Rally Argentina had it all: more twists than The Da Vinci Code, gravel roads rougher than the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and a spectacular finish tenser than a violin bow, with Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville winning by less than a second from Ford privateer Elfyn Evans on the final stage.
Belgian Neuville edged out longtime leader Evans by just 0.7sec in a pulsating final speed test on Sunday when the Welshman clipped a bridge, ending his dreams of a maiden victory. 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.
After Kris Meeke crashed out of second place, 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.
Red Bull TV was there to cover it all, fronted as always by presenter Mike Chen.
Mike has been around a bit when it comes to the World Rally Championship: in fact, he’s even given rally driving a go himself competing on last year’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB. So he knows a good WRC driver when he sees one – although apparently, he’s not about to give up his day job quite yet.
Here are Mike’s top five drivers on Rally Argentina: the toughest and most unpredictable event of the year so far.
- Elfyn Evans. “The young Welshman showed incredible pace throughout the rally and demonstrated exceptional maturity considering the pressure he was under. His career has had so many ups and downs, but this was his best performance yet and definitely the start of something special. He’s a fantastic guy, so absolutely everyone in the service park was delighted to see him perform so strongly. There were no special gifts here: he fought for every second with genuine pace on Rally Argentina. He may have just missed out on a first victory, but expect to see much more from him in future.”
- Thierry Neuville. “After a disappointing start to the year, when he crashed out of the lead twice in Monte-Carlo and Sweden, it’s all starting to come good for Thierry. He lost a lot of time with a puncture on Friday but absolutely refused to let that get him down and just kept pushing all the way to the finish. The way that he reeled in Elfyn at the end of the rally to win was so impressive, setting up a spectacular finish, and there’s no doubt that Thierry is now one of the favourites – perhaps even the favourite – for this year’s title.”
- Ott Tanak. “It’s not often that you see four-time champion Sebastien Ogier get out-paced in a straight fight, in the same car, but that’s exactly what the young Estonian did: beating the one driver who everyone measures themselves against. Ott had a scintillating Saturday and carried that pace through to Sunday as well, claiming yet another podium to demonstrate that he’s got the consistency to match his obvious speed. He was really clever this weekend, and that cleverness has paid off.”
- Jari-Matti Latvala. “So, his Toyota is brand new this year and still needs work, but maybe Jari-Matti hasn’t noticed! He was absolutely flying on the first day, getting every ounce of performance out of the Yaris WRC, until he hit a puncture and an engine problem that dropped him down the order. Had he not experienced those problems, I’m sure he would have been fighting for the top three. Again. Which isn’t what you expect from a new entry. What Toyota and Jari-Matti have done so far this year is amazing.”
- Kris Meeke. “This may sound like a strange choice after he had two massive accidents, but hear me out. With the crash on day one and the amount of damage to the car, it was a testament to the team and to Kris to get back out on day two and immediately take two stage wins. It’s not about how you get knocked down, but about how quickly you get back up again. Although he then had what was probably the biggest shunt of his career on stage 14, I’m sure Kris will get back in the car in Portugal with the same attitude: flat out 100% of the time. That’s what makes him so spectacular to watch; you can tell that Colin McRae played a massive part in his career!”
Catch all the highlights of Rally Argentina on Red Bull TV to see why Mike has made his choices. All the programmes from Rally Argentina are available on demand, meaning you can catch up with the WRC action whenever suits you. Hasta la vista!
The WRC championship continues with round six, Vodafone Rally de Portugal based in Matosinhos, near Porto, on 18-21 May.
YPF Rally Argentina (round 5 of 13)
1. T Neuville / N Gilsou (Hyundai i20) 3hr 38min 10.6sec
2. E Evans / D Barritt (Ford Fiesta) +0.7sec
3. O Tänak / M Jarveöja (Ford Fiesta) +29.9sec
4. S Ogier / J Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta) +1min 24.7sec
5. J-M Latvala / M Anttila (Toyota Yaris) +1min 48.1sec
6. H Paddon / J Kennard (Hyundai i20) +7min 42.7sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 5 of 13):
1. Sébastien Ogier – 102 points
2. Jari-Matti Latvala – 86 points
3. Thierry Neuville – 84 points
4. Ott Tanak – 66 points
5. Dani Sordo – 51 points
6. Elfyn Evans – 42 points
7. Craig Breen – 33 points
8. Hayden Paddon – 33 points
9. Kris Meeke – 27 points
8. Hayden Paddon – 25 points
10. Juho Hanninen – 15 points