Thierry Neuville retained the rally lead through the final day's stages to win the Tour de Corse, giving the young Belgian his maiden win in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
The Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg driver and his co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul entered Saturday's six stages with a lead of 23.4 seconds over Skoda Motorsport's Jan Kopecky.
The Czech driver won the opening stage of the day, SS9 Sarrola – Plage du Liamone to close the gap to Neuville down to 14.5 seconds. However, Neuville hit back to win the next three stages, eventually winning the rally by 15.5 seconds. In doing so, the 22-year-old became the youngest winner of an IRC rally in its five year history.
Freddy Loix finished third in his BFO Skoda, taking the standings lead in the process. He had been demoted outside of the podium places by Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen on the second stage of the day, but the Norwegian lost more than three minutes on SS12 with a puncture.
Former rally leader Bryan Bouffier had recovered from his puncture on Friday to move up from sixth to fourth, only to crash out on the very last stage, with the live television pictures showing his Peugeot France 207 upside down amongst some trees.
This gave fourth to local star Pierre Campana, on his maiden IRC event in an S2000 car. The Corsican lost two minutes on the final stage with a puncture but was still able to hold onto fourth.
Bruno Magalhaes began the day eighth in the Peugeot Sport Portugal 207, and thanks to Mikkelsen's puncture he was up to seventh going into the final stage. He benefited from Bouffier's crash as well as passing the Fiesta of Julien Maurin to move up into fifth overall. Mikkelsen recovered to sixth after his puncture, finishing just 1.9 seconds behind Magalhaes, with Maurin still finishing an IRC-best seventh.
Toni Gardemeister brought his TGS Worldwide Skoda home in eighth despite limping through the final stage with a clutch problem. Patrik Sandell had languished outside of the top ten on his IRC debut with Skoda Sweden for much of the event but ended the rally in ninth. Local driver Jean-Mathieu Leandri completed the top ten in his 207.
Florian Gonon secured Production Cup honours in 11th overall in his Subaru Impreza, one place ahead of 2WD Cup winner Pierre-Antoine Guglielmi in his Renault Clio.
Peugeot UK's Guy Wilks went off the road on the Friday's second stage when running in third position.
Loix now leads the standings, with Neuville and Kopecky tied for second, five points behind Loix. Reigning champion Juho Hanninen‘s absence from Corsica drops the Finn to fourth, with Bouffier’s retirement leaving the Monte Carlo Rally winner down in fifth. The next round of the IRC season is the Prime Yalta Rally in Ukraine on 2-4 June.
Top ten finishers after SS14:
|1||5||Thierry Neuville||Peugeot Belux||Peugeot 207||03:20:51.0|
|2||4||Jan Kopecky||Skoda||Skoda Fabia||+15.5|
|3||2||Freddy Loix||BFO Skoda||Skoda Fabia||+1:02.6|
|4||10||Pierre Campana||Munaretto||Peugeot 207||+3:59.1|
|5||7||Bruno Magalhaes||Peugeot Portugal||Peugeot 207||+4:28.2|
|6||6||Andreas Mikkelsen||Skoda UK||Skoda Fabia||+4:30.1|
|7||11||Julien Maurin||Privateer||Ford Fiesta||+4:33.3|
|8||8||Toni Gardemeister||TGS Worldwide||Skoda Fabia||+6:33.3|
|9||12||Patrik Sandell||Skoda Sweden||Skoda Fabia||+8:28.8|
|10||18||Jean-Mathieu Leandri||Privateer||Peugeot 207||+9:41.5|