Best ever results for Neuville and Qatar.
Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul put in a sensational performance behind the wheel of their Qatar World Rally Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC today to secure second place at the 2013 Rally Italia Sardegna – theirs and the team’s best ever result in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
With two stage wins on the first day of competition, the Belgian refused to give in to the pressure of the final day. Despite lacking splits through the morning loop, Neuville looked more than comfortable behind the wheel.
With the exception of SS12 – on which he out-braked himself into a junction – Neuville posted a top-three time on all of today’s speed tests. To top-off what has been a near-perfect weekend the Belgian also flew to second place in the Power Stage (SS15) and an additional two points which sees him propelled into third place in the drivers’ championship.
Making an impact with an outstanding points-scoring finish on his world rally car debut, fellow Qatar World Rally Team driver Elfyn Evans claimed an impressive sixth place – one of the highest placed finishes for a driver on their WRC debut.
A difficult event for the young Welshman, this was also his first venture to the Italian event as well as his first outing with co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini. Yet ever rising to the challenge and learning with each new stage, Evans maintained his composure for a thoroughly deserved result. Keeping his head where the more experienced faltered, the 24-year-old’s progress was clear to see. Gaining experience and upping his pace with each competitive kilometre, Evans put in a near faultless performance. Proving he can up the pace when necessary, he clinched his sixth place by just 0.9 seconds and has certainly proved his potential as a real star of the future.
Elsewhere in the one remaining Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC, Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson recovered some good points following yesterday’s final-stage roll. Despite losing the intercom and thus having no pacenotes for 90 per cent of SS10 (Terranova 1) followed by a slow puncture and spin on the following two stages (SS11 and SS12), the Scandinavians recovered an impressive six places to finish a points-scoring eighth overall.
Østberg’s result also saw M-Sport continue its record breaking streak of points finishes as a manufacturer entrant. Thanks to some exceptional, late-night work from the mechanics to ensure Østberg’s restart, M-Sport’s manufacturer teams have scored points on every single WRC event since the 2002 Rallye Monte Carlo – that’s 165 and counting.
Thierry Neuville (2nd) said:
“This was a great event for us. We have shown some good pace and been consistent all weekend with no big mistakes – a clean run and a very good result for Nicolas [Gilsoul, co-driver] and me.
“It was no problem keeping Jari-Matti [Latvala] behind us this afternoon as, to be honest, there was a pretty big gap. We followed his times and I think we put some pressure on some of the other drivers too so it really couldn’t have been better.
“We have had two thirds and a second already this season, so who knows, maybe the win will come in Germany! I have a lot more experience on Tarmac and have always been a lot quicker there so I think if we have a good test and the conditions are OK, then we can definitely have a good run there.
“The key to our performance this weekend was the same as the last two rallies. We had a different strategy which was just to make sure that we finished all of the stages to build up our confidence. We had the same plan this afternoon but when we saw that we could match the pace Sébastien [Ogier] and Jari-Matti – without taking any risks – we decided to continue with the same rhythm which brought us this good result.”
Elfyn Evans (6th) said:
“It’s been a great weekend. It didn’t start off so easy for us – we knew it was always going to be difficult. But we got better and better as the weekend went on. When others hit problems, we managed to stay on the road and the result came in the end.
“I just want to thank everyone involved for the opportunity – it’s been an absolutely fantastic experience and we both [Giovanni Bernacchini, co-driver, and I] really enjoyed it.
“I certainly didn’t expect to finish in the top-six before the event – I wasn’t sure that I would make it to the finish let alone finish in sixth so it is very pleasing to be here. I’ve learnt masses. It’s fantastic preparation for Finland with the [Ford Fiesta] R5 and I’ve learnt so much about how to get the most out of the car, the event, and working with a different co-driver. Giovanni has been excellent so big thanks to him.
“Obviously this result means a great deal. To finish sixth on my debut is massive! I’m not sure what it means for the future, but it’s definitely improved my skills as a driver and provided me with more knowledge and experience than I could have ever hoped for. It’s brilliant… and I can’t stop smiling!”
Mads Østberg (8th) said:
“Towards the end of the Power Stage – about two kilometres before the end – there was a bull with huge horns in the middle of the road. I had to brake to try to avoid it, but when I did that it just moved against me so I had to go even further off the road to miss it. It was really big so I didn’t want to hit it because that would have been a hard impact for sure!
“Apart from that, this afternoon has been OK. We had a small issue with the rear suspension so for the last two or three stages it was quite difficult. But other than that, we didn’t have so many dramas.
“We have had some good stages in this rally so we just have to keep that in our mind and make sure we bring the confidence and the self-belief with us to Finland.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“What a fantastic result for both Thierry [Neuville] and Elfyn [Evans] – I think they’ve both proved a lot this weekend!
“Thierry’s second place shows just how confident he has become behind the wheel of the Fiesta [RS WRC] and I’m sure there’s more to come from him when we move into the second half of the season. He’s proven he has the consistency, and I think this weekend he took another step forward by proving that he also has the speed to challenge for the top positions. He thoroughly deserves to be third in the drivers’ championship.
“Elfyn’s performance too was outstanding. This was always going to be a difficult event for him – his first time in the WRC car, his first time at Rally Italia and his first time with Giovanni [Bernacchini, co-driver] – but he mastered the challenge brilliantly. He was constantly improving and I think this experience will make him all the more competitive when he returns to WRC 2 in Finland. We certainly made the right decision by putting him in the car.
“Finally, I need to praise the M-Sport mechanics who did an absolutely fantastic job on Mads’ [Østberg] car last night. They worked well into the night to make the repairs and, thanks to them, M-Sport can continue their unbroken record for the highest number of consecutive points scores in the WRC. It was a brilliant effort by the entire team.”