 15s and 30s on the other runs.
Hirvonen is up to eighth now, ahead of Protasov, but Meeke's still 10th - 10.7s slower than Yuriy.
Speaking of R5 Fiesta drivers...stunning effort from Ott Tanak. What a shame he had that early incident.
He's just gone eighth quickest - eighth! - on that long stage. That's not a short blast through the streets, that's a full-on, 43km stage. Very, very impressive - he's quicker than Guerra and Atkinson and only 3.8s slower than Prokop.
You can see why DAVID EVANS considers the R5
to be rallying's saviour
So, let's look back on SS14/15:
* Ogier racks up VW's
40th stage win
of 2014 and pushes his advantage over Latvala to almost
of Evans as he bids to deliver Hyundai's i20 WRC its
WRC2 leader Protasov for eighth as he continues to recover from
Hmm...A bit of mental maths...and we reckon that's 41 stage wins for VW this year.
Looking back, Ogier's got 28 - seven on the Monte, 10 in Sweden and now 11 here. Latvala won five on his way to victory on Rally Sweden; three on the Monte before that and the one here in Mexico.
Mikkelsen, meanwhile, has four from Sweden.
28+9+4=41...right? Or should AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live stick to typing?
Sebastien, any ideas how many wins that is?
Our tally might have a non-counting stage win for Ogier in it. If anyone can spot it, they win five Race Centre Live points.
Why don't you tweet the First Lady of WRC Live
and see if we can get this answered on-air.
Worth a shot...
In case you were wondering - no, we're not ignoring on-stage action!
El Brinco, a much smoother 8.25km stage, should start in a couple of minutes time.
After a somewhat tepid couple of stages, everyone will probably break down on these shorter runs.
SS16 is live.
This will be the final stage we cover on Race Centre Live today, so let's hope it's a cracker!
Atkinson's through, 4m56.4s - Guerra's 0.5s slower through the first split.
Guerra overturns the deficit and ends SS16 0.5s quicker than the Hyundai driver.
Prokop beats Guerra's time but is then immediately usurped by Neuville - who completes the stage in 4m45.9s.
The Belgian, by all accounts, gave it the beans over the El Brinco jump.
"The jump was flat out," confirms Neuville, who then adds that "the road was getting worse and worse" as the stage continued.
Potential for someone (Ogier?) to trip up over holes in the ground? Well, it probably wouldn't stop him. He's already got away with hitting a rock.
"There are a couple of bad bits in there that caught me out," adds Evans, before adding that losing more time - 4.8s - to Neuville isn't a big concern. "It's about keeping clean and keeping out of trouble."
In comes Latvala, and he's quickest. It's 4m42.5s, which is 3.4s faster than Neuville.
Ogier shades Latvala at the first split, so this could be five stage wins in a row.
More on that rough stage. Latvala says "it wasn't too bad" but preceded that by admitting it was a bit tough.
He's pleased with his driving thus far, despite being a minute behind his team-mate in second.
"Great day, very happy with that," says Ogier, who does indeed come through quicker than his team-mate.
He's now 58.5s clear of Latvala. And there are still two superspecials to come.
Meeke's now through, as is Hirvonen. The former slots into fourth.
"Not so bad," is Meeke's verdict. "Still hanging in there and starting to enjoy it a bit more."
Big, big effort from Hirvonen - he's second quickest, and only 0.3s slower than Ogier. What a fight that could have been between him, Ostberg and Latvala for second...
1 Ogier 4m40.2s
2 Hirvonen +0.3s
3 Latvala +2.3s
4 Neuville +5.7s
5 Meeke +7.5s
6 Evans +10.5s
1 Ogier 3h33m19.7s
2 Latvala +58.5s
3 Neuville +4m33.9s
4 Evans +5m18.9s
5 Prokop +7m58.2s
6 Guerra +10m29.7s
rally is over
- his M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC's rollcage has been damaged by that roll earlier, so he will not be returning tomorrow.
And on that note, we at AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live will leave you to it.
Remember, we'll be back tomorrow at 14:30 GMT to bring you Rally Mexico's climax and the NASCAR Sprint Cup round from Las Vegas.
Stick with AUTOSPORT.com for a full report from Saturday's action in Mexico, which we'll bring you as soon as the two superspecials have been run in about an hour's time.
Will anyone (or anything) stop the dominant Ogier? Can Neuville deliver Hyundai a podium just three rounds into its modern WRC programme? And will Elfyn Evans hang on to a career-best fourth?
Thanks for joining us and see you tomorrow, when we will get the answers to those questions - and maybe some twists, too.
Hello and welcome to the final day of Rally Mexico on AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live.
We're based in North America this weekend (there's NASCAR Sprint Cup action to come from Las Vegas too) – and our Sunday coverage starts with the culmination of a dramatic third round of the World Rally Championship.
So, what was the state of play after Saturday?
