It may have been a long way from the green, green grass of home, but proud Welshman Elfyn Evans was the star, if not the winner, of Rally Argentina, having roared into what appeared to be an unassailable lead on Friday by winning six out of the special stages that were run.
But just as Argentina gives, Argentina also takes away. Evans had a lead of nearly a minute after the first full day of the rally, but that advantage was gradually eroded as a result of a couple of punctures and a misunderstanding over pace notes, which meant that the young Welshman slithered into a ditch. Naturally, that sort of thing doesn’t tend to do many favours for a Ford Fiesta's finely honed aerodynamic package.
He also had to contend with a charging Thierry Neuville, the winner of the last round in Corsica, who decided that he fancied a taste of some Argentine champagne as well. As he said on his Instagram on Saturday night #DareWinCelebrate. Yes, all of those.
Neuville waited until the very final Power Stage to make it happen, converting a 0.6 second deficit into a 0.7 winning margin, one of the closest victories in the history of the WRC.
See how the nail-biting final stage went down right here.
Neuville was into the stage first, and then had to wait for Evans to complete his run to see if he had won. "Watching that was probably the worst experience of my life, especially as he was quicker than me at the first split," said the Belgian.
For Evans, it wasn't any less painful. "I'm gutted to lose by such a tiny margin," he said. "It's hard to take right now, but I know I can come back stronger. I made a slight mistake on the stage: I hit a bridge and that probably made the difference. After having such a big lead on Friday, I need to learn from this."
The top two didn't have the monopoly on drama. And it started from the very beginning of the rally. Hyundai's Hayden Paddon got the event he won last year off to the worst possible start when he rolled on the opening stage. "I still don’t understand why it happened, but it was frustrating as it cost us around 30 minutes. For us, it was definitely a rally of what could have been, as we showed plenty of speed afterwards," said the New Zealander.
But that was nothing compared to the carnage suffered by Citroën. Kris Meeke started the rally as favourite, but the only award he ended up getting was for panel damage. On day one of the rally, while pushing for the lead, he got caught out by a bump, which turned his C3 WRC into a Volkswagen Beetle lookalike. Check it out below. (Warning: this video has some explicit language.)
What happened next was remarkable. The Citroën mechanics worked flat-out back at the service park to transform the car from a coupé back into a C3 WRC, taking about three hours to get everything done.
Stage four turned out to be a disaster for the French company, as Meeke's team-mate Craig Breen got caught out by exactly the same bump, which jammed his car's transmission in fifth gear. This gave the red army two cars to fix overnight, but as Breen prepared to leave service on Saturday morning, it turned out to be all in vain – an oil leak was discovered that ruled him out of day two as well.
Worse was to come for Citroën though. Meeke had an even bigger accident on Saturday afternoon, after winning a couple of stages in the morning. "On SS14, I just lost control of the car on a very fast corner," he said. "I oversteered, the car span and we hit a bank. We were then thrown into a series of rolls."
Stage 14, the aptly-named Los Gigantes, was also an unlucky one for returning privateer Mads Ostberg, absent from the WRC since Rally Sweden in February. Armed with a 2017-spec Ford Fiesta, he was straight into an incredible second overall, which he maintained until Saturday: part of a "secret plan" he had to return to the top. Unfortunately, the secret plan was foiled by an innocuous-looking rock that broke his rear suspension.
Watch how it happened below.
This year’s Rally Argentina was one of the toughest ever seen, with rough roads ripping off a number of the aerodynamic appendages that are a hallmark of the new generation of World Rally Cars and making it "more like the Dakar in Argentina than the WRC in Argentina," according to Toyota boss Tommi Makinen.
However, he can only be proud of the performance put in by his troops. Jari-Matti Latvala finished the rally fifth, and was up to second at one point before getting a puncture. That wasn't the only thing that slowed him down.
And what of four-time world champion Sébastien Ogier? He retains the world championship lead after finishing fourth in an event that he has never really enjoyed. However he was beaten by his young team-mate Ott Tänak in the other M-Sport Ford Fiesta, who took the final podium spot, and that certainly wasn't down to a lack of trying on Ogier's part.
Still, as Ogier knows only too well, it's not about winning the battle, it's about winning the war. Don't rule him out for title number five by the end of the season.