Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville put on a dominant show to win WRC Ypres Rally from Craig Breen and Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera.
Thierry Neuville outgunned Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Craig Breen on Friday evening to close a captivating opening leg of Renties WRC Ypres Rally Belgium in the lead of his home event. The pair could barely be separated during this afternoon’s opening loop of four speed tests through narrow asphalt farm lanes, which Neuville ended 0.4sec to the good in his i20 World Rally Car.
Fastest times on all three evening special stages (the final test was cancelled for safety reasons) delivered the Belgian a 7.6sec lead with two days remaining of this eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Ott Tanak completed a Hyundai podium lockout in third.
Neuville’s only problem was a bizarre one. His trademark spectacles slipped down his face in the afternoon’s action, disrupting his concentration but clearly not slowing his pace. Tanak led after the opening test but an overshoot in the next allowed his two colleagues to break clear. Breen led for two stages before Neuville edged clear and the Irishman could not match his team-mate’s pace in the repeat loop.
Tanak headed a thrilling four-car WRC fight for third with the quartet blanketed by 8.2sec. The Estonian’s car was down on power this evening but he had enough speed to repel Kalle Rovanpera, who headed a four-car Toyota Yaris train in fourth. Rovanpera was 1.4sec adrift and just eight-tenths clear of Elfyn Evans, who he demoted in the final stage. Evans was frustrated, happy with the feeling he had behind the wheel but dismayed at his times.
Championship leader Sebastien Ogier completed the top six. He lost valuable seconds with a front left puncture this afternoon and was uncomfortable with his car’s set-up. Changes at the mid-leg service left the Frenchman in a happier frame of mind after the evening action. Takamoto Katsuta was seventh after an encouraging day alongside debutant co-driver Keaton Williams, deputising for the injured Dan Barritt. He was comfortably clear of Pierre-Louis Loubet, who overshot the same junction as Tanak in his i20.
WRC3 leader Yohan Rossel, driving a Citroen C3 Rally 2, and WRC2 frontrunner Oliver Solberg, debuting Hyundai’s new i20 N Rally2, completed the leaderboard. It was a disastrous opening for M-Sport Ford. Adrien Fourmaux retired in SS3 after clipping a bank and launching his Fiesta into a huge airborne spin, while Gus Greensmith exited just 200 metres after the start of the next stage when he dropped his car into a ditch.
Thierry Neuville remained firmly on course for an emotional home victory at Renties WRC Ypres Rally Belgium after a fast and furious second leg on Saturday. Hunting a first win of the FIA World Rally Championship season, Neuville heads Hyundai i20 World Rally Car team-mate Craig Breen by 10.1sec with a day remaining at this eighth round.
After Friday’s frantic fight in Flanders’ asphalt farm lanes, after which they were separated by 7.6sec, the pair were again in a class of their own on narrow fast roads south of Ypres. Breen threw down the gauntlet to win the opening two speed tests and trim the deficit to 3.5sec. Neuville fought back to beat the Irishman in the next two and reach mid-leg service with his lead up to 6.8sec.
He added two more stage wins this afternoon compared to Breen’s one, extending his advantage as the Hyundai drivers appeared content to hold position while a trio of Toyota Yaris cars fought for the final podium place behind. Hyundai restarted with a podium lockout but Ott Tanak dropped three minutes in the opening test stopping to change a puncture. A faulty jack added to the Estonian’s woes as he plunged to sixth.
Instead Elfyn Evans, Kalle Rovanpera and championship leader Sebastien Ogier battled all day for third and were covered by 4.3sec at the close. Welshman Evans won one morning stage and Ogier scored two fastest times this afternoon. Evans finished more than half a minute adrift of Breen but with a crucial 3.3sec in hand over Rovanpera. Ogier was unhappy on dirty roads this morning but felt more comfortable this afternoon and closed to within 1.0sec of the young Finn.
Toyota’s challenge was down to three after Takamoto Katsuta crashed heavily in the morning Dikkebus stage. The Japanese driver hit a bump in a fast corner which threw his Yaris into a ditch. It pirouetted through the air and hit an electricity pole before a violent landing. He and co-driver Keaton Williams were unhurt but their rally was over.
Pierre-Louis Loubet also retired when the Frenchman drifted wide into a ditch on the exit of a tight right corner in Hollebeke and his i20 could not be retrieved. Their demise promoted new WRC3 leader Sebastien Bedoret into seventh in a Skoda Fabia. The Belgian eased ahead of category championship leader Yohan Rossel by 0.9sec. Pieter Jan Michiel Cracco was ninth with Vincent Verschueren completing the leaderboard.
Thierry Neuville clinched his first victory of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season on home roads at Renties Ypres Rally Belgium on Sunday afternoon. He led for virtually the entire event, fending off a fierce first-day challenge from team-mate Craig Breen. The Hyundai i20 duo then settled for a formation finish after three days and almost 300km of action on narrow Flanders farm lanes and Spa-Francorchamps race circuit.
Neuville’s winning margin was 30.7sec and marked a first WRC win for co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe. The success revitalised Neuville’s title challenge, promoting him into a tie for second in the championship standings with Elfyn Evans. Neuville, Breen and Ott Tänak won 15 of the 20 speed tests between them for Hyundai Motorsport and the 1-2 finish enabled the squad to reduce the deficit to manufacturers’ series leaders Toyota Gazoo Racing to 41 points.
Irishman Breen, for whom this was only his second asphalt appearance in an i20 World Rally Car, secured back-to-back runner-up finishes after a similar result in Estonia last month. Kalle Rovanpera finished third in a Toyota Yaris after coming out on top of a frantic intra-team fight with Evans and Sébastien Ogier. The young Finn traded places with Evans all rally and regained third this morning before holding off the frustrated Welshman by 6.5sec.
Ogier’s hopes of a podium place were ended by a Sunday morning puncture. There was consolation for the Frenchman as he extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 38 points with four rounds remaining. He ended 6.2sec behind Evans. Tanak was a distant sixth after falling away from the victory fight with a Saturday morning puncture.
WRC3 winner Yohan Rossel was a superb seventh in a Citroen C3 Rally 2 ahead of second-placed category finisher Pieter Jan Michiel Cracco. Fabian Kreim and Vincent Verschueren completed the leaderboard. Belgium’s demanding roads caused a host of problems. Takamoto Katsuta and Adrien Fourmaux retired after huge crashes while Gus Greensmith and Pierre-Louis Loubet finished well down the order after sliding into ditches on Saturday morning.
Here’s the full results: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
[Note: The above is as per the press release from WRC]