's lead over Volkswagen team-mate
is more than a minute as the Frenchman made it
12 stage wins from 18
with a trio of victories on the afternoon loop
has a comfortable grasp of third place and could deliver a
for Hyundai's i20 World Rally Car just three rounds into its new WRC programme
is on course for a
, while Kris Meeke claimed a
stage win for Citroen
with the fastest time on the day-ending superspecial
Want more? Here's our full report:
Ogier closes in on Mexico victory
Little tip for AUTOSPORT Plus subscribers - there is a plethora of World Rally Championship statistics available to you at the click of a button.
Thanks to our statistical partner FORIX, you can access loads of information about the WRC, its events and drivers.
So if you want to see the numbers that have made up the 2014 season so far, you could click
Similarly, if you'd like a statistical insight into Rally Mexico specifically, then follow
So what's in store for today?
First of all, the running order. Kris Meeke has the pleasure (or curse) of taking to the stages first. Thereafter it's: Mikko Hirvonen; Chris Atkinson; Benita Guerra; Martin Prokop; Elfyn Evans; Thierry Neuville; Jari-Matti Latvala; Sebastien Ogier; Andreas Mikkelsen and Mads Ostberg.
Mikkelsen and Ostberg follow the WRC frontrunners as they are returning under Rally 2 regulations after individual woes yesterday.
There's no Robert Kubica today, with M-Sport confirming late last night he would not return after damaging his Ford Fiesta's rollcage with a second roll in two days.
Just the four stages to see us home today – but one stands out just a little bit.
SS19 is first up, the fifth running of the 4.42km superspecial. That'll kick things off in about 10 minutes times.
Then it's the big one.
. A 55.92km brute of a stage.
That alone is more than twice as long as the rest of today's stages put together. Derramadero (11.63km) and the El Brinco powerstage (8.25km) will round out the rally.
There were thunderstorms last night, and while it shouldn't cause too many issues (plenty of sunshine now), there are a few puddles on the loop-opening superspecial.
Even with his team-mate in second, Ogier can reclaim the WRC points lead with victory today.
He'll gain seven points on Latvala (who is five points clear at present), so even if JML wins the powerstage he needs the 2013 champion to finish outside the top three.
Being a WRC leader is clearly hungry work. Here's Latvala tucking into a salad sandwich at lunchtime yesterday. Brown bread as well, good lad, Jari-Matti.
Right, we're about ready for some rally action. Are you?
Meeke has started the superspecial - Rally Mexico's final day has begun!
Meeke and Hirvonen are in, and Meeke's not going to replicate his stage victory from SS18 last night.
Hirvonen completes the stage in 3m25.7s, 0.4s faster than the Citroen man.
Mexico rookie Meeke's just grown in confidence as this rally has continued. And it showed in his attitude after that stage win yesterday.
"The stages are really complicated when you haven’t experienced them before," he said. "You have to find the right rhythm. The roads are slippery with some very narrow, twisty sections.
"I was struggling to feel confident on the first pass. We are doing everything for the first time, which is part and parcel of the learning process. Once you’re more familiar with the stages, everything is a lot more straightforward.
"So, the feeling was a lot better in the afternoon and I think you can see that in the times.”
Benito Guerra has driven a fine rally thus far, and he's in a good mood.
He's just 1.2s slower than Hirvonen and beats Atkinson by 2.1s.
"It's a good beginning to the day. It's going to very tough, I just want to take it easy. It's very easy to make a mistake.
"Everything will be fine, I think today has to be a great day."
Prokop and Evans, both driving strong and sensible rallies so far, are on the stage now.
The atmosphere in Evans' car will be particularly positive this morning after co-driver Dan Barritt's beloved football team Burnley beat local rivals Blackburn.
This is the first time in seven years than Barritt's missed the match and he wouldn't let himself follow it after it started at local time 06:30 this morning.
Prokop matches Meeke's time, while Evans comes in slower than everyone bar Atkinson.
Next up are Neuville and Latvala.
Storming run from Neuville – he's the quickest through so far! Could this be a maiden stage win for Hyundai's i20 WRC?
Latvala admits he made a couple of mistakes on that run.
Just Ostberg and Protasov to come and we'll have times for the WRC drivers and the WRC2 leader.
Waiting for Ogier's time, and that of Mikkelsen (on that superspecial for the first time after a crash-filled rally).
Ogier robs Neuville/Hyundai of the stage win! 3m22.0s for the rally leader, while Mikkelsen slots into second, 1.6s slower than his team-mate.
That apparently takes Ogier onto 249 stage wins. Impressive stat, but the Frenchman's only concerned with getting his second rally victory of the season.
The Volkswagens are on top form this weekend, and the Polo WRC just looks a cut above the rest.
Here's a question: would a Beetle fair as well in WRC trim?
Mexico does love a Volkswagen Beetle, it's been produced here since 1955 and even has its own dedicated website (mexibug.org.uk if you're interested).
Here's the old and the new at the traffic lights outside the service park yesterday.
Ostberg makes sure Neuville doesn't even get a top three finish on that stage, slotting into third 2.2s slower than Ogier.
Protasov's in and had a bit of a drama – he span, but isn't sure if it was a mistake or a car problem.
