Thierry Neuville says he has no regrets about the risk-all strategy which looks to have cost him his chance of challenging Sebastien Ogier for this year’s World Rally Championship title.
The Hyundai star was 17 points down on Ogier ahead of last week’s Rally Spain, but a double retirement on Saturday and Sunday allied to Ogier’s second place at the finish mean he goes to Wales Rally GB trailing M-Sport’s Frenchman by 38 points.
Neuville said: “It’s very bad for us in the fight for the championship. That’s the situation and we have to accept it. After the problems we had on Saturday, our chances were much smaller to win and we had to push hard to come back strong to take some points from the event. That we have done and there are no regrets.”
Ogier now needs to finish Wales with at least 31 of his 37-point lead intact to seal his fifth consecutive title. Until that’s done, the now third-placed Neuville says there is still hope.
“It’s not over,” he said. “As long as there is a chance mathematically to win the championship we won’t give up. We will fight. It does change the championship. It’s going to be much more difficult now.”
The Salou-based event was a disaster for Neuville’s Hyundai team, with all three cars retiring due to the same suspension problem. Team principal Michel Nandan admitted the Frankfurt-based squad would be looking at the strength of i20 Coupe WRC – but pointed out there was nothing the team could do to change the components ahead of the last two rounds of the series.
A homologation joker would be needed to make significant changes to the car and there’s not time to do that before the season’s last two events.
Nandan said: “It’s a very bad weekend. We try all weekend and we ask the driver to do all they can do. It’s true when you try to the maximum you can, you must take some risks – and now we have to take the consequence. In the end all three cars stop with the same failure: cutting too much and damaging the suspension. But, I have to say it’s difficult not to take any risks. You optimise the road and cut a bit everywhere, sometimes it works, but it didn’t work here. It’s part of the game to take some risks.”
Asked if he was concerned that rival cars had hit the same post in stage 12 without being forced into retirement the way Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo were, Nandan added: “If it’s true, we have a big problem with the car.
“When you hit something you can damage parts. Maybe our car is more fragile but it’s like that and we can’t change anything.”
Neuville added that he would be doing all he could to find a solution ahead of Wales. “I don’t know if there’s a weakness,” he said. “My part is to drive the car as fast as I can and give the feedback from there. Cars are not made to go through the bushes to hit things, but we have to analyse and to see – if it is that the Ford survived where Dani and Andreas retired, then we have to see why we didn’t.
“We are going to fight hard to find solutions to be more competitive on upcoming events, we have missed part of our success in the past couple of races but we will come back.”