There was little to split Rally Guanajuato Mexico leader Sebastien Ogier and second-placed Jari-Matti Latvala through Saturday morning's opening speed test.
More than 30km of flat-out driving over tough gravel roads in the mountains above Leon ended with the Volkswagen Polo R team-mates split by just 0.2sec. It left Ogier leading by 13.7sec.
"Not an easy stage, but I had a clean run," said Ogier. "We tried our best but it's hard to push."
Latvala clipped a rock 5km from the finish and although the Finn reported a strange feeling from the damper for a couple of kilometres, he was unconcerned.
"There was a big rock in a right corner which I drove over and it sent a shock through the damper. It felt like a puncture but the tyres are OK," he explained.
Mads Ostberg was third fastest in his DS 3 ahead of Dani Sordo, who reported brake problems towards the finish in his Hyundai i20.
All yesterday's retirees restarted, including Ott Tanak after a crane raised his Ford Fiesta RS from its resting place in five metres of water after rolling into a lake.
The car was winched out after 10 hours beneath the surface and astonishingly M-Sport’s mechanics had it running again in just three hours.
They replaced the gearbox, fuel tank, turbo, cooling package, boost control valves, electronics, brakes and suspension at the front and rear. They also repaired the engine block and drained it of water.
Tanak drove the car into parc ferme at midnight amid huge applause from watching crowds. However, problems starting the engine this morning meant he left service late and stopped in the refuel zone at the service park exit. It is hoped he will restart tomorrow.
Jari-Matti Latvala's hopes of challenging team-mate Sebastien Ogier for victory at Rally Guanajuato Mexico ended when he hit a bank and wrecked the rear of his Volkswagen Polo R.
The Finn limped through the second half of Otates with his rear left wheel missing after a mistake, and retired from the leg at the end of the stage after conceding more than six minutes.
"We went a little bit wide in a fast right corner, the rear came out and hit a bank. We broke the rear suspension and lost the wheel," said a dejected Latvala.
He was overtaken in the stage by Mads Ostberg, who climbs to second overall in Citroen's DS 3. He is 50.5sec behind Sebastien Ogier, who set fastest time by 13.0sec ahead of the Norwegian.
"We had a good stage," said Ogier. "We've done the perfect rally, the perfect job. My target was not to lose too much to Jari-Matti this morning and push this afternoon, but his problem makes things a bit different for us."
Ostberg lost a few seconds in the dust of Latvala's stricken car, but said his promotion to second would not change his plans. "I'll continue driving like I am. I came here to enjoy it, it's quite enjoyable and I don’t want to change anything," he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen and Elfyn Evans climbed to third and fourth, the Welshman’s Fiesta RS completing the stage just a few seconds behind Latvala. Benito Guerra spun, while Lorenzo Bertelli stopped his Fiesta RS after 17km.
Dani Sordo and Robert Kubica shared fastest times through Saturday morning's final two stages at Guanajuato Rally Mexico, but Sebastien Ogier held a comfortable lead at the midpoint of the third day.
Sordo won the live TV El Brinco stage in his Hyundai i20 before Pole Kubica topped the timesheets in the short León street stage in a Ford Fiesta RS. “I pushed really hard,” said the Spaniard, who claimed the highest average speed so far at 105.36kph.
Ogier was second in both tests in his Volkswagen Polo R and led Mads Ostberg by 1min 08.3sec as drivers entered service.
"The pressure is not off, it's just a bit different now because Jari-Matti’s mistake has changed our philosophy. Now we have to control the lead and stay out of trouble which isn't an easy job. The temperatures will be very high this afternoon, which is a big challenge for the car," he said.
Ostberg dropped 15sec after spinning his DS 3 in El Brinco. "I think I hit something on the long stage and that damaged my right front suspension. The front end was very nervous from there on. Andreas is close behind but I’m not too worried," he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen is 9.7sec adrift in his Volkswagen Polo R, having extended his advantage over fourth-placed Elfyn Evans to 31.9sec.
"I feel I'm too hesitant in places and we’ve been losing more time than we would like. I don't think we need to change anything, we just need to concentrate on being clean because there are still a lot of people having problems out there," said Evans.
Both Hayden Paddon and Kris Meeke reported brake problems, while Thierry Neuville felt the gearbox in his i20 was not working properly.
Sebastien Ogier will take a lead of 1min 15.2sec into Sunday’s final leg of Rally Guanajuato Mexico after a mistake by team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala this morning left him in the clear.
