Thierry Neuville avoids trouble to win in Poland
Thierry Neuville cranked up the pressure on four-time defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier by charging to a third win of the season in Poland.
The Belgian entered yesterday with a 3.1-second lead over Ott Tanak, but the Estonian’s hopes evaporated on the penultimate stage as he was forced to abandon the rally after slamming into a bank.
Neuville won two further stages on the final day-posting the quickest time in nine of 22 specials in total-to finish 1min 23.9sec clear of fellow Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon of New Zealand.
“What a great result for the whole team!” said Neuville. “I am really delighted for everyone involved. It was a closely fought battle this weekend, as it seems to have been for the past few events. “It was certainly a relief to retake the lead after Ott’s retirement this morning, as it allowed us some breathing space in the final stages.”
While Hayden posted his best performance of the season, Ogier took third ahead as Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala was forced out while less than 15 seconds off the lead on Saturday due to mechanical problems.
Neuville, a winner in France and Argentina earlier this season, trails Ogier by just 11 points with five races left on the calendar.
“Our goal for the weekend was to outscore Seb, which we did, and we have closed the gap in the championship for the second rally in a row,” added Neuville, runner-up to Ogier in the championship in both 2013 and 2016.
Ogier, who damaged his Ford Fiesta early on Saturday and lost more than 30 seconds as he skidded off the road, was just relieved to have made it over the finish line.
“I’m just happy to have finished it. This podium isn’t deserved but that happens sometimes and you have to take it,” said Ogier. “I’m sorry for Ott, he had done fantastic work and was very quick. It’s a shame things finished like that for him.”
Tanak, who was chasing a second successive victory after his maiden triumph in Italy last month, accepted his misfortune was part and parcel of rallying.
“It happens. You have to push very hard if you want to win,” Tanak said, who was cruelly denied victory in last year’s Rally of Poland after suffering a puncture on the final day.— AFP