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WRC Rally Estonia

Second at WRC Rally Estonia felt like a “victory” for Neuville

Thierry Neuville says a second place at Rally Estonia felt like a “victory” after struggling to challenge for podiums at high-speed gravel World Rally Championship events last year.

Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team

The Hyundai driver emerged as the best of the rest behind a dominant rally winner Kalle Rovanpera last weekend, finishing 52.7s behind the inspired Toyota driver who recorded 13 consecutive stage wins.

While the gap to the winner was significant, Neuville delivered arguably his best showing on fast, smooth gravel stages since finishing second at Rally Finland in 2013.

The surface has proved to be a weakness for the Belgian in recent seasons and particularly last year when behind the wheel of the i20 N Rally1 Neuville finished a distant fourth, almost four minutes behind winner Rovanpera, in Estonia.

The Hyundai was particularly difficult to tame on these roads as then team-mate Ott Tanak, a four-time Rally Estonia winner, could only finish 1m55.7s adrift in third.

However, Neuville’s says his Hyundai team has made significant strides in evolving its car in the last 12 months, benefiting from the squad’s Finland test base and the input of new team-mate Esapekka Lappi.

“Actually [second] feels like a victory because Kalle was out of the competition this weekend," said Neuville.

“It feels good. The best thing is I felt comfortable in the car and I was able to drive with my usual rhythm at such a fast event. This gives me a lot of motivation for Finland [next week].

“The car has evolved. We were far off last year and Ott was even struggling to be close to the podium. We have a good car and we have been doing lots of testing on Finnish roads, which are similar, and I'm getting more used to it.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Romain Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

“With Esapekka, we work in the same direction and we had the same set-up all weekend because the balance, grip and speed we want is the same. As a team, we evolve much quicker than before.”

Neuville’s pace was backed up by Lappi finishing third ahead of Toyota’s Elfyn Evans, while its third entry driven by Rally1 debutant Teemu Suninen finished an impressive fifth.

Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul believes his team has made a “big step” forward compared to last year, but insists more improvements are required to challenge Toyota.

“We cannot take anything away from the Toyota which is great here [in Estonia] but I think we have done a good step," Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.

“I was not here last year but we were simply nowhere, and we had Ott in our team and he struggled massively, but what we have shown here is that we have made a big step.

“We need to be making bigger steps if we want to become a direct threat to all Toyotas and that is something we need to work on for the remainder of this season and for next year.”

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