Thierry Neuville steals the glory
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville stole the thunder from Toyota’s Elfyn Evans on Sunday by winning the four final stages and storming to a convincing win, to kick off the Belgian’s latest bid for a first WRC crown in the best possible fashion.
Neuville had led on Thursday night after winning the first two stages, before dropping behind the Toyota drivers on Friday. But he was always within striking distance of Evans and Ogier, as the trio put on an intense scrap for Monte honours.
Neuville was just 6.4 seconds off Evans’s lead and right on Ogier’s tail on Saturday night, leaving it all to play for on the final leg. How he then dominated the final day to win by 12.6 seconds shows just how determined he is to become champion. In the end, it was Ogier he beat as Evans slipped to third – but a podium and such a strong performance on his first weekend in Toyota colours should leave him convinced that rally wins – and, whisper it, perhaps even a tilt for the title – are well within his reach.
Nine-time WRC king Sébastien Loeb struggled in the wake of the lead trio in his Hyundai. The legend narrowly missed a nasty accident when his i20 was left balanced on the edge of a drop on Sunday morning, before spectators came to his rescue. Then after damaging a tyre, he fell to sixth in the final order as Esapekka Lappi finished fourth in his maiden outing in an M-Sport Fiesta, ahead of Kalle Rovanpera’s Toyota.
It’s always odd to see Loeb playing a bit part in the WRC. But the facts are there are other leading lights eclipsing him now – and with Tänak certain to hit back in Sweden, predictions of another riveting season for the WRC look right on the money.