Despite his massive lead (about 23 minutes) he'll desperately hope it's the former. We've got a fairly long stage coming up – and no service before the rally's over.
Amazing effort form Tanak on that stage – he's fifth quickest in the R5 Fiesta!
1 Ogier 3m22.0s
2 Mikkelsen +1.6s
3 Ostberg +2.2s
4 Neuville +2.5s
5 Tanak +3.5s
6 Latvala +3.7s
1 Ogier 3h40m04.2s
2 Latvala +1m04.0s
3 Neuville +4m39.5s
4 Evans +5m29.7s
5 Prokop +8m06.6s
6 Guerra +10m38.5s
. That'll kick off in about 20 minutes. Bring it on.
After taking an hour and 10 minutes to recce the 34-mile, Guanajuatito stage, M-Sport's charging youngster Elfyn Evans told our man DAVID EVANS he couldn’t remember talking for so long.
"It's non-stop when you're making the notes," he said. "And there's so much to take in and so much to concentrate on. I was surprised when we were only half way through!"
Remember us congratulating ace WRC snapper Colin McMaster for snapping two Evanses for the price of one...outside of the toilets? Here it is.
After you, Mr Evans.
Khalid Al Qassimi lends his support to Citroen pair Mads Ostberg and Kris Meeke via Twitter.
: "Difficult Rally with all the problems but the boys done a good stage times. Go Go Mads & Go Go Kris."
Al Qassimi is a Citroen man who is more positive about the efforts of Ostberg and Meeke in Mexico, despite neither driver being able to deliver the podium finish their pace suggested they might yesterday.
Team boss Yves Matton was a bit more guarded.
"Mads' strategy was to drive at a strong pace in order to consolidate his second position. Unfortunately, an ill-judged pace note means his name has been added to the long list of drivers caught out at this Rally Mexico," he said.
"Kris' goal was to complete all of the stages. He drove at a sensible pace to ensure he built up some more experience. He is improving on a rally where he is competing for the first time."
All told, this stage will be an hour and a half in the making. We'll do our best to keep you entertained in the meantime – even if we're battling a potentially unreliable live timing system!
The crews must have have maximum respect for and attention on Guanajuatito. That included runaway rally leader Sebastien Ogier last night – though he's still got a good sense of humour.
"We will definitely not be relaxing," he said. "Rally Mexico is one of the toughest on the calendar, and a lot can happen on the coarse gravel between now and the finish – especially given the fact that we still have to tackle the longest stage, Guanajuatito, tomorrow.
"55.92 kilometres across country at full throttle, with temperatures in the cockpit reaching up to 40 degrees. But unless we suddenly come across a closed gate tomorrow, it is looking good for us.”
Right then...let's get stuck into this! Meeke is on the stage.
So much can change on SS20, such is the nature of the challenge. With that in mind, here are three things to look out for:
over Latvala is 64s – but if he picks up any damage at any point on this stage, that could
Rally Mexico's thrown at him so far...but will his Hyundai i20 WRC
Guanajuatito's toughest challenges?
make it through the longest stage of the rally and tighten their grip on
Good news, Meeke fans – he's made it to the first split. And in 5m03.1s, 3.7s quicker than Hirvonen behind him.
Three and a half minutes later, he passes through the second split.
Hirvonen cannot live with Meeke at the moment. He's 7.3s down at the second split. Atkinson, Guerra and Prokop are also flashing up after the first split now, both considerably slower than the Brit.
Meeke clocks in at the fourth split in 15m13.9s, and Hirvonen is 10.8s down at the same point.
Five splits down for Meeke, who is 20 minutes into the stage. Fellow Brit Elfyn Evans has just appeared on the timing screen, 4.1s slower at the first split.
Neuville joins the long list of drivers who can't match Meeke's pace right now – though Latvala's passed the first split and is a couple of seconds quicker.
Those darn VWs...
Hirvonen's starting to reduce Meeke's advantage - he's less than 10s slower at the sixth split.
Evans has fallen away from his M-Sport team-mate, and is only a fraction quicker than Prokop after four splits.
First time on the board – Meeke's through in 36m26.1s.
Latvala's making good inroads into that time, but Ogier is barely any quicker after two splits and Mikkelsen is slower.
Latvala's 7s quicker than Meeke after four splits, but after two Ogier is slower.
Ostberg, meanwhile, is a whopping 5.9s quicker than Meeke at the first split!
Ostberg's still quicker than Meeke at the second split, but he's fallen behind Latvala.
Ogier, meanwhile, is neck-and-neck with Meeke's time after four splits. This could be very close!
Hirvonen finishes the stage 13.6s slower than Meeke.
Latvala and Ogier are both much faster than Meeke as the stage goes on. Ostberg is about a second slower than Latvala after the third split.
Neuville's running strongly, and will probably outpace Hirvonen at this rate.
His team-mate Atkinson has just completed the stage in 38m06.0s.
Great stuff from Guerra, who clocks in at 37m34.9s.
Prokop survives a major moment, almost rolling out of the rally, but he's still quicker than Guerra.
36m48.5s for Evans, who is next through. That's a good run. Not long to go now...
