Rallying fans were left holding their breath during the final leg of last weekend’s fifth round of the 2017 World Rally Championship in Argentina, thanks to the tantalising prospect of Welshman Elfyn Evans edging closer to his maiden win at the sport’s top level.
MAY 03rd 2017
Famous Five... closest WRC finishes
Having driven out of his skin in South America aboard the M-Sport-run DMACK Ford Fiesta WRC, the 28-year-old came agonisingly close to victory. After clipping a bridge during the final stage he lost out to Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville by just 0.7 seconds.
Amazingly, the tiny margin between Neuville and Evans, who will have to wait to join Englishmen Roger Clark and Richard Burns, Scot Colin McRae and Northern Irishman Kris Meeke to complete the full set of British winners in the WRC, is not the closest in WRC history. Where, then, does this near-historic event rank in the top-five closest finishes in the sport’s history?
Rally Jordan 2011 – 0.2 seconds
Two-tenths of a second. That’s all that separated the Citroën DS3 WRC of Sébastien Ogier and the Ford Focus RS WRC of Jari-Matti Latvala in their middle-Eastern scrap for honours in what proved to be the last of three WRC events in Jordan. Finn Latvala held the advantage, by just 0.5s, after winning stages 17, 18 and 19 of the 20-stage rally, with it all to play for in the second run through the 10.5km Baptism Site test. With the #4 Ford dropping 0.7s to the stage-topping Ogier, victory went to the Frenchman by 0.2s – after 2h48m28s of competitive driving. And that remains the closest finish in WRC history.
Rally New Zealand 2007 – 0.3 seconds
A decade ago, the sport’s fastest rivals, Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm, traded fastest times – and the lead – on the super-fast and smooth gravel stages of New Zealand. Reigning World Champion Loeb’s Citroen C4 WRC held sway after SS16 – by just 0.2s – with two to go. And that fired up Grönholm, who then won SS17 by a (relatively) whopping 0.9s. Completing the final test, the short Mystery Creek superspecial, the Finn had an anxious wait while Loeb came through. Could the Frenchman complete the 3.1km stage 0.7s faster or more to snatch victory? No. He was only 0.4s up, handing the win to Grönholm by 0.3s. Fag-paper stuff!
Rally Argentina 2017 – 0.7 seconds
Elfyn Evans headed into the 18th and final stage of Rally Argentina with a 0.6s lead over Thierry Neuville. The Welshman’s 60-second lead had already been whittled down to 11 seconds thanks to a series of punctures and other niggling problems, but he looked like he would hold on to become the 77th winner of a WRC qualifier since 1973. And then he clipped that bridge in the El Condor test, falling behind the Belgian’s Hyundai – to the tiny and heartbreaking tune of 0.7 seconds.
Rally Portugal 1998 – 2.1 seconds
Didier Auriol took the opening stage in his works Toyota Corolla WRC and Marcus Grönholm, not yet a WRC winner, topped stage two in his Grifone Corolla. But thereafter, helped by a five-stage rout, Scot Colin McRae put his Prodrive Subaru Impreza WRC at the top of the leaderboard and kept it there. With a lead of almost a minute at the halfway point, a slow run through SS14, of 28, brought it down to less than half that. He built it up again but it was chipped away at by his former Subaru team-mate Carlos Sainz, now in the second factory Corolla. The Spaniard won SS26 and 27 to narrow the gap to 6.8s with just the 11km Amarante stage remaining. Sainz went quickest again, but second-fastest McRae had held on, by 2.1 seconds.
Rally Argentina 1999 – 2.4 seconds
As controversial as it was close, the last Rally Argentina of the 20th century featured a one-two for the Prodrive Subaru squad, but not quite in the order that anyone had been expecting. Least of all rally leader Richard Burns. The Englishman enjoyed a 17-second lead on the final day and with the team instructing him and team-mate Juha Kankkunen to hold station and avoid unnecessary risks, he went into cruise mode, protecting his advantage at the slowest possible speed. Four-time World Champion Kankkunen, however, had other ideas and the Finn chipped away at Burns’ lead, eventually turning a 1.2s deficit into a 2.4s advantage in the final test, the second run through the 21.3km Amboy-Santa Rosa de Calamuchita stage. Burns’ co-driver Robert Reid was moved to comment at the finish: “where there’s a shark, there’s a Finn.”
Footnote: two other rallies were decided by 2.4s. In New Zealand in 2010 Jari-Matti Latvala and Ford defeated Sébastien Ogier and Citroen, while in Argentina a year later, Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb had the measure of Ford rival Mikko Hirvonen. Argentina 1999 gets the nod here as it happened first.
Images courtesy of LAT
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