Wed 05 Jan 2022

Neuville: Challenge ‘remains the same’ for 2022

This year’s inaugural hybrid-powered FIA World Rally Championship fight will be as close and entertaining as ever – that’s the view of Hyundai Motorsport star Thierry Neuville.

Neuville believes reigning champion Sébastien Ogier’s decision to contest a part-programme only will not detract from what’s set to be a thriller of a season as all-new Rally1 cars take to the special stages for the first time. 

Ogier won eight of the last nine world titles, edging Neuville into second place on four occasions, whilst his Toyota colleague Elfyn Evans also had the measure of the Belgian last season. 

“Ogier going doesn’t change anything,” insisted Neuville. “If it’s not Ogier, it will be Elfyn [Evans] or whoever, or [Ott] Tänak.

“The challenge remains the same – we have seen it was pretty close between Elfyn and Ogier in 2021 and it was very close in 2020 as well. We will not lose any animation of the championship with or without Ogier.”  

While Ogier crushed the opposition in terms of wins last season – his five victories were three more than anybody else – it was Hyundai men Tänak and Neuville who set the most fastest times and led for the most stages respectively through 2021.

One man who knows what it’s like to face Ogier at the height of his power is his Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn says Ogier’s full-time departure will give hope to the rest of the field.

“It’s a bit the same as when [Sébastien] Loeb retired [from full-time competition],” said Latvala. 

“That opened the game. I remember thinking back then: ‘Yeah, now I will have a chance. Finally, somebody else is going to be the world champion’. But, of course, then Ogier started to do his championships strikes. 

“It’s the same now. Every driver in the championship thinks the same. Now they are thinking ‘now I have a chance.’” 

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