36m24.4s for Neuville, who overturns Meeke's advantage and sneaks in ahead.
Looks like Meeke just lost his way a bit on the middle of the stage.
Ostberg, by contrast, is having a superb middle of the stage. He's quicker than Latvala and Ogier after six splits!
35m59.4s for Latvala, who goes quickest for now. We're expecting Ogier and Ostberg to overhaul him, though.
Ogier adopted a smart strategy on that stage, having tempered himself early on before letting loose as it developed.
He is indeed quicker than Latvala, by 7.9s.
Mikkelsen slots in behind his VW team-mates and Neuville's Hyundai.
Latvala, incidentally, checked the front of his car after reaching the stage end. He thinks he might have suspension issues...but can't spot anything.
Ostberg goes 5.7s quicker than Ogier!
We're going to wrap that stage result up in a moment, but worth mentioning that once again Ott Tanak is flying in his R5 Fiesta.
WRC2 leader Protasov – the one with the 24-minute lead going into this stage – is not setting the splits alight. In fact, he's about four minutes slower than Tanak halfway through the stage.
1 Ostberg 35m45.8s
2 Ogier +5.7s
3 Latvala +13.6s
4 Mikkelsen +31.0s
5 Neuville +38.6s
6 Meeke +40.3s
1 Ogier 4h15m55.7s
2 Latvala +1m11.9s
3 Neuville +5m12.4s
4 Evans +6m26.7s
5 Prokop +9m22.0s
6 Guerra +12m21.9s
Not long before SS21 kicks off. It's a much shorter run this one, 11.63km.
The penultimate stage of the rally...where has the time gone?
Protasov's time is 6m22s slower than Tanak, but the Estonian is not the nearest challenged to the WRC2 leader. That's Rendina, who's not exactly flying.
Latvala's not made any makeshift repairs to his VW. All appears to be well.
Meeke's onto SS21, so we're really at the business end of Rally Mexico now.
Protasov has a broken driveshaft. He accrued the damage on the opening superspecial. He'll limp to the finish, but his lead is still more than 20 minutes – if he makes it to the end, he'll win WRC2.
Meeke's in, and his time is 7m16.0s.
Meeke's time is swiftly beaten by Hirvonen's 7m12s.
Don't expect any fireworks on Derramadero, everyone's going to be keeping their powder dry for the chance to steal some points on the following power stage, which is just half an hour away.
declared at the start of the weekend
(when he was still "angry" about his Sweden shunt) that he wanted to head back to Europe with the championship lead.
He's five points behind team-mate Latvala right now, and on course to outscore the Finn by seven points by beating him for the win.
But if Latvala can win the power stage and Ogier fails to set a top-three time there, it's going to be J-ML still leading by one point heading to Portugal.
You don't necessarily want to be first on the road on day one in Portugal though, and that fate awaits the championship leader...
After nearly throwing his fifth place away on the previous monster stage, Prokop is chilled on SS21 and comes through safely.
Hirvonen is looking a good bet for the stage win this time, subject to the VWs' pace. No one else's splits look a match for the M-Sport man.
As we type that, Latvala outpaces Hirvonen at the middle split, but only by 0.1s. Ogier is slower.
The only change in the points positions that we're expecting now, unless anyone has a disaster, is Ostberg getting back into the overall top 10 by passing our limping WRC2 leader Protasov.
Sorry Hirvonen, we were over-optimistic for you. Latvala takes fastest time so far by 1.7s.
It's a VW one-two as Ogier clocks a time a second down on Latvala.
Now for the power stage!
Ostberg's quicker than Latvala at the first split, can he nick the fastest time here?
Yep, Ostberg is flying. This will almost certainly be a stage win.
There it is – 7m07.5s for Ostberg, 3.3s quicker than Latvala.
1 Ostberg 7m07.5s
2 Latvala +3.3s
3 Ogier +4.4s
4 Hirvonen +5.0s
5 Meeke +8.5s
6 Mikkelsen +13.0s
1 Ogier 4h23m07.6s
2 Latvala +1m10.8s
3 Neuville +5m22.2s
4 Evans +6m37.2s
5 Prokop +9m37.0s
6 Guerra +12m41.6s
The power stage is live, with a tweaked running order.
Meeke; Hirvonen; Atkinson; Mikkelsen; Ostberg; Guerra; Prokop; Evans; Neuville; Latvala; Ogier.
Meeke's off...and stopped. What's happened?
There's a pause in proceedings on the powerstage. Meeke is stopped but doesn't appear to have hit anything.
He's out of the car, and there are spectators around if the car needs to be moved. But we've got no idea what the situation is.
Meeke has hit something on the road (he's not cut a corner or anything like that) and that's pitched him into a half-spin.
For all the talk of a 250th stage win for Ogier, this AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live commentator would like to point out they've surpassed 250 posts for this rally alone a while back.
That's not to say the achievements are the same...but there's not a lot in it.
Front-right wheel of Meeke's Citroen DS3 has taken the whack. The car's being moved, there's a truck in there somewhere...hopefully we'll be sorted before long.
