Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul put in another sensational performance this weekend to finish second overall at ADAC Rallye Deutschland. In a nail-biting fight to the finish, the duo secured the runner-up spot for the third event in succession and strengthened their hold on second position in the FIA World Rally Championship’s driver and co-driver standings.
Using the first pass as a high-speed recce to double check the notes he lost just 2.2 seconds to rival Dani Sordo – a feat made all the more impressive considering he was also nursing a slow puncture. That left only a three-second deficit going into the final speed test.
As the Belgian fans roared at the stage end, the leading pair traded fastest splits throughout the 24.58 kilometre stage – it all coming down to the final five kilometres. Ultimately, the battle came to an end some three kilometres from the finish line. Pushing to the limit, Neuville put his Fiesta RS WRC slightly off-road – gifting 50 seconds to his rival and forfeiting a potential first win.
Regardless of the outcome, Neuville and Gilsoul were outstanding in their pursuit of victory. Determined to the end, the duo were a firm favourite amongst the adoring fans and are thoroughly deserving of their second place in the championship.
In the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, Mads Østberg and Evgeny Novikov were on damage limitation following some time loss earlier in the event.
The Norwegian had been running in a strong fifth place before falling foul to the treacherous conditions on SS12. Sliding off the road, the gravel-expert was unable to right his stricken Fiesta RS WRC and had to settle for Rally 2 on the final day. Mission accomplished, he and co-driver Jonas Andersson salvaged valuable points in ninth place and will be hoping for better fortune as the championship returns to their favoured surface next month.
Similarly, having slid off the road on the opening test, Novikov’s task remained much the same. Disadvantaged with ten minutes of Rally 2 time penalties, he and co-driver Ilka Minor used their time wisely to perfect their pacenotes. With his strategy paying dividends, the Russian climbed an impressive 61 places over the course of the weekend to finish in a points-scoring tenth place.
In the sister Qatar World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini had to settle for 13th place overall. The Qatari had been on course to secure his best result on asphalt before damaging the steering of his Fiesta when hitting an unsighted rock through the first pass of ‘Arena Panzerplatte’ (SS11).
Elsewhere, in WRC 2, the battle for the top-stop was as exciting as the fight at the head of the field. Challenging Robert Kubica from the opening test, Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt ably demonstrated the Ford Fiesta R5’s impressive performance on asphalt.
Having had the better of the Formula 1 race-winner during yesterday’s high-speed tests, the Welshman had to settle for the runner-up spot today. That said, his performance this weekend was nothing short of superb – equalling his best ever showing in the WRC with sixth place overall and showcasing the Fiesta R5’s huge potential on asphalt.
Thierry Neuville (2nd): “This was an incredible weekend and I feel we proved a lot again, even if we did ultimately just miss out on the win. The battle with Dani [Sordo] reminded me of some of the fights I used to have in the IRC! Nicolas [Gilsoul, co-driver] and I decided we were going to go for it on the final stage, but there was a corner towards the start that was much dirtier than I’d expected and I went slightly wide, which cost me two seconds.
“We then gave it everything – driving flat-out to regain the time we had lost and try to win in front of all our supporters. The split-times showed that approach was working well, but then coming out of the forest, I mistook one fast left-hand corner in the vineyards for another and we went off. By the time Nicolas announced the pacenote, it was already too late. Luckily we were able to rejoin the road and make it to the finish without losing position.
“Dani drove really well all weekend, setting consistently fast times and making no mistakes. I can only congratulate him and Carlos [del Barrio] and hope that soon it will be our turn. Second place is still a great result for us and I’m very satisfied with our performance in Germany. At least we tried, and our time will come.”
Mads Østberg (9th): “Well, considering the off yesterday, finishing ninth isn’t so bad at all! It has been a difficult weekend, but there are also some positives to take away. I think we improved throughout the rally and we have certainly learnt a lot along the way.
“When we get a bit of distance and start to look at everything in a bit more detail I’m sure we will find out what to do. The car is good, we know that. This weekend I just needed the car to assist me more, but instead we ended up adjusting the set-up a bit too much and I struggled to match it with my driving style 100 per cent.
“I think now we need to concentrate on Australia – and getting back to gravel which I am really looking forward to! It will be a new event for us, but Jonas [Andersson, co-driver] and I are used to new events so I don’t think that will affect us too much. Hopefully there we can have a really good run and get back to the podium which is, ultimately, where we want to be.”
Evgeny Novikov (10th): “I think it is fair to say that this has not been a good event for us. After the time loss on the first day, there was nothing left for us to fight for. We just had to concentrate on getting through all the stages and getting back into the points – we managed that, so that is one positive at least.
“Today I couldn’t get the right feeling with the brakes so it was hard to do anything other than just get through the day.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah (13th): “This is a really good event and I think we improved our Tarmac driving a lot this weekend. Of course it was very disappointing with what happened yesterday, but we were setting some good times and on course for what would have been a really great result for us.
“The team are working very hard and everything is going in the right direction. Thierry [Neuville] put in a great performance this weekend. OK, he could have won if everything had gone his way, but second position is another brilliant result for him and we are all extremely proud of what he has achieved.”
Elfyn Evans (2nd in WRC 2): “This has been a really enjoyable rally – we had a great fight with Robert [Kubica] from start to finish. There were a couple of small errors from my side which cost us pretty dearly to be honest, but other than that I think we can be really happy with what we achieved here.
“We were a bit too cautious on the first stage this morning [SS15]. Robert really pushed on and took a good ten seconds out of us there so that was really the end of our hopes. We had a decent run through the last stage [SS16] – taking six seconds out of him – but it wasn’t quite enough.
“The car has been absolutely sensational all weekend. We already knew how good it was on gravel, and I think now we’ve proved that it is just as competitive on Tarmac… everyone should go out and buy one! It’s been a really enjoyable weekend and I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel in France.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE: “It was another truly outstanding drive from Thierry [Neuville]. For him to be battling for victory right down to the wire on the final stage – and lying second in the championship – is an absolute dream which I didn’t think was possible when we started the season back in Monte-Carlo.
“To rise up the ranks as quickly as he is doing is something I haven’t seen in all the time I’ve been doing this job. Second place is still an incredible result when you consider the level of experience he has – and he is only going to get better.
“In WRC 2, it was another extremely strong performance from Elfyn [Evans] as he demonstrated the [Ford Fiesta] R5’s potential on asphalt as well as gravel – proving that it’s the car to have on all surfaces. He produced a very mature and sensible drive in difficult conditions.
“To be exchanging the lead with somebody like Robert Kubica whilst not allowing himself to get sucked into making any mistakes in the heat of the moment was very impressive. I’m sure he will go away from here having learned a lot, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he fares against Robert over the remaining two rounds.”
Qatar World Rally