Thierry Neuville believes World Rally Championship rival Elfyn Evans had “big balls” to take their fight right down to the wire on last weekend’s Rally México.
With Sébastien Ogier controlling the lead out front following the demise of Neuville’s Hyundai team-mate Esapekka Lappi, Evans and Neuville’s scrap for second became the main point of interest in the second half of 2023’s third round.
Evans had led Neuville from as early as Friday morning, but the i20 driver was slowly coming back at Evans with just a 4.3-second deficit ahead of Sunday’s final four stages.
Neuville won Sunday’s opening Las Dunas superspecial, but Evans responded beautifully on the longest stage of the rally, Otates, to open his advantage back up to a seemingly defendable 5.8s.
Neuville even admitted that, after that stage, he had elected to save his tires for the powerstage and put all his efforts into securing the maximum bonus points instead of pushing to reel in Evans.
But that plan was soon revised when Neuville spotted Evans working on his car on the road section before the penultimate stage.
Neuville was the one that revealed to stage-end reporters that Evans was in trouble, telling the world that he “has been fixing his car – he touched something and damaged his suspension in the previous stage”.
Although he was initially tight-lipped, and Toyota moved to confirm it wasn’t aware of any issues, Evans later revealed that it was a bent suspension arm.
Despite the issue, Evans still had a 2.7s advantage ahead of the powerstage but it didn’t prove to be enough as Neuville snatched the position by a scant 0.4s.
But the Hyundai pilot was impressed by Evans’ speed given the health of his Toyota.
“When I saw that he was still flat out, I said that this guy really has big balls,” Neuville said.
“The arm was broken and he fixed it with some masking and some tie wraps. I found out at the end that he wasn’t so confident. But, if I had been in the same position, you need to play with your luck and he did it and it worked well and he took the fight until the end.
“We can be proud of what we have done this weekend,” Neuville added.
“We knew that we were competing against Sébastien this weekend. I hoped that Dani [Sordo] and Esapekka would make it hard for Sébastien.
“Generally, it was a fun weekend for me and I really enjoyed the drive.”
When I saw that he was still flat out, I said that this guy really has big ballsThierry Neuville
Evans added: “I was fearful, yes. Those things can go either way. We thought we would try and see what happened.
“I wouldn’t say we went flat out on the powerstage, there was an element that we had to look after it. If there was a bad dip or a bad jump, we had to take a bit of care.
“We were trying not to give away time if we could but it was a fine balance between trying to hang on to second and not coming away from here with no points either.
“At the end we were 0.4 [seconds] short!”