As the abrasive stages of the Acropolis Rally of Greece came to a close today, Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul delivered their second podium of the year. Following a faultless drive, their Qatar World Rally Team comrades – Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini – secured a well-deserved fifth place with Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg and Evgeny Novikov recovering well in sixth and ninth places respectively.
Avoiding the pitfalls which ended so many of his rivals’ quests for glory, Neuville’s podium marks his second to date – each achieved with M-Sport machinery on extremely rough and demanding stages.
Also impressing on the Greek event, a strong drive from Al-Attiyah saw him secure a third successive fifth place finish. Well versed in the challenges posed by such a rocky event, the Qatari’s vast experience paid dividends as he attacked the stages whilst safeguarding his Michelin-shod Fiesta through the rock-strewn tests.
Despite narrowly missing out on fourth position this weekend, Al-Attiyah’s result sees him build on what has been his best ever start to an FIA World Rally Championship season.
In an eventful rally for the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson did well to recover sixth place. Having lost time hitting a concrete step on Day 1 and with the punishing stages taking their toll on the duo through yesterday’s running, the Scandinavians regrouped for the final day.
With a better road position, Østberg conserved his tyres for a big push on the all-important Power Stage. Having set the third fastest time through the stage on the previous loop, the Norwegian was looking good. Unfortunately, his back luck only continued as a puncture denied him of any chance of points. Having led the rally in its early phase, Novikov and co-diver Ilka Minor continued to shine on the mountain stages. Suffering huge time loss following an unfortunate encounter with a rock which broke the rear-right wheel and damaged their Fiesta’s brake disc and suspension, the pairing remained one of the stars of the show with five stage wins to their credit – more than any other crew this weekend.
Using today’s running wisely – adjusting his pacenotes through the morning – the Russian’s pace meant that he was a firm favourite for Power Stage points going into the afternoon loop. True to his pace, the Russian posted the second fastest time to claim an additional two points for his championship campaign.
Thierry Neuville (3rd) said:
“We’ve shown this weekend that the car is very competitive and I think that we have shown that we [myself and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul] can be competitive too. We have done a good job this weekend – the strategy paid off and we achieved our second podium of the year.
“We have proven that we can be clever as well as fast – something which is very important here in Greece. OK, it is not so easy! I am only 24 and sometimes it is very hard to see the others [drivers] setting really fast times and telling yourself that you need to hold back. But it is working, and we are improving all the time.
“The team have done a great job this weekend and I need to say a big thanks to my mechanics who were fantastic all weekend. I really hope that our performance continues like this and that we can continue to improve over the rest of the season.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah (5th) said:
“This has been another fantastic rally for us. OK, it was a shame not to get fourth place, but Andreas [Mikkelsen] drove very well today and it was more important for us to finish the event and secure another top-five finish.
“The team have all worked very hard and I am very happy to finish in the top-five. We have done three rallies this season and always finished in the top-five which is a very good performance for us.”
Mads Østberg (6th) said:
“It’s been a very difficult weekend for us. Everything just wasn’t on our side and it’s been really frustrating. When everything was working well I think that we progressively went faster and faster and showed some good speed, but this definitely wasn’t the result I was looking for.
“Having said that, it does look promising in terms of speed and we can go to Sardinia knowing that we have the pace to fight. That event has been good to us in the past, so hopefully our bad luck will finally turn around there.”
Evgeny Novikov (9th) said:
“Generally I think that we showed some good speed here, but with the incident on Day 2 we lost any chance of a good result. Everything was working really well and I felt really good in the car with a really good rhythm. We were able to set good times without pushing to the maximum so that is very positive going forward.
“Of course this is not the result we wanted, but I think that we have proved a lot this weekend. We’ve shown that we have the pace to compete at the head of the field and I hope that we can continue to improve like this in Sardinia.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“I think we’ve seen a strong result from both teams this weekend. It was a really mature drive from Thierry [Neuville]. He stuck to his game plan, wasn’t drawn into any battles and thoroughly deserved his podium finish.
“Nasser [Al-Attiyah] too has been fantastic this weekend. He has now finished in the top-five on all [WRC] events this year. Teamed with his string of victories in the [FIA] Middle East [Rally Championship], this is looking set to be a very good year for him.
“All of the drivers performed well on the stages. Evgeny [Novikov] had a disappointing day yesterday, but his second place on the Power Stage underlines his pace, and – although this wasn’t his weekend – Mads [Østberg] managed to set good pace on some of the stages which is very promising for the next events.
“We’re set-up well for the second half of the season now. The whole M-Sport team has performed really well this weekend and I am sure that more good results will follow.”
Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team