Thierry Neuville has insisted he wasn't too disappointed with fourth place on Rally de Espana, even if he felt he could probably have done a bit better, especially on the tarmac on Friday and Saturday.
After almost taking his debut WRC win in France earlier this month, much was expected of the Belgian. However in the end he was never really in contention to challenge for the victory. Despite that though, he went into the final day well placed to take another podium, until he picked up a puncture in SS11, Pesells 1, and lost almost a minute.
Speaking at the finish, the 25-year-old said the most crucial thing was that he maintained his hold on second in the Drivers' Championship. Indeed while his closest rival Jari-Matti Latvala
did cut Neuville's advantage, he only did so by four points and that means the Qatar World Rally Team pilot will take a 14-point buffer into the season finale in Wales next month, meaning he definitely has the upper-hand.
“Most importantly we have only lost four points to Jari-Matti in the championship, even if I think we could have done better – especially on the Tarmac,” Neuville confirmed at the finish. “OK, we didn't feel 100 per cent confident with the set-up, but when we made some changes on Saturday afternoon we were able to set fastest times and win the Power Stage [and take the three bonus points]. All of these are positive things.”
“Also don't forget that this was the first time for us in the [gravel] stages today [Sunday],” he added. “Especially with the dust, the conditions were very difficult which meant that checking the pacenotes wasn't easy. At the same time, it was the first time for us doing a rally where a strategy can pay. We maybe didn't see our best performance here this weekend, but we have certainly learnt a lot and it wasn't a bad weekend by all means.”
Meanwhile, Neuville's team-mates, Evgeny Novikov, Mads Ostberg
and guest runner, Haydon Paddon also finished in the points, coming home fifth, sixth and eighth respectively in their M-Sport-run Fiesta RS WRC cars. Nasser Al-Attiyah, however, failed to get to the end, after crashing out on Saturday in SS8.
“I am quite happy with our performance this weekend,” said Novikov. “We pushed to the maximum when we felt confident and played it clever when the conditions were a bit more tricky and I think that that was a good strategy for us. We were able to set some good times and to finish in the top-five which was my goal for this weekend.”
“I am very happy and very relieved this afternoon,” added Ostberg, who finished on something a high after setting three second fastest times and two thirds on the final day. “The last few months have been quite difficult and I was really struggling to find the rhythm and get in the right frame of mind. It is so nice to start the day [Sunday] and be fast – to have the confidence, enjoy the ride, know you're not going to make a mistake and still be fast. It's a very good feeling. I've had this feeling before, but it has been some time so I am very happy to be back at the top, at least on gravel.”
“Sadly we have not achieved the result we were hoping for this weekend,” summarised M-Sport boss, Malcolm Wilson, “but to come away with Thierry still holding a strong second place in the Drivers' Championship is not bad at all. He has 14 points over Jari-Matti, so I think we can all look forward to a good battle between them in GB.
“It is [also] very satisfying indeed to see so many of our Ford Fiestas in the top-ten [six]. That in itself is a fantastic result and testament to all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes back at base.”