Nasser Al-Attiyah Grabs Top 5 Spot And Thierry Neuville Picks Up Points
Racing conditions at the Rally de Portugal, the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, occasionally bordered on the extreme. Nasser Al-Attityah and Giovanni Bernacchini called upon all of their experience to produce a faultless display which saw them claim the final spot in the top 5. The crew thus scored enough points to send Qatar World Rally Team up into fourth position in the Manufacturers’ World Championship. Forced to rejoin under Rally2 regulations at the start of day three, the all-Belgian crew of Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul (Citroën Junior World Rally Team) fought back well to finish in ninth place and score their first points in WRC.
With night stages, dust clouds, mud patches, thick fog and isolated heavy showers over stretches of several kilometres, competitors in the Rally de Portugal had to contend with more or less every condition imaginable in a World Championship gravel rally!
Although competing in only his third rally in a World Rally Car, Nasser Al-Attiyah used his immense experience to navigate the tricky conditions with aplomb. From twelfth at the end of Thursday evening, the Qatari moved up to sixth on day two, widely acknowledged to be the hardest of the rally’s four days. The no.7 DS3 WRC driver continued to progress, grabbing fourth place on Saturday.
Overtaken by Petter Solberg on Sunday morning, Nasser then lost time due to a puncture on the penultimate stage. He then pushed very hard on the Power Stage to snatch fifth place from Martin Prokop and record his best ever result in the World Championship. “It’s great to finish the rally like this! Sixth in Mexico and fifth here: I am very pleased with this result. It was one of the most difficult rallies that I have competed in,” said the Qatari.
Thierry Neuville made a very strong start to the rally as he was running in the top 5 at the end of day one. On Friday morning, he was one of the many drivers to get caught out by the near-apocalyptic conditions: “I was caught out going over a watersplash. There was at least 50 centimetres of water in a place which was dry during reconnaissance! The front of the car hit the water and the cooling system was damaged. We had to stop to prevent the engine from becoming damaged.”
After rejoining the rally on Saturday under Rally2 regulations, Thierry and his co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul continue to learn about the WRC on the two remaining days. The Belgians fought their way back up to finish in ninth and score their first points in the Drivers’ World Championship.
“The last two days went well. We used the first loop to check and confirm our pace notes, and then we pushed a bit harder on the second runs. That resulted in us setting some good times, among the top 5,” said Thierry. “I hope that now I can complete a rally without having to rejoin under Rally2 regulations whilst also remaining competitive.”
“Nasser has scored another strong result, whilst continuing to learn. He really wants to avoid making mistakes and has adopted a pace that allows him to do that,” analysed Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “I think that it may have been a bit of breakthrough for him to be fighting for fifth place at the end of the rally. He admitted to us that he had learned quite a lot from this situation. Thierry made a mistake at the start of the rally, due to his lack of experience. After rejoining under Rally2 regulations, he showed impressive speed. We’re confident that he will continue to progress in the upcoming rallies.”