Neuville and Evans on the road to success
"I think the whole day has been quite good for us"
Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans each took another step towards their respective goals at Wales Rally GB today. The two Qatar M-Sport drivers may have different objectives – the Belgian to secure second position in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) standings and Evans to claim his maiden victory in the WRC 2 support series – but both are well on the road to success.
There was a new challenge in store for the crews today as the Welsh event ventured north for two action-packed runs through the forests of Gartheiniog and Dyfi – the latter having not been used in the WRC for 15 years. En route to the service park in Deeside, competitors tackled the fast straights and sweeping bends of Dyfnant before two dashes through a new spectator stage in the confines of Chirk Castle – all without the reassurance of a midday service.
Taking the daunting task in their stride, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul maintained their top-three position to remain on course to secure second place in the drivers’ championship. Consistency was the name of the game for the young Belgian as he piloted his Ford Fiesta RS WRC to a string of top-five times – controlling the gap to a chasing Andreas Mikkelsen behind.
With just 51.92 competitive kilometres left to run in tomorrow’s final stint, the Qatar World Rally Team driver is well on his way to securing his goal and finishing his impressive season on another high.
In the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, the thousands of spectators who flocked to the stages were treated to Mads Østberg’s customary speed through the Welsh forests. Working hard with the team and co-driver Jonas Andersson, the Norwegian discovered a good balance with his Fiesta RS WRC. Indeed Østberg was just one second shy of recording a fastest stage time through Dyfnant (SS14), some ten seconds faster than Neuville.
Back to his best and feeling confident on the stages, Østberg will be looking to rein in fourth place tomorrow – a position he trails by just 7.3 seconds.
Unfortunately there was misfortune for Østberg’s team-mate Evgeny Novikov whose Fiesta RS WRC went off the road on SS11. The Russian, who is co-driven by Austrian Ilka Minor, had a strong start to the morning – setting the third fastest time through Gatheiniog (SS11) and looking set to replicate the same feat on the following speed test. Regrettably however, it was not to be.
Carrying too much speed into a tightening corner, not even his ‘tentacles of perception’ could prevent his Fiesta RS WRC succumbing to its fate. The team will assess the damage this evening as to whether or not the Russian will be able to restart under Rally 2 regulations.
In WRC 2, there was much better fortune for Evans and his Ford Fiesta R5. Nestled in the heart of the Welshman’s home region, today’s stages suited the 24-year-old down to the ground – a fact which was reflected in his times.
Securing four out of a possible seven stage wins, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt extended their lead to just under a minute and are now well on their way to what could be a maiden victory in the WRC 2 class.
Thierry Neuville (3rd) said:
“I think the whole day has been quite good for us. There was one stage that we had to discover and we lost about ten seconds in 20 kilometres, but it was new for us so that was quite normal. The stages are really beautiful, especially the first two this morning. They are not the easiest for sure, but really enjoyable. We have a 20 second advantage on Andreas [Mikkelsen] going into tomorrow, and I think we will be OK to keep the positions as they are.”
Mads Østberg (5th) said:
“I think we had a really good day today. Again we made some big improvements with the set-up and before the last ‘proper’ stage [SS14] we found something really good! The traction and the balance of the car were really, really nice! That’s what we’ll start with tomorrow, and if it works again then I think it can be a very good day for us.”
Evgeny Novikov (23rd) said:
“We will have to have a look at the video but I am almost certain that it was my mistake from the recce. It was a very fast place on a flat-out downhill section where you are right on the rev-limiter. Then there was a crest and a right-hander in fourth or fifth gear. In my pacenotes I had some distance before the corner where I could brake, but at high-speed, that distance was not there.
“I understood straight away that we were too fast and that we would not be able to stay on the road. I put the car sideways to kill the speed, and that was that. We only rolled once, but the main impact was on the front of the car. It is a shame of course because we had some very good speed this morning and were feeling really comfortable in the car, but that is just the way it is.”
Elfyn Evans (8th overall, 1st in WRC 2) said:
“I found the driving really enjoyable today. Certainly the second pass was very slippery in Gartheiniog and Dyfi [SS12 and SS13], but nevertheless great fun to drive. We’re glad to still be here and to still be leading the WRC 2 class. Of course this is Rally GB and anything can happen. There are still some very tricky stages to come tomorrow, so we’ll definitely need to keep our wits about us! But if we have a clean run, I think we’re on course for what could be a really good result.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“I think we are all aware that an event like Wales Rally GB isn’t over until it’s over and anything can still happen tomorrow. That said, both Thierry [Neuville] and Elfyn [Evans] have had a great run today and, if they have a clean run tomorrow, they are both set to secure a fantastic result – Thierry second in the drivers’ championship and Elfyn his first win of the year.”
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