Reigning champion Sebastien Ogier holds a 1.2 second lead over Thierry Neuville after Thursday night’s opening two stages on Rally Mexico.

Hyundai man Neuville was quickest on the opening test, through the streets and tunnels of host town Guanajuato. Then Ogier prevailed on the super special at the Leon race track.

Andreas Mikkelsen, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mads Ostberg close out the top five.

The crews will spend the next three days racing through the mountains surrounding Guanajuato, taking in some of the longest stages of the season. Friday features two runs through the 44.13km El Chocolate stage, Saturday takes in the 42.90km Otates test, and Sunday’s itinerary includes the 55.82km of Guanajuatito.

It’s not just the length of the stages that the drivers have to contend with. The roads are rough and thick with dust, which can hang in the air, causing visibility problems. As championship leader, Ogier runs first on the road during Friday and Saturday, clearing a path through the stages, which will probably slow him down.

The cars will struggle too, due to the high altitude. The entire route is at least 1,800 meters above sea level, reaching a peak of 2,781m on El Chocolate. The reduced oxygen levels strangle the cars’ engines, reducing power by around 30 per cent – 100bhp in a top-line WRC car.

That will force the drivers to work their machines harder, potentially leading to reliability issues. And they’ll have to contend with the effects of altitude themselves, as well.

A third straight victory on Rally Mexico will give Ogier a massive advantage in the championship standings – after two events, he already has a 23-point cushion at the top on the table. Neuville and Mikkelsen are tied for third, while Latvala is a distant fourth after retiring last time out in Sweden.

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Drivers’ Championship top 10¬†after 2 events

  1. Sebastien Ogier — Volkswagen — 53 points
  2. Thierry Neuville — Hyundai — 30
  3. Andreas Mikkelsen — Volkswagen — 30
  4. Jari-Matti Latvala — Volkswagen — 19
  5. Mads Ostberg — Citroen — 14
  6. Elfyn Evans — Ford — 14
  7. Ott Tanak — Ford — 12
  8. Hayden Paddon — Hyundai — 10
  9. Kris Meeke — Citroen — 10
  10. Dani Sordo — Hyundai — 8

Manufacturers’ Championship standings after 2 events

  1. Volkswagen Motorsport — 68 points
  2. Hyundai Motorsport — 55
  3. M-Sport World Rally Team — 32
  4. Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team — 20
  5. Volkswagen Motorsport II — 15
  6. Jipocar Czech National Team — 10
  7. FWRT srl — 1
  8. Hyundai Motorsport N — 1