(Reuters) - Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier led after the first full day of Rally Mexico on Friday with team mate and world championship leader Elfyn Evans 33 seconds behind in third place.
While the coronavirus outbreak plays havoc with the global sporting calendar, the Leon-based rally continued as planned on gravel roads in the state of Guanajuato 400 km (250 miles) northwest of Mexico City.
M-Sport Ford’s Teemu Suninen ended the leg in second place, 13.2 seconds behind six times world champion Ogier, a five times winner in Mexico who led from the day’s opening El Chocolate speed test.
“I think we have all had challenges today, like slippery roads and a lot of rocks to avoid, so it’s never easy to drive here but I enjoyed it,” Ogier told the wrc.com website.
“Day one is done now, but there is a long way to go and at least we have the best road position.”
Reigning world champion Ott Tanak was in fourth place for Hyundai after early rear suspension damage, claiming three stage wins to climb back up the leaderboard.
Belgian team mate and Monte Carlo winner Thierry Neuville retired with an electrical problem but is expected to return on Saturday.
Suninen’s team mate and fellow Finn Esapekka Lappi suffered a fiery retirement with his Ford Fiesta engulfed in flames on the El Chocolate 2 stage seven, forcing the cancellation of stage eight.
Lappi had been fourth but the car was left a completely burnt out wreck on the road section after he drove it away from the stop line to safety.
“It looks as though some hot oil may have leaked onto the exhaust. Everyone tried their best to put out the flames, but once these cars go up it’s almost impossible to stop,” said team principal Richard Millener.
“It’s no secret that this loss will really have a big impact on M-Sport — and we don’t know when the championship will resume which makes the situation really difficult right now,” he added.
“But despite all of this and all of the repercussions, the most important thing is that everyone is safe and unharmed.”
The next round of the championship in Argentina on April 23-26 has been postponed due to the coronavirus. The WRC promoter and governing FIA are monitoring the situation regarding other rounds of the championship.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Frances Kerry