Fri 07 Jun 2024

Reliving some of the closest finishes in WRC history

While rallying is often considered an endurance sport, these razor-thin victory margins are prime examples of the intense competition that defines the FIA World Rally Championship.

Italy 2024 – 0.2sec
Let’s begin with the most recent and obvious example. Ott Tänak's victory in this year's Rally Italia Sardegna was secured by a margin of just 0.2sec – barely enough time to even say the word “rally”.

Tänak had almost given up hope of winning the Mediterranean island event, having trailed Sébastien Ogier by 17.1sec at the end of the penultimate day.

The Estonian managed to reduce that gap to 6.2sec before the Wolf Power Stage and, when a tyre on Ogier's Toyota GR Yaris began to leak, he seized the opportunity – clinching the win by the narrowest of margins.

Jordan 2011 – 0.2sec
At the 2011 Rally Jordan, Ogier found himself on the other side of the ledger. Jari-Matti Latvala, driving a Ford Fiesta World Rally Car, held a slender lead over Frenchman Ogier’s Citroën. The timing beam for the finish of the final stage was situated just before a right-hand bend, for which heavy braking was required.

Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, however, had spotted a piece of wasteland, into which their DS3 could disappear without damage. Ogier took the flying finish flat-out, shooting straight ahead into the field.

In doing so, he set the fastest time and celebrated victory in what was, at the time, the closest winning margin in fifty years.

New Zealand 2007 – 0.3sec
Back in 2007, Rally New Zealand hosted one of the greatest WRC battles of all time.

Marcus Grönholm arrived at the event locked in a close championship battle with Sébastien Loeb – Grönholm with four wins, Loeb on five. The Finn had already decided to hang up his helmet at the end of the year, but in order to do so with a third title, he had to beat Loeb.

The battle raged back and forth. Before the last spectator stage, the score was eight-all on stage wins, with Grönholm ahead overall by just 0.7sec. Loeb claimed his ninth stage win on the short 3.14km Mystery Creek – but it was not enough. Grönholm won with a margin of just 0.3sec.

Croatia 2021 – 0.6sec
Just 0.6sec separated Ogier from Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Elfyn Evans on Croatia's maiden WRC appearance in 2021, with the outcome decided in the final metres of the closing Wolf Power Stage.

After trading places on several occasions during the first two legs, the finale opened with Ogier heading Evans by 6.9sec. The tension ramped up a notch when Ogier was involved in a collision en route to Sunday’s opening test. The impact damaged the bodywork and aero package on his Yaris and Evans capitalised to win the first two stages, starting the decider 3.9sec up.

Interim times revealed Ogier closing on the Welshman before Evans slid wide onto a grass verge on the final corner, losing valuable momentum. It was the break Ogier needed, and he scorched across the finish to record his 51st career victory.

Argentina 2017 – 0.7sec
Thierry Neuville snatched one of the closest wins in history at the 2017 Rally Argentina after a disastrous final stage cost Elfyn Evans what would have been his first WRC triumph.

Hyundai i20 driver Neuville 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, Evans’ Ford Fiesta swiped a bridge, handing Neuville the win by just seven-tenths of a second.

Italy 2018 – 0.7sec
Wolf Power Stages and Italy in recent years go together like French Sébastiens and world titles. It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that in this dramatic 2018 finish, it was one of those French Sébastiens involved.

Ogier was under pressure from Neuville at the 2018 Rally Italia Sardegna, with the Belgian's sublime performance on the penultimate day bringing the gap down to 3.9sec with only four stages remaining.

Neuville was nearly a second faster on Sunday’s opener, another 1.8sec on the next, and half a second up on the penultimate stage. Heading into the Cala Flumini finale, Ogier’s advantage was down to just 0.8sec after three-and-a-half hours of competition.

Even being a little ragged at the start of the four-miler, bouncing out of a rut and onto two wheels, wouldn’t prevent Neuville from going fastest by 1.5sec. Victory was his by just 0.7sec, in what was then the joint-third closest finish of all time.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM