THIERRY Neuville took a dramatic surprise win at Corsica Linea-Tour de Corse in France on Sunday afternoon after Elfyn Evans suffered a final-stage heartbreak.
Neuville was en route to the podium ceremony believing he had finished second when he discovered leader Evans had punctured a tyre in the final speed test.
Evans dropped 90 seconds limping to the finish, handing Neuville a victory in his Hyundai i20 that boosted the Belgian to a two-point lead in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Neuville carried a 4.5sec lead into the day’s final leg on Corsica’s east coast. His hopes were dented when Evans destroyed him in the opening test, regaining 16.0sec to move into a seemingly comfortable 11.5sec advantage ahead of the final Wolf Power Stage.
“I tried to contact the team to get information, but we were unsure if we had won or not,” said Neuville. “Arriving at the podium I saw my mechanics and only then I understood we had.
“I’m really disappointed for Elfyn, who did a really good job, but we deserved it as well. It was a great battle.”
Evans put on a brave face after finishing third in his Ford Fiesta. Three times he fought back to regain the lead during a topsy-turvy weekend on the asphalt, but there was no opportunity to do so for a fourth time.
“It’s difficult to accept but it’s the nature of the sport,” he said.
“I think it happened on a straight piece of road, a hole or piece of stone that had lifted. I felt it straightaway but tried to drive on it to see if we could minimise the time loss.”
Sébastien Ogier was relieved to claim second, 40.3sec behind Neuville, after a torrid rally in his Citroen C3.
Handling problems slowed the Frenchman and despite many set-up changes, he never found the pace he expected. He was 26.3sec ahead of Evans.
Dani Sordo took fourth in another i20, despite final-day brake problems. The Spaniard fended off Teemu Suninen’s Fiesta by 6.2sec.
Ott Tänak completed the top six in a Toyota Yaris, the Estonian unable to recover from a puncture on Saturday afternoon which cost the lead and a potential second victory of the season.
Esapekka Lappi and Sébastien Loeb were seventh and eighth, with Yaris teammates Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala completing the leaderboard.
Meeke provided some solace for Toyota by gaining maximum bonus points for winning the Wolf Power Stage.
Round five takes competitors to South America for the first of two fixtures there in three weeks. The gravel-road Xion Rally Argentina is based in Villa Carlos Paz on 25-28 April.
COPEC Rally Chile follows on 10-12 May. The closing round, Kennards Hire Rally Australia, will be staged on the NSW Coffs Coast on 14-17 November.
RESULTS, Corsica Linea-Tour de Corse (Rd 4):
1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3h22m59.0s
2 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +40.3s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m06.6s
4 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m18.4s
5 Teemu Suninen/Marko Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m24.6s
6 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m40.0s
7 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +2m09.1s
8 Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +3m39.2s
9 Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5m06.3s
10 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +6m44.6s
FIA WRC Drivers’ Standings) Rd 4):
1 T. Neuville 82
2 S. Ogier 80
3 O. Tanak 77
4 E. Evans 43
5 K. Meeke 42
6 E. Lappi 26
7 S.Loeb 22
8 D. Sordo 16
9 J.M Latvala 15
10 T. Suninen 14
FIA WRC Manufacturers’ Standings (Rd 4):
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 114
2 Citroën Total World Rally Team 102
3 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 98
4 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 70