Podium finish for Qatar M-Sport and vice-champion Neuville
"The team have done a fantastic job to make it happen"
Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville finished his season on another high today as a seventh podium result was enough to secure the runner-up spot in the FIA World Rally Championship’s drivers’ standings. Elfyn Evans too gave the Welsh fans something to cheer about as he led home a one, two, three for the Ford Fiesta R5 in the WRC 2 support series.
A fantastic event for M-Sport also included a further one, two, three for the team through the points-paying Power Stage and 10 M-Sport built cars in the overall top-14 – four Ford Fiesta RS WRCs five Fiesta R5s and one Ford Fiesta RRC.
There is no better way to finish a fantastic WRC season than with a fantastic stage, and that was how events unfolded in Wales today as the legendary Great Orme closed proceedings.
Prior to tackling the tricky contours of the mountain headland, crews endured second runs through both the Dyfnant and Clocaenog forests – the latter encompassing the all-important Power Stage – as well as one run through Penllyn and two over a new spectator special in the confines of Kinmel Park. If the challenging stages weren’t daunting enough, the crews had to find the perfect balance between speed and caution with just one 15 minute service opening the day, and nothing more.
Focused as always, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul consolidated their position perfectly. Keeping their Fiesta RS WRC firmly planted to the gravel stages, the pairing were not going to let their podium finish and second place in the championship slip through their grasp – a mentality they highlighted by claiming the fastest time and maximum points through the Power Stage.
Bringing what has been a sensational season to a close, the Belgians brought their tally of podium finishes to seven overall – an achievement which came hand-in-hand with a thoroughly deserved vice championship.
Left to rue what might have been on an event they consider a home-from-home, Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson were on a flyer having discovered a favourable set-up for their Fiesta RS WRC. Claiming a stage win on Penllyn (SS18), the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team pairing had a flawless run through the event’s final day – leap-frogging fellow Scandinavian, Andreas Mikkelsen, for fourth place overall.
With the M-Sport team having worked throughout the night to repair the sister Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC, Evgeny Novikov was back on the stages – entertaining the crowds through the season’s final stint. Using their time wisely on what were relatively unfamiliar stages, he and co-driver Ilka Minor focused on perfecting their pacenotes ahead of a return to the Welsh forests. Having rolled his Fiesta on yesterday’s first pass of Dyfi, the Russian climbed four places from 23rd to 19th overall.
However it was in the WRC 2 support series where the Welsh fans really had something to cheer about as local-man Elfyn Evans secured his maiden victory. Partnered by co-driver Daniel Barritt, the Welshman didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend. Controlling his lead in near-perfect fashion, Evans looked supreme behind the wheel of his Fiesta R5 – leading a one, two, three for M-Sport’s latest model.
Thierry Neuville (3rd) said:
“I felt after Qualifying that we would be able to secure a good result here, and that is what we have done. Most importantly though, it means that we have maintained our second place in the drivers’ championship. That was our goal coming here and, as always, the team have done a fantastic job to make it happen.
“At the beginning of the year, M-Sport and Qatar took Nicolas [Gilsoul, co-driver] and I under their wing like two little children and we cannot thank them enough for their support and their belief in us. In 13 rallies, the car has been absolutely faultless. It will be very emotional for us to leave this team – they have given us so much.”
Mads Østberg (4th) said:
“It was a very difficult start for us here this weekend – on both Thursday and Friday. We were pushing really hard and the driving was good but we just couldn’t find that sweet-spot with the set-up. We found it in the end, but unfortunately it was just a little too late.
“We ended up in a great battle with Andreas [Mikkelsen] for fourth place, and I am very happy to have won that fight. When we had the confidence, our times were good and we were able to really challenge the leaders. That is a big positive for me and I will keep that in my mind as we go into next year.”
Evgeny Novikov (19th) said:
“Having had to Rally 2 today, the rally didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I just need to accept that. I think that we had some good speed and were driving well – the fact that we were able to trade times with the leaders is a big positive. For us, today was all about checking the pacenotes to get them as perfect as possible for the future. A lot of these stages were new to us, and with nothing much to gain, it was important to do that.”
Elfyn Evans (8th overall, 1st in WRC 2) said:
“It’s a great feeling to win my first [WRC 2] event at home here in Wales. I need to say a big thanks to the whole team – they work really hard and brought out this fantastic car. To bring them a win here on home soil is absolutely fantastic.
“This is a very special moment for us, so it has to be up there as one of the best moments of my career. A big thanks to Dan [Barritt, co-driver] too – he works extremely hard and this win is as much down to him as it is to me!”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Thierry [Neuville] and Nicolas [Gilsoul] have been absolutely fantastic this year and the whole team are extremely proud that we were able to deliver them a fully-deserved second place in the championship. I think if you look at the season as a whole, this has been one of our most successful in the sport – to take a young driver with limited experience, in a privateer team, and do what we have done. I could not have expected it at the beginning of the season and it is testament to all of the hard work from every single member of the team.
“Elfyn [Evans] too can be very pleased with himself this weekend. He and Dan [Barritt, co-driver] did exactly what was asked of them. There wasn’t a single mark on their car at the end of the event and they controlled their lead from practically start to finish. I am sure that the Welsh fans were extremely happy to have a true Welsh winner this weekend.
“To top off what has been a fantastic weekend, we have also seen a very impressive showing from our customer teams. To have 10 M-Sport built cars in the top-14 on our home event – and to have five of those Fiesta R5s – is very satisfying indeed.”
More on WRC