Neuville shocked by Ogier shunt

Thierry Neuville admits he was thrown out of his stride after seeing arch-rival Sébastien Ogier off the road and in the trees at Vodafone Rally de Portugal.

Ogier’s demise followed hot on the heels of Ott Tänak’s retirement. With his two closest rivals for the WRC title out of the running, the Belgian realised he had a golden opportunity to win the event and break clear at the top of the points.

“Before I heard about it, I saw it. I was a bit disturbed for the upcoming three or four corners. I knew he was gone but there was still a good result to take. It took me four or five corners before I found back the rhythm and started pushing again.

“It even motivated me more to go for the win. I think that was a good decision I have taken at that moment to push really hard,” said the Belgian.

Neuville capitalised to win the four-day encounter in his Hyundai i20 by 40.0sec from Elfyn Evans. The victory, allied with four Power Stage bonus points, overturned a 10-point deficit to Ogier and he left Portugal 19 points to the good.

Ogier’s crash in the second pass through the Viana do Castelo speed test came after the Frenchman hit a tree stump. The impact snapped a steering arm on his Ford Fiesta and left him directionless at the next corner and pointless at the end of the weekend.

Neuville highlighted his decision to opt for Michelin’s soft compound rubber for Friday afternoon’s second pass of stages near the Spanish border as a key moment.

With temperatures rising and rocks littering the gravel roads, it was a brave choice. He managed the wear and took a lead he held to the finish.

“It was a gamble but we had the experience from last year when Dani (team-mate Sordo) was on full softs for the afternoon and it worked well,” he told wrc.com. “I tried it, and I’m not sure it was the best tyre choice, but it worked.

“I have already a couple of years now in WRC and I’ve learned a lot. I remember when I was in a team with Sébastien Loeb. He was that kind of guy as well. Even if his main rivals were out, he was still able to go for the win and take points and that’s what we’ve done.”

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