Mexico, April 25 (BNA): World Rally Championship leader Sebastien Loeb passed a difficult test to give Bahrain Red Extreme the podium, as Nasser Al-Attiyah took the lead in the Sonora Rally Mexico.
Against the odds after opening up the road in the 170-kilometre first stage, Loeb and Fabien Lorquin in the BRX Prodrive Hunter set the third fastest time and earned valuable championship points in the process to protect their overall advantage.
After winning the World Rally Championship nine times by a 16-point lead at the start in Hermosillo, Al-Attiyah moved into pole position, 27 seconds ahead of Saudi Arabia’s Yazid Al-Rajhi in another Toyota.
Guerlain Chicheret and Alex Winock put up a great run in the Prodrive Hunter to be within 49 seconds of the pace, before falling to fifth due to a three-minute penalty for speeding in a prohibited section.
After launching first onto the stage, Loeb faced the toughest passage through overhanging branches, gates, dust and narrow paths, and at such a speed, cactus spines got caught in his tires as he made his way.
The BRX Prodrive Hunter passed the test missing front wheel arches that were designed to crack in extreme conditions, and in the long run maintain the larger “clam shell” hood.
“When the road opened up, we knew it wasn’t going to be the easiest because there are a lot of very narrow roads and that meant we had to cut back bushes next to the side of the car,” said Loeb, who is two minutes away. 42 seconds off the lead.
“It means we lost a bit of time, but overall being third on the stage is good. This is a new adventure for all of us so not having a problem is great. We’ll see tomorrow how we can continue that.”
Chicheret completed the stage to say: “I was happy with the car, but it wasn’t easy being so early on the stage, especially for Sebastian. I was trying to follow his tracks off the ground but then there was a lot of dust towards the end of the stage.
“We made a couple of little mistakes in navigation and it was my fault, but we have a good pace, I’m in the rhythm and I have good confidence in the car. It means we’re in a good position for tomorrow so let’s see what we can get.”
Two other Prodrive Hunter teams did well on their WRRC debuts, with Brazil’s Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Sencia finishing eighth, one ahead of Christian Baumgart and Alberto Andreotti.