The racer from Saint Vith, taking full advantage of the ongoing civil war between the French and Welsh teammates which had started on Thursday, kept close behind both only to strike right before the end.
The right moment came just two stages away from the checkered flag. Thierry Neuville has not only kept a steady and constant rhythm behind the two Yaris WRC but has also been very fast overall, sealing nine stage wins over the last couple of days. Wow. Neuville wins for the first time at the Rally Montecarto in his 13th triumph at the WRC.
Saturday: Evans contains Ogier while Neuville prowls behind
Saturday saw another great battle between the Toyotas of Ogier and Evans which the Briton won at the last special of the day and with Neuville hot on his heels. Evans not only managed to keep Thierry Neuville at bay, but he also got his back by re-gaining the provisional leadership by 4,9 seconds.
The third protagonist of the contest, a sensational Thierry Neuville, finished just 6,2 seconds behind the Japanese machines, taking three out of the four stages of the day. The three musketeers thus had to wait until Sunday for the final combat in four stages. Only one of them could now be the winner. The fourth and fifth classified, Seb Loeb and Teemu Sininen were at that point over two minutes behind the leader.
Friday: Ogier leads after Tänak’s dramatic accident
Seb Ogier pushed his Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans from the lead in the 20,59 Km long last special on Friday (SS8 Avançon – Laus 2). That second day of racing, however, was marked by Tänak’s horrific accident – albeit with no injuries – which had him retire.
The Frenchman, who had driven his Yaris WRC for the first time on Thursday, and taken his first stage dressed in red on the TC1, was only 1,2 seconds ahead of the Welshman and 6,4 of Thierry Neuville. Despite Neuville having started the day at the top of the standings, he soon had to give up his privileged position in favour of Evans. But the Briton was, in the end, the great loser of the day having to relinquish is lead to Ogier in the last stage.
As mentioned above, the Estonian driver and defending champion became the day’s centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. They suffered a brutal crash onboard his TC4 at 184 km/h which sent them rolling downhill for a whole 13 seconds.
Fortunately, both he and his co-pilot Martin Järeoja were able to exit the vehicle by their own means. Afterwards, they were taken to hospital for a protocolary check which confirmed they had sustained no injury. That was the end of his debut with the i20 Coupe WRC at a race that still resists him.
Thursday: Hyundai and Thierry Neuville reign on the first night
Thierry Neuville went to sleep as the first leader of the year after the first two night-time stages. Behind him arrived Ogier at 19,1 seconds and Tänak at 29, 7. Elfyn Evans and Seb Loeb completed the top five after losing 25,4 and 54 seconds respectively.
The French from Toyota had won the TC1 after a sensational performance but he decided to ease off of the accelerator on TC2 before the poor and complicated conditions of the tarmac with lads of dirt and ice. Neuville, on the other hand, took the opportunity to speed up and take the lead of the standings at the end of Friday.