Title fight reaches crucial phase
Thierry Neuville’s stuttering challenge for a maiden FIA World Rally Championship title reaches a key point in Spain this weekend with his first opportunity to seal the crown.
While the odds suggest the thrilling fight between the Belgian, Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tänak will be decided at next month’s final round in Australia, Neuville could secure the title at RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España (25 - 28 October).
To do so he must improve on disappointing results from the previous rounds in Turkey and Britain. His 23-point lead has been slashed to seven over Ogier and, while the permutations are mind-boggling, if Neuville ends the rally with a 31-point advantage he will be champion.
“We’ve lost ground in the past couple of events but we’re still on top and won’t give up without a fight. We know we’ve had some deficiencies on Tarmac this season, but we’ve worked hard on that and hope we can see the fruits of it,” said the Hyundai i20 pilot.
The rally is unique as the WRC’s only mixed surface fixture. Friday’s opening leg of gravel speed tests is followed by two days of smooth and sweeping asphalt, similar in nature to a race circuit.
Ogier, a three-time event winner, rekindled hopes of a sixth straight title with a remarkable charge to victory in Britain earlier this month after gearbox problems relegated his Ford Fiesta to eighth.
“The dual surface element of this rally makes it a unique fixture on the calendar and you need to adapt quickly to each change in terrain. The title race is really hotting up, and we’ll need to deliver another strong result if we want to defend our crown,” he said.
Tänak is the outsider. He lies 21 points behind Neuville after a broken radiator sidelined his Toyota Yaris in Britain when on course to grab a fourth straight win and the championship lead. The Estonian’s tactics are simple.
“We still have a chance in the drivers’ championship and we’re not going to give up. In a way, it is more straightforward for us. We just have to win the last two rallies and see what happens,” he explained.
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