Belgium WRC: Neuville edges teammate Breen after first loop

Thierry Neuville edged Hyundai teammate Craig Breen to lead Rally Ypres by a slender margin after an eventful opening loop of stages in the Belgian event's World Rally Championship debut.

Listen to this article

Local hero Neuville was embroiled in an enthralling battle with Breen, but after finishing second in the first three stages, a win on the final stage of the loop secured a 0.4s lead as crews returned to service.

Hyundai has employed a “no stone unturned” approach to the event, completing four pre-event test days, and its preparation paid off by winning the opening quartet of stages.

Breen and Neuville, both previous Ypres Rally winners in its former guise as a round of the European Rally Championship, made the most of their experience to tame the fast and slippery asphalt roads, punctuated by several junctions.

Fellow Hyundai driver Ott Tanak ended the afternoon in third overall, after winning the first stage, but is 16.4s adrift having struggled to match the pace of his teammates.

Elfyn Evans headed Toyota’s charge in fourth overall, a further 0.8s back, while teammate Sebastien Ogier is sixth after being delayed by a front left puncture on the third stage.

That dropped him behind Estonia winner Kalle Rovanpera, who holds fifth.

However, worse was to befall M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux, who retired from the day’s action following a wild spin on stage three. The team’s day went from bad to worse as Gus Greensmith found himself stuck in a ditch after a spin on the final stage of the afternoon, which forced his retirement.

The hard tyre-shod Hyundai trio dominated the opening stage of the rally, recording a one-two-three finish, but it was Tanak who emerged on top rather than expected favourite Neuville.

Tanak made the most of his road position to complete the first 15km test 2.3s faster than home hero Neuville, benefitting from a cleaner surface than the dusty road his teammate faced.

Breen completed the Hyundai dominance with the third fastest time, just 0.2s slower than Neuville despite a scare on one of the transitions to a concrete road surface.

"I had a huge bang on a concrete lip that I tried to drive around, and it dropped the rhythm because I was sure I had a puncture,” said Breen.

Evans in fourth was the fastest of the Toyotas, all electing for a hard/soft tyre compound mix, but was some 6.4s back with Rovanpera fifth and Ogier sixth.

Neuville produced a blistering effort in the second test but was again denied a stage win by his teammate, as Breen pipped the Belgian by 0.9s, and took the overall rally lead by 0.7s.

It was an impressive time for Neuville considering he was struggling with his glasses.

"I was fighting like hell with my glasses - they were slipping all the time,” he said.

While Breen and Neuville set the pace, opening stage winner Tanak missed a junction and ran wide into a field, which dropped the Estonian to third overall, after losing 9.6s to the leaders.

Evans was once again the fastest Toyota in fourth ahead of Rovanpera, Tanak and Ogier.

Breen continued his pace into the penultimate stage of the loop to claim his second stage win of the day, pipping Neuville again by 0.9s as the thrilling fight between the pair raged.

It would proved to be a an eventful stage as Ogier was hampered by a front left puncture towards the end of the 23.62km test, while Fourmaux lost the rear of his Fiesta on a muddy left-hander that resulted in a crash.

Neuville finally chalked up a win on the final stage of the loop, beating Breen by two seconds.

Tanak found some pace to finish the stage with the second fastest time, ahead of Evans, Breen and Ogier.

In WRC2, M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen leads the class with a 22.7s margin over Oliver Solberg, who is giving Hyundai’s new i20 Rally 2 car its event debut.

The Ypres Rally continues this evening with a repeat of the afternoon stages, beginning at 16:15 GMT.

shares
comments

Related video

Belgium WRC: Fourmaux retires after high-speed crash
Previous article

Belgium WRC: Fourmaux retires after high-speed crash

Next article

Ogier: Spa-Francorchamps Ypres Rally finale will be "special"

Ogier: Spa-Francorchamps Ypres Rally finale will be "special"
Load comments
How Monte masters stole the show as WRC's hybrid era blasted off Prime

How Monte masters stole the show as WRC's hybrid era blasted off

The new Rally1 hybrid cars made their competition debuts in Monte Carlo, but it was two semi-retired drivers who took centre stage in a thrilling battle between two of the World Rally Championship's most successful names. Here's how Sebastien Loeb completed a remarkable return on his M-Sport debut by beating reigning champion Sebastien Ogier

WRC
9 h
The WRC heirs scrapping to assume Ogier's throne in 2022 Prime

The WRC heirs scrapping to assume Ogier's throne in 2022

Eight-time World Rally Championship king Sebastien Ogier has abdicated (well, gone part-time) in 2022, meaning for just the second time in the past decade we will have a different champion this year. We pick out the drivers gunning to take his place and take over the mantle as the WRC's new ruler

WRC
Jan 20, 2022
The WRC star that's earned the right to lead M-Sport's revival Prime

The WRC star that's earned the right to lead M-Sport's revival

Part-time opportunities with Citroen and Hyundai have offered brief glimpses of what Craig Breen can do in a World Rally Championship car. Now signed up by M-Sport to lead it into the WRC's new hybrid era, Breen has been given the chance he's pursued for so long and is determined to make the most of it

WRC
Jan 18, 2022
Why the WRC's 'modern Group B' era was rallying at its bonkers best Prime

Why the WRC's 'modern Group B' era was rallying at its bonkers best

The World Rally Championship has brought down the curtain on the aggressive, aero-laden generation of cars first introduced in 2017 that have been likened to the 1980s Group B icons. As the championship prepares to begin a new era of Rally1 hybrid cars, its stars explain just why the outgoing machines were so special

WRC
Dec 24, 2021
Ranking the top 10 WRC drivers of 2021 Prime

Ranking the top 10 WRC drivers of 2021

On the eve of a new hybrid era for the World Rally Championship, the 2021 season was a blockbuster fought out between Toyota's two top dogs, with a familiar figure eventually emerging on top after a final showdown at Monza. We pick out the 10 best performers from the top class and its supporting cast

WRC
Dec 21, 2021
Why Ogier's WRC swansong was a season to savour Prime

Why Ogier's WRC swansong was a season to savour

He’s shuffling into semi-rally-retirement, but Toyota star Sebastien Ogier was at the peak of his powers in the final season for the high downforce era-World Rally Championship cars. Despite Toyota's domination, there was still much to enjoy as the old master emerged atop a fierce title fight against teammate Elfyn Evans.

WRC
Dec 19, 2021
How WRC legend Ogier will be remembered by his peers Prime

How WRC legend Ogier will be remembered by his peers

After winning his eighth WRC title, Sebastien Ogier has drawn the curtain on his full-time rallying career. To understand Ogier's legacy, many of his former rivals, team-mates and colleagues have shared their thoughts on a vastly successful career

WRC
Nov 26, 2021
Ranking lost WRC legend Richard Burns' 10 best rallies Prime

Ranking lost WRC legend Richard Burns' 10 best rallies

Richard Burns was a determined driver who took on the best rally drivers in the world during a boom period in the early 2000s, and beat them. On the 20th anniversary of his crowning glory in winning the 2001 WRC title, and 16 years on from his death on the same date, we pick out his 10 greatest drives

WRC
Nov 25, 2021