Neuville powers into Spanish top 3
"We need to be clever tomorrow"
As the FIA World Rally Championship’s (WRC) only mixed-surface event of the year bade farewell to the pure asphalt stages, Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville moved into a top-three position whilst claiming three additional points in the all-important Power Stage.
Making strides throughout the day, Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov holds sixth place overall with Mads Østberg and Hayden Paddon in seventh and ninth places respectively.
Unfortunately, a huge roll on the penultimate stage of the day put paid to Nasser Al-Attiyah’s hard work and progress. Similarly for Elfyn Evans, the Welshman had to forfeit a strong second place in the WRC 2 category having impacted with a concrete bollard on the day’s final stage and damaging the steering of his Ford Fiesta R5.
Having altered the set-up of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC for the afternoon loop, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were back up to their customary speed – matching the times of their rivals from the off. The pairing were keen to show how formidable their pace can be, and they did just that by winning the Power Stage by an impressive margin of 2.8 seconds over their nearest rival.
With an additional three points for his championship campaign, it was mission accomplished for Neuville. Having controlled the gap to the leaders, the 25-year-old goes into tomorrow’s gravel terrain with all to play for – as well as a favourable road position he is less than thirty seconds adrift of the battling duo ahead.
In the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, Novikov was continuing where he left off last night. Looking at one behind the wheel of his Fiesta RS WRC, he and co-driver Ilka Minor set a string of competitive times to remain in the fight for another top-five result, just 0.1 seconds adrift of rival Mikko Hirvonen.
Getting to grips with the handling of the sister Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC, Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson demonstrated some encouraging progress on today’s closing speed tests. With their confidence renewed, the pairing will be relishing the opportunity to get back behind the wheel on gravel tomorrow – when they can truly showcase their potential.
Also improving the balance and handling of his Fiesta RS WRC, Paddon was growing in confidence with each new stage. The New Zealander had been struggling to find the optimum set-up, but having made some adjustments in service, he and co-driver John Kennard were encouraged by their improvements and relishing tomorrow’s fresh challenge on gravel.
Following an inspection of their Ford Fiestas, Evans will restart under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow, but following some substantial rollcage damage, Al-Attiyah will unfortunately take no further part in this weekend’s event.
Thierry Neuville (3rd) said:
“I think it is fair to say that this morning, the times just weren’t there. We tried to minimise the gap to the guys in front, but the set-up wasn’t really working for us and we were losing time on every stage.
“After speaking with the team, we made some changes to the set-up in [midday] service and immediately the car felt great and our confidence was right back to what it had been in the previous events. It was a lot easier to fight with the other drivers and the three points in the Power Stage were very important for the championship.
“Of course tomorrow is another day. If Jari-Matti [Latvala] takes the full 25 points – and the additional point from this afternoon [for third place in the Power Stage] – it will really reduce our advantage over him [in the championship]. We need to be clever tomorrow and find a good balance between taking time out of him [Latvala] and Dani [Sordo] and, ultimately, staying on the road.”
Evgeny Novikov (6th) said:
“We were able to push a little bit more this afternoon and again I was happy with the times. I think we can be pleased with what we have done on the asphalt stages and tomorrow we will just continue the way we have been going and see what happens.”
Mads Østberg (7th) said:
“Today has been a lot better than yesterday. OK, we started a bit off the pace this morning but we altered the set-up of the car and immediately I found more confidence. From the third stage of the day [SS6], it has been a really good day for us.
“That was where we wanted to start the rally, but unfortunately it was not to be. That is just the way it is sometimes, but I think we ended the day well and I am really excited about tomorrow. There’ll be no real tactic. Result wise, there is nothing much we can do, but we will certainly push because we want to prove that we can be competitive and set some good stage times.”
Hayden Paddon (9th) said:
“We made some good changes to the set-up during midday service and everything certainly went a lot better for us this afternoon. OK, we’re not 100 per cent there yet, but we are moving in the direction that we have some more confidence out on the stages. The times were a little bit better and I think that we got down to about 0.6 of a second per kilometre adrift of the front guys which is not far off where we wanted to be.
“Naturally, we want to be a little bit more competitive, but I am really looking forward to the gravel stages tomorrow which is my preferred surface. It will be another big challenge having not driving the car on gravel before, but hopefully we can adapt quickly and get the job done.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah (DNF) said:
“Today we started with some changes on the car and we were making improvements in many areas. I was really happy with the way things were going – we were driving at our own pace and learning a lot on the Tarmac – but unfortunately we had a crash [on SS8]. This is just part of rallying, and the main thing is that Giovanni [Bernacchini, co-driver] and I are OK.”
Elfyn Evans (4th in WRC 2) said:
“It had all been going OK. Robert [Kubica] had been setting a very strong pace, and even though we were a bit in no man’s land in-between him and the chasing pack, it felt as though we were driving well. We weren’t quite able to match his pace, but compared to other events I think it had been a strong performance from us.
“Unfortunately that hard work was all undone on the last stage of the day. It was a silly mistake from me. We just went a little bit tight into a hairpin, opened the steering for a bit more lock, and there was a big concrete bollard on the inside which I didn’t see. Because the steering was broken we couldn’t continue back to service.
“Obviously it is a huge disappointment for me and the whole team, but tomorrow is a new day. We just need to go out there and show what we – and the car – can do on gravel.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Firstly I am relieved that both Nasser [Al-Attiyah] and Giovanni [Bernacchini] were OK after what was the biggest accident in their WRC careers. Unfortunately the car is too damaged to take any further part in the rally, but is it good to see that the safety features of the Fiesta have done their job.
“We’ve seen a much better afternoon from Thierry [Neuville] – taking his first stage win of the event, and the Power Stage at that. The additional three points will go towards helping him secure his second place in the championship.
“As we move to gravel tomorrow, the rally is still all to play for. Thierry has a more favourable road position, and with the leaders battling up front, anything can happen.”
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