We don't mean to make things worse for Meeke fans...but with Ostberg and Mikkelsen ineligible for power stage points because of their Rally 2 conditions, Meeke was set to be the only driver other than Ogier/Latvala to rack up points in all three rounds so far.
That'll serve as an added reminder for Elfyn Evans – who was denied a points finish in Sweden by a final-stage shunt – that nothing is certain heading into the power stage.
Evans is on course for a career-best fourth.
Meeke's car is being removed by a truck...and that's a bitterly disappointing end for the Brit, who had recovered to ninth after his accident on Friday.
OK, Meeke's car has been removed. The stage is clear to restart.
Could there be rain on the power stage??
There are definitely some droplets in the air...
And Hirvonen is onto the stage.
Hirvonen's through in 4m39.1s.
Stay with AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live when the rally is over because we're moving north from Mexico to Las Vegas (Motor Speedway) for round three of the NASCAR Sprint Cup as it happens.
Cars are on the grid in pitlane now, with the start about half an hour away.
Eagled-eyed Race Centre Live readers will notice eight minutes passed between those posts. Curse the WRC's live timing system!
Atkinson is 16s slower than Hirvonen on the power stage.
That, however, guarantees Hyundai its first points! He's likely to end the rally seventh on his first event in the i20 WRC. Cracking effort.
Guerra now comes through to claim a career-best sixth.
The Mexican is 4.9s quicker than Atkinson.
NASCAR - Las Vegas:
"We've got a passion for pork AND the checkered flag!" announces
Richard Petty Motorsports
with huge Twitter enthusiasm as the atmosphere builds at Las Vegas.
Pork-powerd Aric Almirola qualified eighth on Friday. His team-mate Marcos Ambrose starts 43rd and last after mechanical problems early in qualifying.
NASCAR - Las Vegas:
For the second week in a row, it was a Penske driver who mastered the new F1-style knockout qualifying format best to take pole on Friday, as this time Joey Logano beat team-mate Brad Keselowski.
Here's the full line-up:
Las Vegas NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying report
Prokop's in slightly slower than Guerra, while Evans and Neuville are on the stage.
Thierry Neuville is moments away from a remarkable result for Hyundai.
There it is! Third overall for Neuville (maybe more if Latvala/Ogier shunt), but what a result for the Belgian and his new team – a first podium for the Korean firm.
The Hyundai i20 WRC is on only its third event of a test and development campaign and is now a rostrum-finishing World Rally machine.
Neuville just missed out on beating Hirvonen's time, while moments before him Evans clinched a career-best fourth!
That result will lauded just as much by M-Sport as Neuville's will by Hyundai. Kudos to the young Welshman.
Latvala outpaces Hirvonen. Will he hold onto the lead of the WRC?
Sebastien Ogier wins Rally Mexico!
That's 18 WRC wins for the Frenchman now, who has been in superb form in Mexico. 13 wins from 22 stages.
He's also gone quickest of anyone, so that's three power stage points – and apparently a 250th stage win.
Latvala and Hirvonen take the other power stage points.
NASCAR - Las Vegas:
Some pre-race news as Ganassi announces that it has taken 18-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski under its wing as a development driver.
In this era of 'affiliated drivers' and similar nonsense, that might not seem like it matters, but Ganassi takes its young driver responsibilities seriously, having brought Kyle Larson into the Cup series in the same way.
And Kwasniewski is an exciting prospect - a champion in both the K&N West and East Pro Series feeder categories in recent years, he's now in his rookie Nationwide Series campaign and kicked it off with pole at Daytona.
Rally Mexico result:
1 Ogier 4h27m41.8s
2 Latvala +1m12.6s
3 Neuville +5m28.6s
4 Evans +6m49.3s
5 Prokop +9m54.4s
6 Guerra +12m57.6s
1 Ogier 4m34.2s
2 Latvala +1.8s
3 Hirvonen +4.9s
4 Neuville +6.4s
5 Evans +12.1s
6 Guerra +16.0s
NASCAR - Las Vegas:
We've had a flypast and the national anthem (from the cast of a musical...), now actor Jonathan Goldsmith orders the drivers to start their engines. Which they do.
Keselowski may have lost out to team-mate Logano in the pole fight on Friday, but he more than made up for it by beating Kyle Busch to victory in Saturday's Nationwide Series race.
At Phoenix, Logano pounced on Keselowski on the first lap. Now the Penske pair are the other way around on the front row, will Keselowski return the favour?
Another man to watch is fourth-place qualifier Austin Dillon. After taking pole at Daytona, he got involved in a lot of incidents in the race. He's got some points to prove about racecraft after that.
This race will be 267 laps long, 400 miles in total. It's hot, the track's become increasingly bumpy over the years, and drivers are expecting a slippery and tricky afternoon.
This is also a big test of NASCAR's latest technical rule tweaks. Improve the quality of racing on these 1.5-mile tracks was a priority in the latest revamp.
We're away and Keselowski is straight alongside Logano trying to get the lead.
