Loeb leads Mexico mayhem

2012-03-10 08:33

Leon - Defending world champion Sebastien Loeb grabbed a hard-earned 11.2-second lead over Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen at the overnight halt on Friday in the Rally of Mexico.

But the action on the road was overshadowed when stage nine had to be cancelled when spectators started hurling stones at the cars.

The French driver Loeb said he wouldn't begin celebrating just yet, especially given the day's drama in the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

"It's still very close and Mikko is pushing a lot," said Loeb, adding that Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala "is also quick, so we cannot relax".

"There is still a long way to go," Loeb said.

Finland's Hirvonen had carved out a narrow 0.6sec gap over Loeb after Friday's opening five stages.

But the stage in the north of Mexico at Guanajuato was cancelled after drivers complained over fans' dangerous behaviour when the stretch was first run in the morning as stage five.

Young Belgian Thierry Neuville's Citroen suffered a shattered windscreen.

"A spectator threw a stone at us when I was driving in sixth gear," he said.

"It was really hard and knocked me completely out of my rhythm. A kilometre further on, I came across a dog in the middle of the road. I was completely lost."

Ford's challenge was hindered when overnight leader Petter Solberg suffered two costly punctures, and a damaged front suspension cost Latvala his Friday morning lead.

With a rebuilt car after the mid-day service, Latvala fought back through the field and was fourth at the end of the day behind Loeb, Hirvonen and third-placed Mads Ostberg.

Solberg recovered from 13th to hold fifth, Estonian Ott Tanak dropped to sixth with a 10-second time penalty.

Russia's Evgeny Novikov, Australia's Chris Atkinson, Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Armindo Araujo of Portugal completed the top 10.

Rally of Mexico results on Friday after the day's 11 stages:

1. Sebastien Loeb (FRA/Citroen DS3) 1:24:46
2. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN/Citroen DS3) at 11.2
3. Mads Ostberg (NOR/Ford Fiesta RS) 1:11
4. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN/Ford Fiesta RS) 1.27
5. Petter Solberg (NOR/Ford Fiesta RS), 1:35
6. Ott Tanak (EST/Ford Fiesta RS) 1:36
7. Evgeny Novikov (RUS/Ford Fiesta RS) 2:02
8. Chris Atkinson (AUS/Ford DS3) 2:33
9. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT/Citroen DS3) 2:48
10. Armindo Araujo (POR/Mini) 3:30

Stage winners: P. Solberg (SS1), Hirvonen (SS2), Latvala (SS3, SS6, SS7, SS8), Loeb (SS4, SS5, SS10), Al-Attiyah (SS11), Atkinson (SS12)

Note: SS9 cancelled