Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville continued his sensational debut season with the Qatari outfit by seizing his sixth podium and fourth consecutive runner-up spot of the year at Rally Australia today. The Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team pairing of Mads Østberg and Evgeny Novikov finished proceedings fifth and seventh respectively.

Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul, Ford Fiesta WRC, Qatar M-Sport WRT
Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul, Ford Fiesta WRC, Qatar M-Sport WRT

Photo by: XPB Images

Despite the impressive result, it was not all plain sailing for Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul. Although they had to contend with some overly optimistic pacenotes in the event’s early phases, the pairing regrouped brilliantly. Setting the stages alight with some encouraging times, the Belgian secured 10 top-three times on his Australian debut – outshining those with considerably more experience.

Strengthening a comfortable third place through today’s first five stages, Neuville was at one behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Faultless in his advance up the time sheets, the 25-year-old secured second place – as well as an additional two points in the Power Stage – when a final-stage puncture relegated Mikko Hirvonen from second to third overall.

With the upper-hand over championship rival, Jari-Matti Latvala, Neuville has also increased his second place advantage in the FIA Drivers’ World Rally Championship to 19 points with just three rounds to go.

Having also struggled with his pacenotes in the initial stages, Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team’s Østberg turned his weekend around to finish a creditable fifth on his first taste of the Aussie stages.

Having established a comfortable gap over a cruising Andreas Mikkelsen, Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson used the final day wisely. Increasing his pace behind the wheel of the Fiesta RS WRC, the Norwegian concentrated on gaining further experience and perfecting his pacenotes ahead of his next venture Down Under.

In the sister Qatar M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Novikov was hampered by his early road position. Having to clear a fine layer of dust and loose gravel for the following cars, the fans were denied the Russian’s usual dose of ‘maximum attack’.

Contesting an intelligent rally, Novikov and co-driver Ilka Minor managed their pace – learning the stages and improving their pacenotes. Upping their speed for today’s final tests, the Muscovite secured seventh place as well as an additional championship point for the third quickest time through the closing Power Stage.

Thierry Neuville (2nd) said: “I’m a little disappointed for Sébastien [Ogier], but at the same time I am just doing my job and if second place is there for the taking, I’m going to take it! I was really pleased with our performance this weekend. Once again, we were quite clever – pushing when we felt good and checking the notes over the first loop – which proved to be a good strategy.

“I don’t think it was one of my best performances and I could certainly have been better on the first day. We worked hard to make improvements, but I need to work on having more confidence on the first pass.

“In France, I will definitely try to push and fight with the two Sébastiens [Ogier and Loeb]. I know it will be difficult, but that will be my goal.”

Mads Østberg (5th) said: “It has been an interesting weekend. The first day was very difficult for us because the pacenotes weren’t working as they should and we had no confidence which you could see from the times. But we learnt a lot – changing the pacenotes and the set-up to make a real step forward on Saturday. Then we had some good speed and were close to the top drivers even considering our position on the road.

“Today we tried altering the set-up a little bit more, but I think we went a bit too far. We managed to comfortably climb back up to fifth, even with a puncture on SS20. In the end we managed a top-five result on our first time here, so I am quite pleased with that.”

Evgeny Novikov (7th) said: “The rally has been OK. We scored some points and most importantly we finished all of the stages without any mistakes. It was very difficult with the road position – the stages were very slippery and it was difficult to challenge for the top positions.

“But I think that we improved our pace throughout the rally. We set some good times this afternoon and secured a point in the Power Stage. Now, we need to concentrate on the next events and making more progress.”

Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “It’s been another dream result for Thierry [Neuville]. We certainly didn’t expect to finish second again but it just proves how he is developing and the professional way in which he has approached every event this season. He’s been patient, and smart, and ended up with a fantastic result.

“Our cars have run faultlessly all weekend, and the good thing is that we have now improved our position in the Drivers’ championship over both Mikko [Hirvonen] and Jari-Matti [Latvala].”

Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team