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THIERRY Neuville and Sébastien Ogier, the two leading rivals for this year’s FIA World Rally Championship, have hailed their heart-stopping, final-day battle at last weekend’s Rally Italia Sardegna as one for the history books.

In a win-or-bust effort, Neuville won the WRC sixth round in his Hyundai i20 by 0.7 seconds after starting the last stage 0.8 sec behind Ogier and having already whittled back the deficit from 3.9 sec at the start of the day.

The result put Neuville and Hyundai Motorsport further ahead in the drivers’ and manufacturers’ world championship standings.

The drivers and their team managers described the third-closest finish in WRC history as one of their most exciting contests.

Here’s what they said –

Thierry Neuville (winner): “I can’t believe it. We knew we had to give it everything we had this morning and it was a truly fantastic fight with Sébastien. The gap at the end was so small and we left absolutely nothing behind. Battling against Séb is one of the most difficult things to do, so this is a precious victory. Starting first on the road on Friday put us at a disadvantage. The rain helped a bit but we never gave up and we can share in one of the finest wins of our career.”

Sébastien Ogier (2nd): “I don’t think I can be unhappy with this weekend. I did everything I could, but I have to say that I was not prepared to take as many risks as Thierry. We’re only at the halfway point with six more events to come, but for sure we will have to be consistently strong.”

Hyundai Team Principal Michel Nandan: “It was truly a perfect win for Thierry and Nicolas (Gilsoul, co-driver). The battle with Ogier started on Saturday and the intensity of that only increased. I was on the edge of my seat all Sunday morning and the Power Stage was a superb piece of entertainment for all fans. It was a memorable battle with Sébastien and M-Sport Ford which will undoubtedly go down in the WRC history books. We came here hoping to defend our lead of both championships but instead we have extended it – the perfect weekend!”

M-Sport Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson: “This is a day that rally fans will remember for a very long time. It was an incredible battle and fantastic for the sport, but obviously a little gutting to have missed out by such a small margin. At the end of the day, Sébastien delivered a fantastic performance. He pushed hard and gave it his best, but it wasn’t quite enough today. We’re looking forward to the second half of the season and I’m confident that we can continue the fight. It’s clear that we have the pace, and that’s good motivation.”

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.