Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville remains on target to secure second place in the FIA World Rally Championship’s drivers’ standings having retained a top-three position on the second day of competition at Wales Rally GB. Elfyn Evans also took a step closer to his goal with his Qatari-liveried Ford Fiesta R5, sustaining the top-spot in the WRC 2 category.
The season finale had a familiar flavour today as crews tackled two passes of three of the championship’s most famed and challenging speed tests: Hafren, Sweet Lamb and Myherin. The mud-strewn stages made the day’s rallying all the more daunting, but all four Qatari-supported crews made it through to finish safely inside the overall top-ten.
Letting the front-runners loose, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were under no illusion that their inexperience could pose a disadvantage today. Despite setting some positive times, the 25-year-old took an intelligent approach given the tricky nature of the stages. Concentrating on his second place in the drivers’ championship as opposed to going all-out for glory, the Belgian ended the day a respectable third on what is his first venture to the Welsh forests with the Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
In the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson piloted their Fiesta RS WRC to fourth place overall – less than 30 seconds adrift of the podium. Although struggling to find the optimum set-up, the Scandinavian pairing will be eager to take an advantage as the event continues.
In the sister Fiesta RS WRC, Evgeny Novikov and Ilka Minor climbed three places in the overall rankings. The Russian was back on form as he combined his customary dose of ‘maximum attack’ with consistency. Indeed Novikov was never out of the top-five on individual stage times and will be keen to make further strides in the coming days.
Once again however, it was in the WRC 2 category where the Welsh fans would find their success story as local-man Evans extended his lead of the class. Increasing their advantage to almost half a minute, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt are in the perfect position going into their favoured stages tomorrow.
Thierry Neuville (3rd) said:
“We gave it our best but we lost some traction which meant that it was difficult to stay with the guys in front. After that we decided to not take any big risks and just focused on maintaining position. We feel really comfortable in the car and we are still in a really strong position so it has not been a bad day by all means. There are still two more days to go, so we will continue as we are and hope to maintain our third place.”
Mads Østberg (4th) said:
“We struggled with the set-up all day and we’re lacking front grip. I don’t know exactly why it’s happening but it is certainly a lot more slippery than we had expected so we need to think a little bit differently. We made some adjustments during remote service but it was understeering even more. I went back on the damper clicks, but there was no time to adjust everything on the short road sections. Having said that we are still in a good position; we’ll make some small changes this evening and see what tomorrow brings.”
Evgeny Novikov (5th) said:
“It has been very slippery but I think that we have been driving well and setting some quite good times. There is a big fight between myself, Mads [Østberg] and Andreas [Mikkelsen] so it will be an interesting battle. I was close to my limit today, but I don’t know tomorrow’s stages so well so the plan is to take a more cautious approach in the beginning.”
Elfyn Evans (8th overall, 1st in WRC 2) said:
“It’s been a good day. OK, it’s been very difficult out on the stages – difficult to judge the pace and to know exactly how hard to push. One minute you have grip, and the next minute you haven’t, so it has been difficult to judge the conditions. Overall, we’ve increased the gap and we’re still in first place so we’ve got to be happy with that.
“Tomorrow’s stages are the ones which are most local to me so I’m looking forward to them. They’re stages that I really enjoy – hopefully there’ll be a bit more grip than there was today and we’ll have a good run.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Thierry [Neuville] put in another strong performance today. He is not so familiar with these stages as the other drivers. After what happened to Robert [Kubica] and Mikko [Hirvonen] I think there may have been an air of caution as he focused on the bigger picture and ensuring that he finishes the season with second place in the drivers’ championship. That said, he proved this morning that he had the pace – setting the second fastest time on SS4.
“Elfyn [Evans] too has had another good day. We told him to enjoy his home rally and to go out and get the result he deserves. He’s proved today that he has all the ability to do that, and the whole team are behind him and a potential Welsh win as we go into the final two days.”