Wed 27 Apr 2022

Neuville optimistic after crazy Croatia weekend

Despite packing more problems into his Croatia Rally weekend than most drivers endure in a season, Thierry Neuville was still smiling at Sunday afternoon’s Zagreb finish.

Three appearances in front of the stewards, a €1900 fine for speeding, two days of public service work for the Belgian and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe, four separate time penalties and a final stage crash failed to prevent the pair from claiming third place.

Neuville admitted afterwards that a rollercoaster three days on the asphalt tested his enthusiasm. But he was in a far happier place than he had been three months earlier at the end of a torrid season-opener at Rallye Monte-Carlo.

“Emotionally I have been up and down all the weekend,” he acknowledged. “I was scared of having to retire due to the technical issues we had, but at least we came back with the car until another punch in the face when we got the penalty.

“I think in total we got two minutes of penalties over the weekend, which is a lot. But we did the maximum out of the situation. I struggled to keep the motivation but I knew that somehow I could get a reward at the end of the weekend and finally we got it.”

Twice his Hyundai i20 N stopped en route to Friday’s mid-leg service with alternator troubles. Neuville and Wydaeghe pushed the car the final 800m into service and the exhausted pair fell to the floor as they arrived just four minutes late.

A fine and additional time penalties for repeatedly speeding as he tried to meet his check-in deadline knocked him down the order.

Further penalties were applied when the i20 N was pushed out of service on Saturday morning. Its hybrid system was inadvertently switched off and Neuville used the car’s combustion engine in a hybrid-only zone.

But three stage wins showed significant improvement from the asphalt of the French Alps, when Neuville trailed home sixth. He grabbed third on the final day despite plunging into a ditch in the closing Wolf Power Stage.

“We made some improvements. We knew we had made a step forward but I didn’t expect, to be honest, to be that close [to the front]. Somehow we still feel there is a margin, there is something left and we know where to work on,” Neuville added.

“On the handling side of the car, I think we improved quite a lot and on the balance of the chassis as well. Somehow we were not ready for Monte-Carlo, we knew, and we came here much better prepared.

“We have to stay realistic. We have made a step forward, we have got a bit closer but we are not there yet. In terms of performance but also in terms of reliability as well because in the first three rallies I got hit [by problems] three times.

“I hope we can improve that as a team for the upcoming events. I think we still need to make some steps forward to win the championship.”

Video: Croatia Rally close calls
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