Thierry Neuville stormed to his second FIA World Rally Championship victory of the season with a commanding display at RallyRACC – Rally de España on Sunday afternoon.
The Belgian took control of the penultimate round with eight straight fastest times in his Hyundai i20 across the middle of the three-day asphalt rally to secure back-to-back Spanish victories by 24.1 sec.
Second place for Elfyn Evans in a Toyota Yaris means the fight for the 2021 drivers’ title goes to a final round decider in Italy next month. He headed Dani Sordo’s i20 by 11.2 sec and trails team-mate Sébastien Ogier by 17 points. A maximum 30 remain available.
After demoting Evans from the lead on Saturday morning, Neuville’s progress at the front was serene until a big scare ahead of the closing Wolf Power Stage.
A starter motor problem meant co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe pushed their i20 into the regroup before the stage. The crew managed to restart the car and tackled the test without further problems, but the incident clearly rattled Neuville.
“I’m relieved to be at the end,” he admitted. “It was a tough weekend, but we fought very hard. We had a good clean run and, until near the end, everything was perfect.
“Unfortunately, lots of stress before the last stage. I am really disappointed about that because otherwise the weekend would have been perfect and nice, but now it isn’t.”
Evans felt uncomfortable on dirty roads when the smooth asphalt speed tests in the Costa Daurada hills were tackled for a second time, but the Welshman has slashed the deficit to Ogier from 44 points with victory in Finland earlier this month and second here.
He tried a variety of set-up changes to no avail but had enough pace to stay ahead of a charging Sordo, who won all four of Sunday’s special stages to demote Ogier and claim the final podium place.
Ogier, pursuing his eighth title in nine seasons, struggled for pace early in the rally. While set-up changes gave the Frenchman heart, he could not hold off the Spaniard.
Neuville and Sordo’s 1-2 in the bonus points-paying Power Stage means the fight between leader Toyota Gazoo Racing and Hyundai Motorsport for the 2021 manufacturers’ crown will also go to the last round.
Kalle Rovanperä finished fifth in another Yaris, almost 50 sec adrift of Ogier, with Gus Greensmith overcoming several problems to complete the top six in a Ford Fiesta at the final rally for co-driver Chris Patterson.
The final round at FORUM8 ACI Rally Monza will take place on November 18-21.
1. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 2 hr 34 min 11.8 sec
2. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota Yaris +24.1 sec
3. D Sordo / C Carrera ESP Hyundai i20 +35.3 sec
4. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Toyota Yaris +42.1 sec
5. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota Yaris +1 min 31.8 sec
6. G Greensmith / C Patterson GBR Ford Fiesta +4 min 17.3 sec
2021 WRC drivers’ standings
1. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Toyota Yaris 204 pts
2. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota Yaris 187
3. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai 159
Credits : Photos and content courtesy of Red Bull Media House GmbH