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I hope we did no harm, says winner Ogier

 

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Weird feeling: Sebastien Ogier

Weird feeling: Sebastien Ogier

Weird feeling: Sebastien Ogier

Sebastien Ogier won a shortened Rally Mexico, which he believes should never have taken place.

And as the six-time world champion moved to the top of the WRC standings with his first win for his new Toyota team, he apologised to the Mexican people and said he hoped the event taking place "didn't bring any harm" to them.

The rally was cut short due to the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak, with yesterday's stages axed to reduce the risk of personnel missing the reducing number of flights home.

In no mood to celebrate, Ogier said: "A victory is a victory of course but this one feels completely different to any others because for me this rally should not have happened.

"For me, protecting human life should go first and I hope we didn't bring any harm to the Mexican people. At least I want to apologise to them that I couldn't spend time and give autographs and pictures like every year.

"For sure I know that they still have joy to see rally cars but it's been a mixed feeling for me this weekend, so now our priority is to go home and take care of my family in this difficult time."

Ogier, who was part of a big reshuffle at Toyota which saw Ott Tanak leave for Hyundai and Ulster's Kris Meeke axed, won by 27 seconds from 2019 world champion Tanak with Ford's Teemu Suninen finishing third.

Hyundai's Thierry Neuville led the rally after the opening stages on the historic streets of Guanajuato on Thursday night but once the rally hit the gravel mountain roads, Ogier dominated proceedings and rocketed up from sixth at the end of SS2 to lead the rally at the end of SS4 and build up a 13-second margin by the conclusion of Friday's running.

Hyundai had issues with the i20s of Neuville and Dani Sordo, both suffering engine problems in the high altitude, while former Circuit of Ireland winner Esapekka Lappi, in fourth place at the time, could only watch as his M-Sport Ford Fiesta caught fire and burned to the ground after the seventh stage.

Ogier continued to extend his lead on the third day of the rally, building a 30-second gap before cruising to the finish to take his sixth Mexican win ahead of Tanak, who recovered from damaging the rear suspension of his Hyundai to overhaul Suninen's Fiesta in the closing stages.

Ogier's team-mate Elfyn Evans, winner of the previous round in Sweden, finished fourth with teenager Kalle Rovanpera making it three Toyotas in the top five.

Further back, former Irish Tarmac champion John Coyne and co-driver Stephen Joyce battled their way to the finish in 15th place in their R5 Fiesta but Barry McKenna and James Fulton retired their Skoda Fabia with mechanical problems.

The next round in Argentina had been scheduled for April 23-26 but has now been postponed and it is unclear when the series will resume.

Off, too, is the Circuit of Kerry which would have been the second round of the Irish National Rally Championship on April 5.

Locally, one motorsport event did take place over the weekend, the second round of the Northern Ireland Sprint Championship at Kirkistown. It was won by 2019 champion Adrian Pollock ahead of Joe Courtney in a Dallara one-two.

Pollock was trailing after the first two runs but came up with a strong finish to pip Courtney, while Alan Cassells took third place in his Radical.

Belfast Telegraph