Keselowski has a big slide at Turn 3 while side by side with Logano for the lead. He immediately loses momentum and is tumbling down the order, tucking back in in seventh place.
That moment for Keselowski immediately gave Logano a clear advantage at the front.
Clint Bowyer and Ricky Stenhouse Jr are fighting for second.
Keselowski has already regained two places.
Bowyer makes second place his own, as Jimmie Johnson takes third from Stenhouse and Keselowski closes back in.
Keselowski has demoted Stenhouse Jr to fifth now, as Johnson takes second from Bowyer.
Logano has a massive lead by NASCAR terms. He's 2.2s clear of Johnson.
Smoke emanating from the back of Josh Wise's car. He's making his way back to the pits, and that prompts a caution.
That's frustrating for Logano, our only leader of the race so far. Johnson, Bowyer and co will be pleased though.
The field is now behind the safety car. The pitlane is closed for now.
There's a trail of fluid in the pitlane (from Wise, obviously) and that's why it remains closed.
And, of course, it now opens. The majority of the field dives into the pitlane.
Manic, manic rush out of the pits now.
Keselowski didn't pit, nor did David Ragan or Travis Kvapil.
WRC - Mexico:
Breaking news from Mexico - Hyundai's WRC podium could be in jeopardy.
Thierry Neuville is reporting a water leak on the road section back to service. There are lots of worried faces in the Hyundai area as they're not sure he'll make it.
Even though all the competitive stages are done, Neuville has to reach the finish to be classified.
All change again at the restart. Logano leads, Keselowski is second ahead of Johnson.
Johnson attempts to take second from Keselowski by diving low, but the 2012 champion holds.
Bar that two-lap, Keselowski interlude, Logano's been in control of this race. 31 laps on the board now.
Bit of a bottle-neck further down the field and Patrick and Almirola come together and Kyle Busch nips in to take 26th.
The front three of Logano, Keselowski and Johnson has broken clear of Bowyer and Newman. That duo is 4.5s further down the road.
Dillon, who was scrapping with the pair, has just dropped to 10th.
WRC - Mexico:
Neuville hasn't made it back to Leon yet. It's quite a long road from the final El Brinco stage to the official finish.
He was given a bottle of Corona after the stage finish and poured it straight into his car's engine!
Debris at Turn 3.
Logano had just eked his lead over Keselowski to almost a second. He's not having any luck here.
That's a big break for Brad, who didn't pit under the first caution.
Newman's been passed by Truex Jr for fifth. But now the field is diving into the pits.
Johnson now heads the field after getting the jump on the rest of the field heading out of pitlane. Gordon, Truex Jr, Ryan Truex and Vickers make up the new top five.
Big leap that for Gordon, who was seventh before the caution.
Fifty laps in, and we're green again.
Johnson leads Truex, Gordon, Earnhardt and Vickers.
Yep, Truex immediately dived past Gordon on the restart.
Gordon's tumbled to fifth in all that, behind Earnhardt and Kyle Busch - who has rocketed up the order.
Logano is down in 12th now, Keselowski ninth.
Johnson's edging clear of Truex. His lead is 1.7s. Earnhardt is a further 0.8s back.
WRC - Mexico:
Still waiting to hear if Neuville is going to make it to the finish to claim his Rally Mexico podium, but in the meantime you can read all about the rest of the rally and a dominant VW one-two:
Rally Mexico final report
Earnhardt has dropped to a second behind Truex now – who is now 2s behind leader Johnson.
Earnhardt has Busch for very, very close company.
MotoGP - Qatar test:
There's breaking news from the bike world tonight too, Moto2 champion and MotoGP rookie Pol Espargaro has broken his collarbone two weeks before the season-opener.
Espargaro injured in test crash
Busch demotes Earnhardt to fourth. What can he do about Truex and, more significantly, Johnson's 3s advantage?
Johnson's put another half a second between himself and Truex...but now it's Busch who is his nearest challenger.
He passes Truex for second and is 2.6s behind the champion.
Kenseth takes sixth from Dillon.
Keselowski and Logano have made no progress on their 9th and 12th positions respectively.
Here's the top five for you: 1 Johnson; 2 Busch; 3 Martin Truex; 4 Earnhardt; 5 Gordon.
WRC - Mexico:
Neuville makes it to the finish in Mexico! Hyundai's third place is safe.
Busch has whittled Johnson's lead down to just 2s now. And it's getting smaller as we type...
Keselowski and poleman Logano are now eighth and 11th.
Kvapil's stalled in the pitlane. He's being pushed back, but that might be a caution.
Change for the lead! Busch has passed Johnson on lap 78.
Beautiful run around the outside by Busch, who had eradicated Johnson's lead to nothing and then swept by as Johnson went low defending into Turn 4.
Johnson now drops behind Earnhardt. This phase of the race isn't being kind on the champion.
Meanwhile, Truex has slipped behind Gordon and Keselowski, the latter enjoying a charge in recent laps and now running fifth.
Logano, however, has not made the sort of progress Keselowski has. He's now back in 12th.
