Lappi lit up the timing screens across the afternoon’s stages, winning three of the five tests to turn a 1.4s margin from the morning loop into a 5.3s advantage over six-time Rally Mexico winner Ogier.
Ogier managed to close to within 0.3s early in the afternoon before Lappi reeled off a string times to pull clear of the eight-time world champion, prior to a mini Ogier fightback on the last stage.
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans ended the day in third, albeit 30.1s adrift after struggling to match the pace of Lappi and Ogier. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville completed the loop in fourth, 9.7s behind Evans.
World champion Kalle Rovanpera, who was effectively the road sweeper for much of the day, limited the damage to hold fifth, 59.7s in arrears.
A puncture late in the afternoon dropped Hyundai’s Dani Sordo from fourth to sixth, while championship leader Ott Tanak heads into Saturday outside of the points after recovering from a turbo failure on stage 3.
M-Sport duo Pierre-Louis Loubet and Jourdan Serderidis, and Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta retired after crashes during the morning loop.
The afternoon began with a second pass of the El Chocolate (29.07km) test, and unlike the morning Tanak was able to pass through the stage at rally speed after his M-Sport squad managed to fix the turbo failure that blighted his morning.
However, starting first on the road the Estonian struggled for outright pace and ended the test 29.0s behind the stage winner.
"The turbo is fine now but it was a big job," said Tanak. "There was quite a bit of cleaning here but generally I have no feeling at all. It's tricky."
Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
It was rally leader Lappi that starred to claim his third stage win of the rally. Armed with hard tyres, the Finn managed to edge Ogier (also on hards) by 0.8s.
The top two were in a league of their own as Evans emerged as the best of the rest ahead of Sordo, Neuville and Rovanpera, some 7.6s adrift of Lappi’s pace.
Ogier issued a response on stage 7 by slashing Lappi’s overall lead to 0.3s after winning the second pass through Ortega. The stage underwent a small change from the morning loop as officials removed a compression that almost caught out Neuville and Rovanpera on the first pass.
Lappi dropped 1.9s to Ogier in the stage, but managed to hang onto to his slender advantage. Evans again was third fastest, extending his margin over Neuville and Rovanpera in the battle for third overall.
That battle was missing Sordo, who dropped out of the fight after the Spaniard i20 N suffered a left rear puncture. The damage ripped a hole in the car that allowed dust to fill the cabin, losing him a minute in the process.
At the front, Lappi managed to recover the time lost to Ogier and increase his rally lead to 3.4s courtesy of a blistering time through Las Minas.
Lappi took 3.1s out of Ogier to chalk up his fourth stage win to date and perhaps the most impressive drive of the rally so far.
"I have been driving with the same rhythm all day and trying to be clean," said Lappi. "I think in here we managed to do it well and the time is okay. The car is feeling great, so I can enjoy."
Tanak however continued to struggle for speed, dropping another 23.2s in the stage with his Puma carrying another issue.
Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1
Photo by: Romain Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport
Neuville was also battling a blocked rear damper that affected the i20 N's handling, but the problem was resolved on the following road section towards the first superspecial stage of the day.
Neuville put in a solid effort in the brand new Las Dunas stage, a blast through a twisty gravel road located in a quarry.
However, the Belgian was unable to beat rally leader Lappi, who delivered an inspired run to win the 3.7km stage by 2.6s. The effort allowed the Hyundai driver to more than double his margin over Ogier to 6.9s.
Lappi’s drive was not the only impressive performance. Oliver Solberg was frustrated following a puncture on the previous test, but produced a stunning effort to put his WRC2 spec Skoda third fastest of anybody and ahead of Ogier, Sordo, Evans and Rovanpera.
The final stage of the day, a short 1km asphalt superspecial around the Leon service park, was won by Sordo who pipped Tanak by 0.5s. It also proved to be valuable test for Ogier, who clawed 1.6s back from leader Lappi.
In WRC2, Gus Greensmith led former M-Sport team-mate Adrien Fourmaux by 8.5s, with reigning champion Emil Lindholm third.
Nine stages await the crews for the Saturday leg of Rally Mexico.
|1||Janne Ferm||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||RC1||1:25'12.0|
|2||Vincent Landais||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||RC1||1:25'17.3||5.3|
|3||Scott Martin||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||RC1||1:25'42.1||30.1|
|4||Martijn Wydaeghe||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||RC1||1:25'51.8||39.8|
|5||Jonne Halttunen||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||RC1||1:26'11.7||59.7|
|6||Candido Carrera||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||RC1||1:26'39.2||1'27.2|
|7||Jonas Andersson||Škoda Fabia RS Rally2||RC2||1:29'02.1||3'50.1|
|8||Alexandre Coria||Ford Fiesta Rally2||RC2||1:29'10.6||3'58.6|
|9||Reeta Hämäläinen||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo||RC2||1:29'28.5||4'16.5|
|10||Maciek Szczepaniak||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo||RC2||1:30'05.1||4'53.1|
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