The Acropolis Rally of Greece resumed with what was arguably the most challenging day of the competition. Unfortunately however, Neuville’s accomplishment proved somewhat bitter sweet for the team as it came at the expense of Evgeny Novikov’s early lead.
Novikov had made the perfect start to the event – posting the fastest time on all three opening tests – only to be denied on SS4. As the rock-strewn stages fought back, the Russian brushed a bank which broke the rear-right wheel and consequentially damaged the brake disc and suspension of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
On the other side of the ‘fortune’ spectrum, a considered approach to this notoriously difficult event was paying dividends for Neuville. Conserving his speed whilst matching the splits of his rivals, the youngster kept his Fiesta RS WRC well clear of the pitfalls which hindered so many of his fellow competitors.
Partnered by co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, the pairing prospered where the more experienced faltered – a string of competitive times delivering a well deserved podium position going into tomorrow’s final tests.
Also going well in the sister Qatar World Rally Team Fiesta, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini are on course to equal their best ever performance in the FIA World Rally Championship with fourth place overall.
Well versed in the art of navigating rough rally stages, the Qatari had his wits about him. Controlling his pace throughout the day, Al-Attiyah played the long game with a faultless performance through the event’s mountain tracks. Elsewhere in the final Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team Fiesta, Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson were making strides following yesterday’s wheel-breaking impact with a concrete step. Despite the abrasive stages taking their toll on the Scandinavians, the pairing climbed into sixth position with the aim of taking yet more places – and points in the all important Power Stage – on tomorrow’s final day.
Thierry Neuville (3rd) said:
“I think for us there was no secret today. Our aim was simple – stay on the road, look after the car and be careful in the rough places. We had a really good rhythm and a really good feeling this afternoon. I could drive quickly, but I was always controlling what I was doing.
“There is still a long way to go so I am not thinking about the end result too much. Tomorrow will still be very rough with many sections that we have already used twice yesterday. We saw a lot of problems with punctures today so a lot can still happen.
“There’s a big gap in front of us and more than two minutes behind, so it will be difficult to push for positions on the driving alone. I think we should just hold our position, but I will definitely have a word with Malcolm [Wilson, Team Principal] to see what he thinks!”
Nasser Al-Attiyah (4th) said:
“Today has been good. We are in fourth position now and I am happy with our performance. Our speed was good in the afternoon and we were able to improve our times from the morning. In some places it was a little bit scary, but I really enjoyed the driving today.
“Everything is working well for us – we have a good car and the tyres are working really well. Of course tomorrow is another day, but we will try to maintain the gap to Andreas [Mikkelsen]. He lost a bit of time on the last stage [SS10] so we’ll take this opportunity to push and maintain position.”
Mads Østberg (6th) said:
“It has been another tough day. OK, it was better than yesterday but we lost some time with a loose steering arm [on SS5] and a puncture [on SS8]. It’s been a difficult day but by no means catastrophic. When everything has been working well and we found the right set up we managed to set some good times.
“It’s not the day we wanted, but we are up to sixth which is what we wanted. That’s the way it is at the moment so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.”
Evgeny Novikov (9th) said:
“Now we are just trying to keep a good rhythm. I know the stages quite well so it’s all about maintaining the speed and not losing concentration on some of the trickier sections. Of course we will try to move up the leader board to get some good points for the team, and also go for a big push in the Power Stage.
“Today was disappointing for sure – we hit a sharp rock which broke the wheel and damaged the brake disc and suspension which meant we lost a lot of time. But tomorrow is another day and, as we saw last year, it’s not over until it’s over.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It’s been another day of mixed fortunes. Evgeny [Novikov] had a great start out of the blocks but unfortunately the Greek terrain played its part as it has for a lot of drivers this weekend.
“Thierry [Neuville] has stuck to his plan perfectly. He’s kept out of trouble and has been rewarded with a strong podium position going into the final day. Nasser [Al-Attiyah] too has had a fantastic drive. He’s withstood pressure from behind and goes into the final day with a good chance of equalling his best ever result [in the WRC].
“After yesterday’s misfortune, Mads [Østberg] has utilised today to the best of his advantage – testing and learning for the future. It’s good to see that he’s got back into a good points paying position with a demanding final day yet to run.”
Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team