Thierry Neuville’s daredevil drive to a dramatic last-gasp victory at Rally Italia Sardegna almost ended in disaster in the final few kilometres.
The Belgian and arch-title rival Sébastien Ogier threw everything into a thrilling last-stage shootout in the 6.96km Sassari - Argentiera Power Stage – the pair starting the spectacular coastal speed test separated by just 0.8sec in Ogier’s favour.
Neuville overturned the deficit to win the seventh round of the WRC season by 0.7sec, equalling the third closest finish in championship history, before revealing how close he came to throwing it away.
“There was a small moment, actually the biggest one during the whole weekend, in the stage when we were on two wheels. I thought we were going to roll but we kept it on the road and pushed even harder,” said the Hyundai i20 driver.
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul discussed their tactics for the finale and decided on a risk-all approach rather than protecting their championship lead by settling for second. It paid off and Neuville now heads Ogier by 27 points.
“By pure performance we caught back all the time this morning and yesterday so we believed strongly in it. We pushed very hard. I always try to avoid stones along the road but at some point you need to make a decision and our decision was clearly to go for the win.
“The final stage was ‘giving all you can’, trying to avoid mistakes. I knew if I threw away the car I would lose important points for the championship and the championship lead. So we had to keep that in mind,” he explained.
Neuville’s victory mirrored his success in Argentina last year when he overhauled Elfyn Evans in a spectacular charge down the El Condor mountain to win by the same margin. He needed no persuading to take on the challenge again.
“The only extra motivation was that I was fighting against a five-time world champion. This is the reason why you give even more than you would give for the win. This is why it makes it so great and special for us,” he said.