Thierry Neuville has picked up victory in the Tour de Corse after previous leader Elfyn Evans copped a puncture on the final stage of Round 4 of the season.
Evans was a constant presence at the top end of the leaderboard in France but ultimately finished more than a minute off the lead in third overall in his M-Sport Ford.
Neuville’s victory sees him take the World Rally Championship lead from Ott Tanak after the Toyota Gazoo driver came home in sixth.
Evans won the first stage and two more to be fastest at the end of Friday, after being granted an identical time to Tanak in Special Stage 6 due to being held up by an ailing Kris Meeke.
Tanak therefore trailed the leader by 4.5s at that point, but overhauled Evans on the Saturday morning loop, at which time Neuville was 14.9s behind the top two.
A puncture for the lead Yaris turned the event on its head for a first time on SS11, plunging Tanak to seventh, before Neuville stormed into a 4.5s lead at day’s end having beaten Evans by 16 seconds on SS12.
Evans reversed that out exactly on the penultimate stage of the event and should have been able to negotiate his way to an overall victory in the Power Stage, but it was not to be for the Welshman.
“It’s disappointing right now, but overall it’s been a really positive weekend and we know that we had the speed to win,” said the M-Sport driver.
“The first stage this morning felt really good, and we had a good rhythm going into the Power Stage. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it felt like we were in the middle of the road and just unfortunate to hit a stone or something in the line.”
After his first event win of the campaign, in which he also picked up two Power Stage points, Neuville said, “What an incredible rally and a fantastic result!
“I would like to extend my thoughts to Elfyn and Scott (Martin, co-driver); I am really disappointed for them. It had been a great battle and they were undoubtedly the quicker crew this weekend.
“We didn’t really know what had happened until we saw our mechanics at the end.
“I pushed hard in the Power Stage and the points we’ve scored this weekend are hugely important for the championship.”
Splitting Neuville and Evans was Sebastien Ogier, despite not winning a stage, and the Citroen driver is now a reduced two points from the championship lead having finished fifth in the Power Stage.
Dani Sordo (Hyundai) took fourth and Teemu Suninen (M-Sport Ford) fifth, the latter with three Power Stage points also to his name.
Tanak could only get back to sixth for the rally but reduced the damage by finishing second in the Power Stage to team-mate Meeke.
The latter was on the back foot from the very first stage when he broke his Yaris’s left-front rim and set the 23rd fastest time, then damaged suspension on SS5.
Meeke did win Special Stages 2, 10, and 14 of 14, to be ninth overall, behind Esapekka Lappi (Citroen) and Sebastien Loeb (Hyundai).
A run-in with a kerb on SS1 had set Loeb back, while Jari-Matti Latvala (Toyota Gazoo) rounded out the Manufacturer class entries in 10th.
WRC2 was won by Fabio Andolfi (Skoda) in 11th outright, and WRC2 Pro by Lukasz Pieniazek (M-Sport Ford) in 25th.
Round 5 is Rally Argentina on April 25-28.
Tour de Corse: Results (Top 10)
|1||11||T. NEUVILLE||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||M||RC1||3:22:59.0|
|2||1||S. OGIER||Citroen Total WRT||M||RC1||+40.3|
|3||33||E. EVANS||M-Sport Ford World Rally Team||M||RC1||+1:06.6|
|4||6||D. SORDO||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||M||RC1||+1:18.4|
|5||3||T. SUNINEN||M-Sport Ford World Rally Team||M||RC1||+1:24.6|
|6||8||O. TÄNAK||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||M||RC1||+1:40.0|
|7||4||E. LAPPI||Citroen Total WRT||M||RC1||+2:09.1|
|8||19||S. LOEB||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||M||RC1||+3:39.2|
|9||5||K. MEEKE||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||M||RC1||+5:06.3|
|10||10||J. LATVALA||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||M||RC1||+6:44.6|
Tour de Corse: Power Stage (Bonus points)
|1||5||Kris MEEKE||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||9:54.0||5|
|2||8||Ott TÄNAK||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||+4.4||4|
|3||3||Teemu SUNINEN||M-Sport Ford World Rally Team||+9.8||3|
|4||11||Thierry NEUVILLE||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||+11.7||2|
|5||1||Sébastien OGIER||Citroen Total WRT||+12.4||1|
|14||Marco BULACIA WILKINSON||BOL||6|
|18||Ole Christian VEIBY||NOR||2|
|21||Ricardo TRIVINO BUJALIL||MEX||1|
|22||Guillaume DE MEVIUS||BEL||0|
|1||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||114|
|2||Citroen Total WRT||102|
|3||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||98|
|4||M-Sport Ford World Rally Team||70|