Thierry Neuville emerged from a career slump to claim his second WRC victory at Rally Italia Sardegna on Sunday afternoon.
After a difficult end to 2015 and an equally troubled start to this season, all came good for the Belgian on the Mediterranean island as he won the four-day rough road event by 24.8sec in his Hyundai i20.
He became the fifth different winner in the last five FIA World Rally Championship rounds, adding to his maiden victory in Germany in 2014.
Neuville won nine of the 19 speed tests, moving to the front on Friday afternoon and repelling a determined challenge from Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn closed to within three seconds on Saturday before Neuville pulled clear and eased through today’s final leg.
“My second time and there is much less pressure leading the rally,” he said. “We had a great weekend and great things come to those who go and earn it. The feeling was good in the car, hopefully it’ll be like this for the rest of the season. It wasn’t easy but we keep working and it’s good for the confidence.”
Despite an ill-handling Volkswagen Polo R, Latvala led three times on Friday as he exchanged blows with Neuville and Sébastien Ogier. A new gearbox rectified the handling issues but Latvala conceded defeat this morning when the gap rose towards 20sec.
Ogier extended his championship lead by finishing third in another Polo R. As road opener, he lost time sweeping the dry gravel and gambled with soft tyres on Friday and Saturday morning to achieve his target of a podium finish.
Dani Sordo claimed his fourth consecutive fourth place in an i20 to climb to second in the points standings. Ott Tänak and Eric Camilli, who claimed his maiden stage victory today, completed the top six in Ford Fiesta RS cars.
Henning Solberg overcame final day suspension problems to finish seventh ahead of WRC 2 winner Teemu Suninen, Jan Kopecky and Karl Kruuda.
Mads Østberg failed to restart today after his team diagnosed a damaged engine following a broken driveshaft yesterday. Other major retirements earlier in the rally included Hayden Paddon and Lorenzo Bertelli who both crashed.
The season reaches its midpoint on the fast gravel roads of 73rd PZM Rally Poland (30 June - 3 July).
Head to WRC+ to see the latest onboard and video reports from Rally Italia Sardegna