Thierry Neuville became the first repeat winner of the 2017 World Rally Championship season with a last gasp victory of the YPF Rally Argentina.
The Hyundai driver was just 0.6 second behind rally long leader Elfyn Evans going into the final powerstage but came out of the second run through El Condor 0.7 second at the line, the third closest finish in WRC history.
Neuville’s win means that the Tour de Corse winner is the first repeat winner of the season and brings him right into championship contention, he is only 18 points of leader Sébastien Ogier.
Day three began with 11.5 seconds separating the top two after Neuville’s eroded the DMACK World Rally Team driver’s previously comfortable one minute over the course of day two.
Neuville carried on where he left off on day two, taking 2.5 seconds out of Evans, the gap was now 9 seconds.
Neuville seemed to be fully confident and fully committed while Evans was hobbled with no brakes for half of the stage.
The brakes were sorted for the next stage but he lost 8.4 seconds to the Belgian, going into the final stage of the rally, the powerstage on the legendary El Condor test.
Evans still lead but only by 0.6 seconds and had 16km to defend the lead he had held since stage 2.
Neuville went first and stopped the clock at 13 minutes dead and now he had to wait for the Welshman’s response.
“I gave it everything,” he said at the end of the stage.
“I didn’t have the best tyres left because I was pushing on the two before.
“Even if we don’t win we have done our best.”
Evans arrived two minutes later with a 13 minutes 1.4 second time, the rally was Neuville’s by just 0.7 seconds.
“Watching that was the worst time in my life,” a relieved and delighted Belgian exclaimed.
“He was quicker than me at the first split, but I got it back in the second.”
Evans blamed his slower time of hitting a bridge, but was mostly rueful of letting such a huge lead slip.
“I feel gutted to lose by such a fine margin,” he said.
“It’s hard to take at the minute but I know we can come back stronger.
“After such a big lead on Friday – I need to learn from this.”
Behind them Ott Tanak claimed the final podium position in both the powerstage and the rally after a brilliant performance.
The Estonian was more than a minute clear of his M-Sport team-mate and championship leader Sébastien Ogier at the finish.
Ogier ended a frustrating Rally Argentina in fourth having struggled with an ill-handling Fiesta WRC for most of the event.
“It’s not been my weekend”, the Frenchman ruefully noted.
Still he is firmly in the lead of the championship ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala but is now looking over his shoulder at Neuville, the Belgian is only now 18 points off his lead.
Latvala ended the rally in fifth, praising the way the new Toyota Yaris WRC was able to handle the rocky roads.
“I think the rough conditions suit our car well,” he claimed and then said, “I just drove over the rocks – this car is like a tank.”
Behind him in sixth was last year’s winner Hayden Paddon, yet again frustrated and annoyed at his finishing position, not helped by power steering failure in the power stage.
Pontus Tidemand was the winner in WRC2 winning the category by 10 minutes in his factory Skoda Fabia R5.
Second was Argentinian driver Juan Carlos Alonso, while Benito Guerra Jr. used Rally 2 rules to finish third.