Thierry Neuville took victory in the Tour de Corse following a heartbreaking final-stage puncture for leader Elfyn Evans, the M-Sport racer slipping to third as a result.
The Welshman led Neuville ahead of the rally-ending power stage by 11.5 seconds having decimated the field in this morning’s 33km Eaux de Zilia test, but suffered a puncture part-way through, dropping a minute-and-a-half.
Neuville was the first to capitalise and moved ahead to win, with Sebastian Ogier capping off a tricky weekend for the Citroen squad well by taking the runners-up spot ahead of the unfortunate Evans.
The battle for the lead for most of the 14-stage Corsican event involved Evans and Toyota’s Ott Tanak, before the latter suffered a puncture during the penultimate stage of Saturday, dropping to seventh.
Neuville, having run a strong third all weekend but unable to consistently challenge the front-running duo, then set a stunning time in the repeated run of the monster 47km Castagniccia stage to turn an 11 second deficit into a 4.5 second lead, before Evans reversed the advantage on the first Sunday test.
Ogier and team-mate Esapekka Lappi unexpectedly struggled with the C3 WRC all weekend, the French machine normally at its best on tarmac events.
Severe understeer was the culprit according to Ogier, although his second-place finish means that although he drops to second in the driver’s standings behind Neuville, he is only two points behind and won’t have to worry about road sweeping in Argentina.
Dani Sordo drove a measured rally to make it two Hyundai’s in the top four while Teemu Sunninen, driving under orders to keep his nose clean, came home a strong fifth.
Tanak could only recover from his puncture to sixth position ahead of Lappi’s C3, while Sebastien Loeb, Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala rounded out the top ten after each had a plethora of issues throughout the event.
Kris Meeke, who dominated the pre-event shakedown, set a blistering time in the power stage to beat team-mate Tanak by 4.5 seconds, taking five bonus points in the process.
The Irishman showed arguably his strongest pace all year with several stage wins throughout the Corsican classic, but was on the back foot following a first-stage puncture.