Thierry Neuville has admitted he 'never' imagined he would finish second on Rally Italia Sardegna this weekend.

The Belgian put in a sensational performance at the wheel of his Qatar World Rally Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC and after starting cautiously, hauled himself up to third in the middle loop on Friday, when he won two of the three stages.

He then gained second on Saturday when Mikko Hirvonen went out in SS10, eventually finishing 31.2 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala in third.

It was his best ever result in the WRC and his third podium of the season, and combined with the second quickest time in the Power Stage, which gave him an additional two bonus points, he now jumps up to third in the 2013 WRC Drivers' Championship.

"This was a great event for us. We have shown some good pace and been consistent all weekend with no big mistakes - a clean run and a very good result for Nicolas [Gilsoul, my co-driver] and me," Neuville reflected.

"I am very, very happy, I couldn't imagine coming second here [before the event] because it's probably the rally I hate the most, but this week I enjoyed the stages very much. The conditions were very different this weekend and the stages were more smooth; I really enjoyed driving the Fiesta on these stages and when everything comes together and things are working well both Nicolas and me were able to push sometimes and I managed to control all the time what we are doing."

"We started the rally like Argentina and Greece, with the aim of finishing, and on the first stage I had no rhythm and I struggled with my driving and I didn't take any risks so I already lost 20 seconds," he added. "It got better and better afterwards though. The mechanics did a great job at the remote service in Sassari [on Friday] and after the set-up changes I just felt comfortable and I drove on a good rhythm without taking any risks, and I was setting fastest times so that surprised even Nicolas and me."

So can he go one step further now and win? "I don't know, we'll see," replied the 25-year-old. "I think for the moment definitely not, as this year we finish one minute behind the first driver. We've made big progress as everybody can see, my strategy is to improve step by step, so we showed how we can manage our situation and this is something important for a professional rally driver and this is what I am showing now and the next step will be to fight for the victory.

"But in Finland [the next event], the Finnish drivers will definitely be quicker, and Sebastien [Ogier] as well, and in Germany probably I will try to push a bit more. I have a lot more experience on tarmac and have always been a lot quicker there so I think if we have a good test and the conditions are OK, then we can definitely have a good run there."

Qatar M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson meanwhile was delighted with the performance of his young charge: "Thierry's second place shows just how confident he has become behind the wheel of the Fiesta RS WRC and I'm sure there's more to come from him when we move into the second half of the season.

"He's proven he has the consistency, and I think this weekend he took another step forward by proving that he also has the speed to challenge for the top positions. He thoroughly deserves to be third in the drivers' championship," Wilson concluded.



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