Title duel: tension rises

WRC title contenders Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier revved up their rivalry following Neste Rally Finland with some feisty verbal exchanges.

Neuville drew level on points with the four-time champion at the top of the drivers’ standings, but leads having won three rallies to Ogier’s two. Just four rounds remain.

The Belgian finished sixth after struggling to match his Hyundai i20 to the fast rollercoaster roads, while the rally was nothing short of a disaster for Ogier. He crashed out on the opening morning (below), giving Neuville a golden opportunity to wipe out his 11 point deficit.

Despite missing the chance to build a big lead over Ogier, Neuville turned up the pressure on the M-Sport driver.

“In the end we couldn’t get to fifth so we finally were clever and just tried to look out for the points,” he said. “Taking 11 points on one event to Mr Ogier is a huge gap forwards, more than we did on the last rally with a win, so it’s a perfect weekend for us.”

As championship leader, Neuville will be first in the start order at the asphalt ADAC Rallye Deutschland (17 - 20 August). It means he will drag dirt onto the road when he cuts corners, a significant disadvantage to Ogier behind, especially if it rains.

“Rain will make it more difficult for everybody, but maybe for the road conditions it could be a small advantage. I’m not a guy who cuts a lot. Cutting is taking risks as well, so I don’t care,” he said.

Following Ogier’s retirement, Neuville spent the rest of Friday’s first leg opening the roads and sweeping the gravel for those behind. It is something Ogier has railed against in recent years and he was happy to see his rival in that position.

“Now he realises what is first on the road,” said Ogier. “There are not so many people who have seen that.

“Since years I have done this job and people like him, who have never done it often say: “Ah, it’s not so much, Ogier’s complaining too much.’ But now I see what he do when it’s tough and it’s nothing really impressive.”

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