Hyundai Motorsport’s Neuville wins Rally Argentina in dramatic finale

In one of the most electrifying World Rally Championship finales in memory, Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul claimed a stunning victory by only 0,7 second in Rally Argentina, the fifth round of the 2017 FIA WRC.

It is the team’s second win in a row after Tour de Corse and its fifth WRC victory in total. Not only is it the first time that Hyundai Motorsport has secured back-to-back successes, but the Belgian crew also become the first repeat winners of the 2017 WRC season.

It was a less positive final day for the two other Hyundai Shell Mobile World Rally Team crews. Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard took sixth place overall, despite power steering problems for most of the final stage. Meanwhile, the troubles continued for Dani Sordo and Marc Martí as they picked up a front-right puncture in the Power Stage. They managed to bring their car home to take eighth place overall.

Epic showdown

After a torrid start to the rally on Friday, Neuville and Gilsoul began an epic fightback on Saturday to reduce the gap to rally leader Elfyn Evans. From being one minute down at the start of the second day, they started Sunday’s three stages with a deficit of only 11,5 seconds. An incredible win in Special Stage 17 (Mina Clavero –Giulio Cesare) further reduced the gap to just 0,6 second.

The stage was set for the ultimate showdown with two crews vying head-to-head for victory in the El Condor Power Stage.  A quick and clean run by Neuville was enough, as he triumphed by a mere 0,7 second. The result enters the history books as the third closest ever finish in WRC, after Rally Jordan in 2011 (0,2s) and Rally New Zealand in 2007 (0,3s).

Taking Power stage spoils as well, Neuville picked up the maximum 30 points on offer in Argentina to advance to a third place in the increasingly close-fought drivers’ championship.

Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (No. 5 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC):

Neuville and Gilson took five stage wins over the Rally Argentina weekend in their impressive comeback. Sunday’s win was their fourth WRC victory as a Hyundai Motorsport crew and the first time they have won twice in a single season. Victory in the final El Condor stage also continued Neuville’s unbroken run of Power Stage points this year, which now totals 19.

Neuville commented: “I have never had such a nerve-wracking final few minutes of a rally in my career. It’s an amazing result and I have to thank all of the team for everything they’ve done. Congratulations also to Elfyn, who put up an incredible fight this weekend. I gave it absolutely everything I had in today’s final stages.

“After the difficult start to the rally, I would have been happy to take second, but it’s a special feeling to win again. It has been an exciting, but the crazy rally from the start, so to come away with the victory is fantastic.”

Crew Notes: Paddon/Kennard (No. 4 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC):

Paddon and Kennard had little in the way of good fortune this weekend, in an event that they impressively won twelve months ago. Today’s Power Stage may have been reminiscent of their experiences from 2016, but their own result was a stark contrast. Two stage wins on Friday were a highlight of a tough weekend.

Paddon said: “You could not have written a script more opposite to what we had here last season. We’ve gone from a career high to a result that is much lower on the scale. I just can’t believe our luck. Our issue on Friday was long behind us as we started to show some improved performance. There was not much we could do about our position but we wanted to build a rhythm.  I didn’t have the feeling with the car in this morning’s stages, and that culminated with a power steering problem in the Power Stage. We struggled to the finish but sixth place is not where we want to be.”

Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (No. 6 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC):

Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí were unable to recover from their huge 11-minute deficit on Friday after breaking a steering arm on SS3 (Amboy / Anta Monica). Starting first on the road on Saturday and the opening stages of Sunday meant the Spanish crew could only focus on bringing the car home. A puncture on the Power Stage only compounded their frustrations.

Sordo said: “It has been a horrible weekend for us. The rally was over almost as soon as it had begun, really. When you lose so much time early in the event, it is impossible to regain that. We just had to concentrate on bringing the car to the end, but even that was difficult. The puncture on El Condor came at the beginning of the stage, and it typified our luck this weekend.”

One to remember

Hyundai Motorsport has strengthened its grip on second place in the manufacturers’ championship with the dramatic result in Rally Argentina.

Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “What an incredible finale for a thrilling rally. Our congratulations to Thierry and Nicolas for a victory that we’ll all remember for a long time, and to Elfyn and M-Sport for putting up such an incredible battle. To win by such a small margin after 360 km is remarkable, and it’s no surprise that it’s one of the closest finishes ever. Argentina is a tough place to come rallying and we knew it would be hard on these new cars in their first event here.

“We have plenty of lessons from this event, which we will use to improve our Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC for the coming gravel events. For now, though, we can celebrate an important victory. We are very happy to become the first team to win two rallies this season – and we hope we can achieve more.”

The WRC returns to Europe for Rally de Portugal, which takes place from 18 to 21 May, the second of five consecutive gravel events.

The final overall result, Rally Argentina:

1.   T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3:38:10.6

2.  E. Evans/D. Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +0.7

3.  O. Tanak/M. Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +29.9

4.  S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:24.7

5.  J. M. Latvala/M. Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:48.1

6.  H. Paddon/J. Kennard (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +7:42.7

7.  J. Hänninen/K. Lindstrom (Toyota Yaris WRC) +11:16.9

8.  D. Sordo/M. Martí (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +14:44.1

9.  M. Østberg/O. Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +15:11.3

10. P. Tidemand/J. Andersson (Skoda Fabia R5) +17:32.1

2017 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ standings:

1. S. Ogier (102 points); 2. J.M Latvala (86); 3. T. Neuville (84); 4. O. Tanak (66); 5. D. Sordo (51); 6. E. Evans (42); 7. C. Breen (33); 8. H. Paddon (33); 9. K. Meeke (27); 10. J. Hänninen (15); 11. A. Mikkelsen (12); 12. S. Lefebvre (10).

2017 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ standings:

  1. M-Sport World Rally Team (162 points)
  2. Hyundai Motorsport (140)
  3. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC (99)
  4. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team (71)