Johnson's not changed the left-hand tyres on his car, so they are 85 laps old and counting. It's hurting him at the moment.
Logano's complaining that the rear tyres are shot, which explains his struggles.
Busch is the latest driver to hold a two-second lead at the front of the pack. Earnhardt is running on his own with a one-second advantage over Johnson.
Paul Menard is now inside the top 10. Menard almost didn't race this weekend because his wife is on the brink of going into labour.
He even had Matt Crafton on standby!
Earnhardt has taken half a second out of Busch's lead. Johnson is 2s clear of Keselowski now with Gordon pitting.
Logano is also in as the green-flag stops begin.
It's taken 94 laps but finally we're witnessing some non-caution provoked strategy calls. Dillon and Truex among the leading cars to pit.
Plenty of four-tyre changes going on.
Leader Busch is in, as is Johnson.
Earnhardt now stops. Kyle Larson gets a speeding penalty.
Keselowski also pit alongside Earnhardt. Dale Jr beats him away.
So Busch reclaims the lead ahead of Johnson now. Earnhardt, Harvick, Gordon and Keselowski are next up.
100 laps in, and Kyle Busch has a 3.7s lead over Jimmie Johnson after those green-flag stops.
Earnhardt is third, Harvick fourth and Keselowski passes Gordon for fith.
Joey Logano, who has led more laps than anyone, is only 12th.
Busch's lead is pushed past the 4s mark. Earnhardt and Harvick are nose-to-tail for third.
Harvick makes his move, and it sticks. He's into third and 0.9s behind Johnson.
Earnhardt slips to fifth now as Keselowski moves into fourth.
As it stands, Marcos Ambrose is in the lucky dog position.
Earnhardt retakes fourth from Keselowski. Everyone's closing in on Busch, though – Harvick (now into second) is 1.3s behind.
Busch is baulked by a trio of backmarkers and that's totally eradicated his lead!
And then Johnson has a lucky escape during lappery...phew.
Harvick's just a couple of tenths behind Busch now. Earnhardt, Johnson and Keselowski are just over 2s behind that pair after their own traffic trouble.
Earnhardt is passed by Johnson and Keselowski now, and drops to fifth. Gordon isn't far behind that trio but there's a bigger gap back to Truex in seventh.
Now Earnhardt retakes fourth (again!) from Keselowski. Great battle developing in the top five.
That could have gone pear-shaped for Earnhardt though. Keselowski got a bit loose as the Daytona winner passed around the outside, and Earnhardt was a razor from hitting the wall.
Still, pass made.
Gordon now passes Keselowski, who has dropped to 6.7s off the lead.
Keselowski wasn't quite as lucky with that wobble. He brushed the wall as the #2 Penske machine got away from him, but it doesn't appear to have done anything serious.
Harvick moves into the lead! He passes Busch with 130 laps gone.
He edged ahead of Busch out of Turn 2 and then slams the door shut into Turn 3 to become the sixth different leader of the race.
Ragan and a couple of others kick off what could be another round of green-flag pitstops.
Just the two cautions so far, so it really is developing into a straight fight between the drivers on the track and the guys on the pitwall.
Harvick's lead is now 2.5s. This race has ebbed and flowed every 20 laps or so.
Harvick's into the pits. Busch leads.
Gordon and Johnson follow Harvick into the pitlane and we're into the next rush of stops.
Busch pits, Keselowski leads – Kenseth is ahead of Earnhardt who has slipped back all of a sudden.
Stenhouse gets a speeding penalty as the remaining frontrunners stop.
"Zestfully fast" is the oddest expression we've heard today to describe a driver being penalised for speeding into the pitlane.
So after those stops, this is the top five: 1 Harvick; 2 Busch; 3 Johnson; 4 Earnhardt; 5 Gordon.
Keselowski has lost out there, he's been shuffled back to eighth.
Logano is 11th, he's not made any impression on the top 10 since the first caution dropped him out of the lead.
Those stops have shuffled the gaps out front. Harvick is 2s clear of Busch and 6.4s clear of Johnson in third.
Earnhardt is 10s behind the leader in fourth. He and Gordon are quite close on track, but then there's another 3s or so until Truex in sixth.
He's got something of a train of cars behind him.
Debris on the back straight, and that's a welcome caution (sorry Kevin).
Jamie McMurray gets the lucky dog free pass.
Harvick, Busch, Johnson et al head down the pitlane.
Two new tyres for the top three.
Busch beats Harvick out of the pitlane, with Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt next up.
Keselowski's opted not to stop (to be fair, we have only just had a round of pitstops under the green flag) and so he leads Busch and Harvick.
Logano-watch: HE'S INTO THE TOP 10.
Only just, mind. But it's the highest he's been for about 120 laps.
This is what the leaders did in the pits: Busch, Harvick and Johnson took on two new tyres, Gordon and Earnhardt opted for fuel only.
Harvick ran over some debris so his crew checked the car over – but there's no damage.
161 laps down and we're green again.
Harvick immediately despatches Busch.
So Keselowski leads, Harvick is second, Busch third, Johnson fourth and Gordon is fifth.
