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GP Week : Issue 1
S EBASTIEN Loeb came through to win the Corona Rally Mexico for the third year running, but once again victory on this high altitude rally was no walkover. Loeb played a cautious game when Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala stormed into an early lead before falling back with turbocharger troubles into third place. Latvala’s teammate Mikko Hirvonen, initially unhappily running first car on the stages, struggled through to fourth place but maintained his lead in the World Drivers’ championship. Hirvonen’s misery was increased by punctures, despite an otherwise remarkable display of reliability by the Pirelli control tyres, which were used on gravel roads for the first time. Loeb meanwhile had overcome an extraordinary (and never explained) pre- event confusion when the team twice changed engines. Classic Mexican warm and dry conditions provided the usual high altitude demands. These cost both the Suzuki SX4 team cars retirement through engine failure, but favoured the Subaru cars and provided Chris Atkinson with second place, his best ever World rally result. The speed of Latvala in the first part of the rally, despite running second car on the road, was a big surprise. World Champion Loeb paid the 22 year-old the greatest compliment by saying that he had thought he would have a quieter life now that Marcus Gronholm had retired from the sport – and was wrong! Hirvonen started the sandy mountain stages ahead of Latvala first car on the road and hated it but Latvala, running one car behind, held the field at bay. Firstly it was Atkinson then Loeb who kept up the pressure, but even though conditions improved in the second run through the stages on the Friday afternoon the Finn kept the lead through until the end of the day. On the Saturday, Loeb squeezed out a slender lead while in the afternoon things went wrong for Latvala, when a high pressure turbocharger pipe leaked and deprived the engine of turbo pressure. Latvala lost two minutes and dropped to third, behind Loeb and Atkinson, where he stayed till the end of the event. Petter Solberg and Atkinson were the two pace-setters on the pre-event shakedown but, after lying in fourth place overnight, Solberg had transmission troubles and 46