Thierry Neuville claimed his and Hyundai’s first victory of 2019. The sun drenched island of Corsica lived up to its fearsome reputation and saw a close and frantic battle, which was not decided until the final stage which brought the rally to a dramatic climax.
Day 1 of the rally on Friday opened up and saw a fearsome battle between Elfyn Evans in his Ford Fiesta and Ott Tanak in his Toyota Yaris. Evans & Tanak traded blows throughout the day, both parties setting fastest stage times throughout the day. Thierry Neuville desperately hung onto the coat tails of the charging Tanak & Evans but struggled in the morning as he lacked confidence in the Hyundai’s handling; Eventually, Neuville gained confidence and steadied the gap to Evans & Tanak.
Day 1 ended with Elfyn Evans leading by 4.5 seconds from Tanak, but this was only after Evans was credited time back after being held up by Kris Meeke, who was limping through the final stage of the day with damaged suspension after hitting a kerb. Tanak followed in second despite a damper problem hampering his charge towards the close of day 1. Neuville finished the day in third, helped by his growing confidence in the Hyundai’s handling as the day wore on. Team-mate Dani Sordo & Ford driver Teemu Sunninen rounded out the top 5.
Day 2, after a dramatic first day, the drivers would probably have appreciated a quieter day, but that wasn’t to be the case. The battle at the head of the field heated up even more. Evans opened up the day as the leader, but the chasing Tanak and Neuville began to turn the screw on Evans even more. Neuville, Tanak & Evans duked it out and set a blistering pace throughout the day.
Neuville finished the day as the leader while Evans lost time after brushing a dirt bank and upsetting the handling balance of his Ford Fiesta. Ott Tanak had a disaster in stage 11, the final one of the day, suffering a puncture and dropping 2 minutes which plunged Tanak down to sixth. This allowed Sebastien Ogier to finish the day in third place, although this was more due to consistency as Ogier had spent the rally struggling with an ill handling Citroen C3. Dani Sordo remained in fourth place in his Hyundai and Teemu Sunninen held station in fifth place in his Ford Fiesta.
The drama of the day was still not over; The WRC2 Polo of Eric Camilli burst into flames in the final stage, causing a red flag and bringing a pre-mature end to the days running.
The final day of the rally dawned with the pieces in place for an epic finale with everything up for grabs. Neuville and Evans duked it out throughout the day setting a torrid pace, gapping a chasing Seb Ogier who despite his usual heroic driving was still struggling with an ill balanced Citroen C3. As the day continued the toll of the rally was starting to make itself felt on some of the competitors. Dani Sordo struggled with brake problems towards the end of the day, but Sordo’s issues were nothing compared to Elfyn Evans heartbreak.
The final stage of the day should have seen a titanic duel for the win between Neuville & Evans, but as Evans was running the final stage and setting a strong pace, the Welshman suffered a puncture. The end result was elementary, 90 seconds lost, this plunged Evans from the lead down to third. This meant that Neuville was the surprise winner and only found at stage end, it also saw Ogier elevated into second. Dani Sordo came home in fourth despite his brake issues and Teemu Sunninen’s cautious run resulted in a fifth place finish. WRC2 saw Fabio Andolfi take his first WRC2 victory of 2019.
Despite Evans heartbreak, Corsica was further proof that Ford’s a car that is capable of winning, one can hope that Ford have got their bad luck for 2019 out of the way and can break their victory duck.
At the close of Corsica, the championship standings are thus:
- Thierry Neuville – 82 points
- Sebastien Ogier – 80 points
- Ott Tanak – 77 points
- Elfyn Evans – 43 points
- Kris Meeke – 42 points
The next round of the championship sees a return to South America and the gruelling altitude of Rally Argentina, which takes place on April 25th to the 28th.