Demon driver Elfyn Evans almost pulled off his first WRC win in Argentina at the weekend while Tom Cave set the pace for most of the Pirelli Rally in Northern Britain.
Rally Argentina had it all: more twists than The Da Vinci Code, gravel roads rougher than the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and a spectacular finish tenser than a violin bow, with Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville winning by seven-tenths of a second from Ford privateer Elfyn Evans on the final stage.
Belgian Neuville edged out longtime leader Evans by just 0.7sec in a pulsating final speed test on Sunday when the Welshman clipped a bridge, ending his dreams of a maiden victory. Only two rounds have been decided by a smaller margin in the WRC’s 45-year history.
The Hyundai i20 Coupe driver trailed Evans by 11.5sec heading into the last leg of the four-day dirt road encounter. Brake problems for Evans and a fierce Neuville attack sent the pair into the final 16.32km test at the famous El Condor separated by just 0.6sec.
|Both drivers threw caution to the wind on the rough mountain tracks, and early split times showed Evans more than three seconds ahead. But as his grip lessened near the finish, the Welshman’s Ford Fiesta swiped a bridge, handing Neuville a second consecutive win.“Watching that was the worst time in my life,” said Neuville, after viewing Evans’ run from the finish. “I gave it everything I had, but I didn’t have the best tyres because I had been pushing hard for two stages already.”||An emotional Evans, who led by more than a minute on Saturday, said, “I’m gutted to lose by such a fine margin after so many issues. I hit a bridge and that was probably the difference. It’s difficult to take now after holding such a big lead, but part of it is my own doing and I need to come back stronger to win in the future.”|
After one of the most dramatic lead battles in recent memory, CA1 Sport’s Fredrik Ahlin/Torstein Eriksen took victory on the Pirelli International Rally, his second Prestone British Rally Championship victory in a row.
Spencer Sport’s Osian Pryce/Dale Furniss were a close second after a fraught battle on day two, while Marty McCormack/David Moynihan’s McGeehan Motorsport Skoda Fabia adorned the final spot on the podium.
The Pirelli International is one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the calendar due to the characteristics of the stages; loose gravel through one of the largest man-made forests in Europe always has crews at fever pitch and flat-out at over 100mph.
The event got underway at the Pirelli Factory in Carlisle, where fans were thrilled by motorbike and car demonstrations as well as the Prestone simulator. A popular introduction on the Border Counties Rally means the simulator experience is sure to become a popular fixture at each BRC round with prizes on offer for the fastest person on the bespoke BRC stage.
A drive out to the scenic stages in ‘killer’ Kielder got the rally underway, with first blood going to Tom Cave/James Morgan and their Hyundai i20 R5.
The car, which competed on an event for the first time at the end of 2016, was making its British Rally Championship debut in the hands of the two Welshman, with James Morgan on the notes.
The duo was also quickest through the second test, before the crews headed to the quaint village of Bellingham for a regroup and autograph signing session, taking some of the world’s most prestigious and exotic rally cars right under the noses of the Kielder locals.
The attention awarded to the new Hyundai did the crew no good though, as on the third stage of the day, Cave and Morgan retired. A suspension breakage was the cause, and the dream of a debut win evaporated. It was a cruel blow to last year’s championship runners-up and the BRC team which had come from Italy to run the car.
Osian Pryce and James Morgan held second overnight, after a tough day aboard their Ford Fiesta R5 run by the Spencer Sport team. The Alphera Hills Ford car ran perfectly, but needed an adjustment to the setup, also struggling to keep the rear of the car in line. Second overnight was a just reward for a clean run.
|After Sunday’s restart Pryce played his ‘tyre joker’ allowing him the use of two extra tyres for the event, over the ten already permitted.
He put them to use by destroying Ahlin’s lead, dropping it from over 20 seconds to just 4.6s with two stages to go. 2014 BRC Pirelli International winner Pryce was on a charge.
But ice-cool Ahlin is never one to shy away from a battle or pressure, and reacted after service by pulling back 10 seconds to lead Pryce by 15.4s heading into the final stage. He topped Pryce again on the final test, as it transpired that Pryce’s handbrake had broken and it was a case of what could have been for the Welshman.
|Afterwards, Osian said, “We did the last two stages with no handbrake. So we really struggled in the chicanes and lost a load.
“This morning we were happy with everything and the car was night and day better than it was yesterday. I’m just a little bit disappointed because we could have really pushed for that first place. That’s just how it is. There’s positives in the pace and this is good points for the championship. It looks like it will be a good battle between Fredrik and I. We’ll come back on the next one and try to be in contention again.”