Thierry Neuville clinched his first victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season on home roads at Ypres Rally Belgium on Sunday afternoon.
He led for virtually the entire event, fending off a fierce first-day challenge from team-mate Craig Breen. The Hyundai i20 duo then settled for a formation finish after three days and almost 300km of action on narrow Flanders farm lanes and Spa-Francorchamps race circuit.
Neuville’s winning margin was 30.7sec and marked a first WRC win for co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe. The success revitalised Neuville’s title challenge, promoting him into a tie for second in the championship standings with Elfyn Evans.
Neuville, Breen and Ott Tänak won 15 of the 20 speed tests between them for Hyundai Motorsport and the 1-2 finish enabled the squad to reduce the deficit to manufacturers’ series leaders Toyota Gazoo Racing to 41 points.
Irishman Breen, for whom this was only his second asphalt appearance in an i20 World Rally Car, secured back-to-back runner-up finishes after a similar result in Estonia last month.
Kalle Rovanperä finished third in a Toyota Yaris after coming out on top of a frantic intra-team fight with Evans and Sébastien Ogier. The young Finn traded places with Evans all rally and regained third this morning before holding off the frustrated Welshman by 6.5sec.
Ogier’s hopes of a podium place were ended by a Sunday morning puncture. There was consolation for the Frenchman as he extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 38 points with four rounds remaining. He ended 6.2sec behind Evans.
In seventh overall and the leading category driver, Yohan Rossel held his own against stiff opposition to take home the spoils in FIA WRC3.
Sunday had all the ingredients for a thrilling finale, but the battle was already over after the opening Stavelot blast. Bedoret’s Škoda Fabia Rally2 developed a transmission issue, which meant the 26-year-old had to continue with only front-wheel-drive.
Rossel went on to claim his third win of the year by a comfortable 51.0sec margin over Pieter Jan Michiel Cracco and Fabian Kreim (+7.9) and extended his championship advantage to 45 points.
Jari Huttunen survived a fraught weekend to take home maximum points in FIA WRC2
On the eve of the final day, the Finn’s chances looked slim. He trailed his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 team-mate Oliver Solberg by almost four minutes after puncturing on both Friday and Saturday.
However, the tables were turned early on Sunday morning when Solberg’s car failed to start. The issue was traced to an electrical fault which could not be fixed.
Huttunen was hit with the same power steering maladies as Solberg on the last few stages, but stayed on the road to record his second victory of the year and Hyundai’s first with their brand-new Rally2 car.
The final unofficial results can be consulted here.