Courtesy of WRC Media Services
Belgian pips unlucky Evans by less than a second at YPF Rally Argentina on Sunday.
Thierry Neuville edged out longtime leader Elfyn Evans by just 0.7sec in a pulsating final speed test when the Welshman clipped a bridge, ending his dreams of a maiden victory at the YPF Rally Argentina on Sunday.
Only two rounds have been decided by a smaller margin in the WRC’s 45-year history.
The Hyundai i20 Coupe driver trailed Evans by 11.5sec heading into the last leg of the four-day dirt road encounter. Brake problems for Evans and a fierce Neuville attack sent the pair into the final 16.32km test at the famous El Condor separated by just 0.6sec.
Both drivers threw caution to the wind on the rough mountain tracks, and early split times showed Evans more than three seconds ahead. But as his grip lessened near the finish, the Welshman’s Ford Fiesta swiped a bridge, handing Neuville a second consecutive win.
“Watching that was the worst time in my life,” said Neuville, after viewing Evans’ run from the finish.
“I gave it everything I had, but I didn’t have the best tyres because I had been pushing hard for two stages already.”
An emotional Evans, who led by more than a minute on Saturday, said: “I’m gutted to lose by such a fine margin after so many issues. I hit a bridge and that was probably the difference.
“It’s difficult to take now after holding such a big lead, but part of it is my own doing and I need to come back stronger to win in the future.”
Rock-strewn roads took a heavy toll and merely surviving Friday’s opening leg became the aim of many.
Ott Tänak’s patient strategy paid off as he steered clear of trouble and thrived on the smoother weekend roads to finish third in another Fiesta, a further 29.2sec back.
Reigning champion Sébastien Ogier made it three M-Sport World Rally Team cars in the top four, and the Frenchman increased his championship lead to 16 points after five of 13 rounds. He was almost a minute adrift of Tänak.
Jari-Matti Latvala was Evans’ closest challenger early on, but the Finn slipped back to finish fifth in his Toyota Yaris. Broken power steering completed a torrid weekend for Hayden Paddon, who claimed his maiden win in Argentina 12 months ago. He was sixth.
Vodafone Rally de Portugal hosts round six of the championship in Matosinhos, near Porto, on May 18-21.
YPF Rally Argentina (Villa Carlos Paz), April 27-30 2017:
1. T Neuville / N Gilsou BEL Hyundai i20 3hr 38min 10.6sec
2. E Evans / D Barritt GBR Ford Fiesta +0.7sec
3. O Tänak / M Jarveöja EST Ford Fiesta +29.9sec
4. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Ford Fiesta +1min 24.7sec
5. J-M Latvala / M Anttila FIN Toyota Yaris +1min 48.1sec
6. H Paddon / J Kennard NZL Hyundai i20 +7min 42.7sec
FIA World Rally Championship (round 5 of 13):
1. S Ogier 102pts
2. J-M Latvala 86pts
3. T Neuville 84pts