Qatar M-Sport’s Evgeny Novikov narrowly missed out on a podium at Rally Argentina today. In a day-long battle, the Russian emerged in fourth place overall – his best result from the event and equalling a season-best finish in this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
And fight he did. Despite some time loss due to an incorrect setting within the car’s ‘stage mode’ through the first pass of ‘Mina Clavero / Giulio Cesare’ (SS11), the Muscovite set an incredible time behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. With Latvala pushing hard throughout the 22.64 kilometre test, the Finn could only take a slender 0.9 seconds from Novikov's lead.
As the battle intensified – with just a 3.4 second lead going into the second pass – Novikov and co-driver Ilka Minor pushed hard but unfortunately had to forfeit their third place on SS13. That said, the Russian has proven he has the full package this weekend – capable of not only driving intelligently, but also setting a sensational pace when the time calls for it.
Elsewhere, bringing their Fiesta RS WRC home in fifth place, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul equalled their best result from the Argentine event. Despite struggling to find the optimum set-up through the event’s final tests, their clever approach paid dividends as the Belgians kept their noses clean, all the while gaining more vital knowledge of the car and stages.
Having been forced to Rally 2 after damaging the suspension of their Fiesta RS WRC on Day 2, Mads Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson set a sensational pace yesterday – ascending the leader board from 11th to seventh in the overall standings.
With little to gain running fourth on the road, the Norwegian used the final day to take in the incredible atmosphere of the closing stages – entertaining the thousands of enthusiastic fans in the process.
Evgeny Novikov (4th) said: “To be honest, I think that it was all over after the third stage today [SS13]. We were pushing hard, but Jari-Matti [Latvala] took a lot of time out of us and we understood then that we should let the podium go and concentrate on getting to the end of the event.
“I backed off in the Power Stage [SS14] and maybe because of that I lost a bit of concentration and had a spin in the stage – not because we were pushing; because I slowed down too much. But it was never our plan to fight on that stage so it wasn’t too much of a drama.
“Of course it would have been nice to have come away with a podium, but fourth place is still a very good result for us on this rally. I think it was the best we could do today, and I want to thank Jari-Matti for the fight – I really enjoyed it and I’m sure everybody else did too!”
Thierry Neuville (5th) said: “As I said before the rally, our strategy this weekend was to have a clever event and make sure that we got to the end without any problems – and that’s what we did. It was not so easy to keep my foot away from the throttle the whole time, but it paid off and the result is a good one for us. I don’t think we could have done much better.
“I wasn’t so happy with the set-up today and that is something that we’ll have to work on for the next events. I’m still learning with the car, so hopefully we’ll have some good testing before Greece and we can work on getting that right before then.”
Mads Østberg (7th) said: “It was a difficult start to the rally. We were struggling with the set-up on Thursday morning but we made some changes in [midday] service and it felt better straight away. Unfortunately we hit a stone which meant that we couldn’t take full advantage.
“Restarting on Friday, we set a really good pace. The speed was good and the car was working really well which meant we were able to climb right back up to seventh – so that was a good day for us.
“Today [Saturday] has been all about preserving the tyres for the Power Stage, but I couldn’t really find a good rhythm. I tried to push [on the Power Stage], but I wasn’t as confident as I had been the day before and had to settle for fourth.
“All in all, I think we have done some good stages, but with having to Rally 2 we weren’t able to fight for a good result. We know that we have the pace, so we will be back pushing for a good result in Greece.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “We have seen some impressive drives from our young crews this weekend with both Mads [Østberg] and Evgeny [Novikov] capable of challenging for the podium. With Mads’ stage win yesterday, he has also now taken a fastest time from all of the events this season.
“I think that we have seen a positive step in terms of all three drivers’ development this weekend and I have no doubt that their time will come.
“The [Ford] Fiesta RS WRCs have also performed faultlessly all weekend. We’ve had 100 per cent reliability on an event which is extremely hard on the cars, so that is also a big positive for the team.”