Earnhardt is down in seventh. Logano has slipped to the 12th place he seems so fond of.
Harvick is just a few tenths behind Keselowski, and the front two have bolted slightly from Busch who is 1.8s off the lead. He has Johnson for close company.
Earnhardt drops to ninth and now Hamlin is all over him.
Less than 100 laps to go now.
Menard shoots into the top five at the expense of Jeff Gordon.
Keselowski is still holding Harvick at arm's length, about 0.7s back.
Johnson has passed Busch for third and is a second behind Harvick.
Menard's charge continues! He passes Busch for fourth.
Maybe he's trying to get the race to end quickly so he doesn't miss the birth of his child.
Harvick's had a moment of some kind, because Keselowski's lead is now 1.7s and Johnson is right on the #4's tail.
This is a very, very impressive stint from Keselowski on those older tyres.
Earnhardt's recovery is picking up pace. He's up to seventh now and starting to hassle Gordon.
Johnson's fallen to 4.3s behind Keselowski now. Menard is hassling Johnson for third.
Drama for Harvick! He's into the pits...and this isn't planned.
Brake issues reported for the former race leader.
Keselowski has dived into the pitlane under the green flag. This one IS planned.
Menard attacks Johnson for the lead, Johnson fights back and holds on...but then Menard goes again and takes the place!
He's now hit the front for the first time, having started 21st!
Keselowski rejoined a lap down in 16th. What's that going to do to his race...
Harvick, the Phoenix winner, is in all kinds of trouble. He's lost seven laps already and there's no way this will turn into a good result now.
Menard pits as he approaches Austin Dillon, the last of the cars on the lead lap.
Johnson now leads from Busch, Earnhardt, Gordon and Kenseth.
The green-flag stops have been initiated...everyone's diving in.
Johnson hands the lead over to Earnhardt, with Gordon also staying out for one more lap and Logano suddenly up in third.
Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin lead for a lap, then pit. And guess who's leading?
It's Brad Keselowski.
Menard resumes the chase in second, but he's now 6.2s behind Keselowski!
Can the 2012 champion make it to the end of the race?
Johnson, Busch and Earnhardt complete the top five. Logano's ended up ninth, just behind Gordon.
Another caution, debris on the front straight.
Keselowski's 5.4s lead will be reduced to nothing...but will anyone dive for the pits? There are 45 laps remaining.
Keselowski does move into the pits, and there is a train of cars following him in.
Menard wins the race out of the pits, ahead of Busch, Johnson, Keselowski and Logano.
Doesn't look like Earnhardt, Edwards or Hamlin pit.
Green flags fly and Earnhardt leads the field away with 42 laps to go.
All change at the restart! Earnhardt holds the lead but Keselowski storms into second, Edwards into third with Busch and Logano completing the top five.
Edwards moves into second as Logano passes Busch for fourth.
The Penske boys are fighting hard over third, Keselowski just fending off Logano for now. Further ahead, Earnhardt has bolted.
Earnhardt's lead over Edwards is 2s. To put that in perspective, 1s covers the next five cars.
Menard is back into the top five as he demotes Busch.
Earnhardt's lead is holding at 2s. Edwards still has Keselowski for close company and Logano hasn't entirely shaken off Menard.
Busch has now fallen to seventh as Newman and Kahne inflict the pain.
Bowyer is into the pits after hitting the wall outside Turn 2 and losing his right-rear tyre.
Keselowski is back into second, but he's 2.8s behind Earnhardt.
Busch has fallen to ninth now as Johnson becomes the latest man to demote the Joe Gibbs Toyota.
Logano is pressuring Edwards for third. Earlier he was complaining that his car wasn't working well in traffic - back at the front, the Penske driver is flying.
Flying indeed! Logano wrests third from Edwards. There's about a second between him and Penske team-mate Keselowski.
Johnson's up to sixth now, passing Kahne and Newman.
Menard's past Edwards now too. His crew report he is OK for fuel to go to the end of the race. What about the three in front of him?
Keselowski is right on Earnhardt for the lead!
The #2 attacks the #88, there's just 10 laps to go and it's neck-and-neck for the lead!
Earnhardt's marginal on fuel but is being given the hurry-up by his team. This is all or nothing with eight laps to go.
Menard charges past Logano as Keselowski renews his attack on Earnhardt for the lead.
Side-by-side through Turn 2 go the two leaders and Keselowski briefly takes it, but Earnhardt takes it back. Superb racing!
One lap to go! Can Earnhardt hang on?
Earnhardt is out of fuel! Keselowski wins!
What an amazing end to the race. Keselowski hits the jackpot in Vegas.
Here's the full report and results from that spectacular Las Vegas finish:
Las Vegas NASCAR Sprint Cup full report
Next up on AUTOSPORT Live... it's the start of the 2014 Formula 1 season.
We're expanding our Live service for grand prix weekends to become not just session commentary, but a rolling news blog packed with analysis and insight from our team in the F1 paddock.
It all starts at 1am UK time on Friday morning from Melbourne. See you then.
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