HYUNDAI’S Thierry Neuville boosted his quest for a maiden drivers’ title with a second-straight win in the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship at Xion Rally Argentina on Sunday.
PHOTO: Two in a row! Thierry Neuville celebrates his victory on Xion Rally Argentina (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull pic)
Neuville, who moved into the series lead with victory in France last month, finished 48.4sec clear of teammate Andreas Mikkelsen to increase his advantage to 10 points.
He seized the lead late in Friday’s rain-soaked opening leg when a broken driveshaft sent Ott Tänak’s Toyota into a time-consuming spin.
He fended off the hard-charging Estonian on Saturday before an alternator problem ended Tänak’s hopes for good and left Neuville clear.
The Belgian eased through Sunday’s final three stages in the rough and rugged Traslasierra Mountains, near host town Villa Carlos Paz, to secure his second Argentine win in three seasons.
“I’m feeling great and we can be proud of what we’ve done. We had a fantastic car all weekend and I felt very comfortable,” he said.
“The result is good for the championship, but upcoming events could be tougher.”
Second for Mikkelsen at this fifth round of 14 in the series – which ends at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 14-17 November – was a welcome change of form for the Norwegian. It was his first podium since Sweden in February 2018 and came on his return to the team after being axed for the previous round.
Six-time champion Sébastien Ogier snatched third in a Citroën C3, a further 16.4sec behind, in a dramatic finale in the iconic El Condór speed test. He overhauled Kris Meeke who struggled with a puncture in his Toyota Yaris for the final 5km. The gap between them was 1.4sec.
Ogier’s charge through El Condór also earned maximum bonus points in the Wolf Power Stage.
Meeke had earlier fought back after a 10sec time penalty late on Saturday for taking the wrong route demoted him to fifth from a podium place. The fired-up Briton quickly saw off Dani Sordo and Ogier on Sunday morning to reclaim third, only to fall back again with the puncture.
It was a disappointing day for Spaniard Dani Sordo. The Hyundai driver struggled for pace and slipped from fourth to sixth. He was also demoted by Jari-Matti Latvala, the Finn taking fifth in a Yaris on his 200th WRC start.
Teemu Suninen was a lonely seventh,and the only M-Sport Ford driver to finish after Elfyn Evans crashed on Saturday.
Tänak salvaged some points by climbing to eighth in the last stage, with WRC 2 Pro winner Mads Østberg and WRC 2 victory Pedro Heller completing the leaderboard.
The championship remains in South America for round six. Copec Rally Chile makes its first appearance in the WRC on 8-12 May. The gravel road encounter is based in Concepción.
Results, Xion Rally Argentina (WRC round 5 of 14):
1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3h20m54.6s
2 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +48.4s
3 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +1m04.8s
4 Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m06.2s
5 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m21.1s
6 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m26.7s
7 Teemu Suninen/Marko Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4m57.3s
8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +14m24.8s
9 Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) +14m28.5s
10 Pedro Heller/Marc Marti (Ford Fiesta R5) +20m14.5s
WRC Drivers’ standings (rd 5):
1 T. Neuville 110
2 S. Ogier 100
3 O. Tanak 82
4 K. Meeke 54
5 E. Evans 43
6 A. Mikkelsen 30
7 J-M Latvala 29
8 E. Lappi 26
9 D. Sordo 26
10 S.Loeb 22
WRC Manufacturers’ standings (rd 5):
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 157
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 120
3 Citroën Total World Rally Team 117
4 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 78