The Volkswagen Polo R colleagues were split by less than 14 seconds when Latvala hit a bank midway through the 42.90km Otates test and ripped the rear left wheel from his car. He limped to the end of the stage before retiring.
It left Ogier with room to breathe ahead of the developing battle between Mads Ostberg and Andreas Mikkelsen. However, the Frenchman added four stage victories to his tally from the eight tests, most over gravel roads in the mountains above Leon.
"It has been a perfect rally up to now, everything is working like a dream. There is a very long stage tomorrow morning but with the lead we have we can afford to drive safely," said Ogier.
Latvala's dejection was absolute after his error. "The championship looks bad, for sure. So I’m going to forget the championship and concentrate rally-by-rally and see where we are at the end of the year. That’s the only thing I can do," he said.
Ostberg put second place in jeopardy when he spun his DS 3 in SS13 and lost 15sec after damaging his front suspension in the previous stage. He slipped into the clutches of Andreas Mikkelsen but a stage win this afternoon kept him ahead by 4.5sec.
Mikkelsen insisted he was driving at a measured pace to gain experience of roads that were mainly new to him but he still won the final stage.
Elfyn Evans was fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS. The Welshman admitted he was too hesitant in places as Dani Sordo closed. But when the Spaniard lost a minute after hitting stones and breaking his Hyundai i20’s front left wheel, Evans could relax.
Martin Prokop was sixth ahead of WRC 2 drivers Nasser Al-Attiyah, Nicolas Fuchs, Jari Ketomaa and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari.
Rally 2 returnee Thierry Neuville was 11th after changing his i20’s gearbox at mid-leg service while Kris Meeke and Robert Kubica both lost time with punctures. Hayden Paddon ended the day with a down on power i20 after its engine overheated.
Ott Tanak restarted his Fiesta RS after it was winched from its resting place in five metres of water 10 hours after rolling into a lake.
Astonishingly M-Sport’s mechanics had the car running again in just three hours last night but problems restarting the engine this morning brought the Estonian to a halt before he could leave the service park. He will restart tomorrow.
Sunday's final leg contains just 74.66km, the bulk of which is contained in a monster opening test of 55.82km.
Mads Ostberg won Sunday morning's marathon opening stage at Rally Guanajuato Mexico to edge further ahead in his intense battle with Andreas Mikkelsen for second.
The 55.82km test was the longest of the weekend and Ostberg completed it 3.5sec faster than his fellow Norwegian to extend his advantage to 8.0sec in Citroen’s DS 3 with only two stages remaining.
Mikkelsen spun his Volkswagen Polo R after 45km and had no dashboard data in the cockpit, meaning it was hard for him to understand which gear he was in.
Rally leader Sebastien Ogier took no risks in his Polo R and was second fastest, 2.4sec behind Ostberg. The Frenchman admitted he was surprised the gap wasn’t bigger such was his caution.
Both Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville reported the brakes on their Hyundai i20s started to fade towards the end of the stage. Sordo, returning after breaking two ribs in a training accident last month, was also feeling pain from his heavily strapped right shoulder.
Lorenzo Bertelli completed a disappointing weekend with a third retirement when he went off the road on a right hand bend after 31.6km and ripped the right rear wheel from his Ford Fiesta RS.
Sebastien Ogier secured a hat-trick of victories at Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Sunday when he eased through the final leg to win by 1min 18.8sec.
The winner in 2013 and 2014 took the lead on Thursday night's second stage in his Volkswagen Polo R and was never again headed en route to his third success of the FIA World Rally Championship season.
Mads Ostberg outgunned Andreas Mikkelsen in an all-Norwegian battle for second. His DS 3 finished 6.3sec ahead of Mikkelsen's Volkswagen Polo R after almost 400km of action in the mountains near Leon.
A blistering drive through the final live TV Power Stage earned Ogier the maximum three bonus points. Mikkelsen claimed two with Thierry Neuville taking the final point in a Hyundai i20 in third.
Next Rnd 4 - Rally Argentina April 23-26
First run in 1980 in Tucuman province in the north, when it was known as Rally Codasur.
The 1982 edition was cancelled due to the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina.
Moved to Bariloche, in the south, in 1983 but found its home in Cordoba in 1984.
Argentines are passionate soccer fans and in 2007 a stage was held at the River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires while Cordoba stadium, home to Talleres, has twice hosted stages and the finish.
What’s new for 2015
Thursday night's curtain-raiser in Villa de Merlo, 235km from Carlos Paz in San Luis province, has never been held before.
Two stages north of Carlos Paz will feature roads not used since 2007.
The fast stages in the Calamuchita valley have been dropped from the itinerary.