PHOTO: Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville cuts a tight line on one of Rally France’s 10,000 corners on his way to victory (WRC pic).
THIERRY Neuville claimed his first victory of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship at the Tour de Corse-Rally France on the island of Corsica today.
The Belgian won the four-day tarmac event – the so-called Rally of 10,000 Corners – by 54.7sec in a Hyundai i20 Coupe, becoming the fourth winner in a different car in the opening four rounds of the season.
World Champion Sébastien Ogier finished second in a Ford Fiesta, recovering from a final-morning electrical problem to overtake Dani Sordo on the final stage and extend his championship lead.
Sordo finished 1.3sec further back in another Hyundai.
Jari-Matti Latvala won the event-closing Power Stage in a Toyota Yaris to claim five bonus points. Ogier took four points for second, while Craig Breen secured three for his Citroën team.
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul leapfrogged into the lead from third place late on Saturday morning, as Ogier struggled with cornering performance and former leader Kris Meeke coasted to a stop with a terminally-damaged engine in his Citroën C3 WRC.
They took Sunday’s penultimate stage, a 54 kilometre test over winding, mountainous roads, to set up their event victory and finally banish the pain of having controversially thrown away near-certain wins in Monte-Carlo and Sweden.
“I am sure there are many people who share in this celebration with us, not least the whole of the Hyundai Motorsport team. They have been so supportive of me since Monte Carlo and Sweden and I’m really happy,” Neuville said.
With different winners on the first four events in starkly different conditions – icy tarmac in Monte-Carlo, snow in Sweden, high-altitude gravel in Mexico and constantly-twisting tarmac in France – and faster cars built to new technical rules, the WRC is enjoying its most open season in many years.
Unlike the past four seasons of Volkswagen domination, none of the current manufacturer teams representing Hyundai, Citroën, Toyota or M-Sport (Ford) seems set to run away with the competition, promising it will continue until the season finale at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 16-19 November.
Tickets for Rally Australia are now on sale from www.rallyaustralia.com.au and www.ticketek.com, priced from $39 for a one-day experience.
While Neuville finished Corsica with a comfortable gap, the fight behind continued to the end. Ogier conceded second place to Sordo on the penultimate stage then won it back on the Power Stage finale by just 1.3sec.
Meanwhile, victory on the event-closing Power Stage allowed Latvala to cling to fourth by just 0.1sec – after 317km of competition and a determined last-minute attack by Craig Breen.
New Zealander Hayden Paddon was sixth at the wheel of the third factory Hyundai, still coming to grips with competing on tarmac.
An outstanding seventh outright and first in the WRC2 went to 2016 Kennards Hire Rally Australia winner Andreas Mikkelsen, in a factory Skoda Fabia R5.
The WRC returns to Latin America for Round 5 at Rally Argentina on 27-30 April.
Final standings, Tour de Corse (WRC Rd 4 of 13):
1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3h22m53.4s
2 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +54.7s
3 Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +56s
4 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m09.6s
5 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +1m09.7s
6 Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2m16.3s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Skoda Fabia R5) +8m10.7s
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta R5) +9m17s
9 Stephane Sarrazin/Jacques-Julien Renucci (Skoda Fabia R5) +9m23.6s
10 Yohan Rossel/Benoit Fulcrand (Citroen DS3 R5) +12m57.1s
FIA WRC Drivers Championship:
1 Sébastien Ogier (France) 88 points
2 Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) 75
3 Thiuerry Neuville (Belgium) 54
4 Ott Tänak (Estonia) 50
5 Dani Sordo (Spain) 47
6 Craig Breen (Ireland) 33
7 Kris Meeke (Great Britain) 27
8 Hayden Paddon (New Zealand) 25
9 Elfyn Evans (Great Britain) 20
10 Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) 12
FIA WRC Manufacturers Championship:
1 M-Sport WRT 129 points
2 Hyundai Motorsport 105
3 Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 79
4 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT 71