In Sunday’s 10km prologue that set the starting order for the Sonora Rally, Loeb and Fabian Lurquin in their BRX Prodrive Hunter set the fourth fastest time alongside the three biggest contenders for victory in the third round of the championship.
Saudi Yazid Al-Rajhi was fastest on the day by one second behind Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, who is 16 points behind Loeb in the WRRC race, with Gerlaine Chicheret and Alex Winock third in the Prodrive Hunter.
The day ended with the last four rally winners on the championship circuit being brought together for the start of the rally’s first grand stage later on Monday, 170km in the desert south of Hermosillo.
Loeb, who won the final round last season in Andalucía, has cleared the way up front and will start first again ahead of Chicheret, who scored the first mass victory for Prodrive catcher in Morocco last October.
Al-Attiyah follows Dakar champion and last-time winner in Abu Dhabi Al-Rajhi, driving the fishermen out in their Toyotas in what promises to be a titanic fight for victory.
Loeb, who has six World Rally Championship victories in Mexico, completed the prologue to say: “It was a great stage, very slippery for 10km with a lot of loose gravel at the top.
“As the first car on the stage we were making the line, so we’ll pay a few seconds for it, but it’s not too bad. It was important to do a good stage and now start to rally properly.”
Chicheret was forced to withdraw from the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in February due to vertigo among the dunes. “Having been sick there, I took it steady today, trying to be careful,” he said. “Maybe I was a little too cautious—the time isn’t an ad second—but I wasn’t really in the rhythm yet.”
The opening stage brings the race back to Hermosillo, where the rally has been based for the past three days, before Tuesday sees the event move north to Porto Peñasco, on the shores of the Sea of Cortez, for three nights, before Friday finishes at 1:00 p.m. San Luis Rio is on the border of Mexico and the USA.