The Belgian duo dropped their pace on stage four – the first test after lunchtime service – in an effort to preserve the life of their studded Pirellis before putting the hammer down in their I20 N.
Their approach worked handsomely as they moved to fifth on SS5 before gaining another three places on SS6. The offensive continued into the last stage where Toyota’s Elfyn Evans was helpless to stop them given that his tyres were heavily worn and providing less than ideal levels of traction.
“We were able to catch back time on those last two stages which were a bit cleaner and the last one [Umea Sprint] was run for the first time, so yeah, a clever approach and a car that was working really well helped,” said Neuville whose last triumph at the Swedish counter came four seasons ago.
“The long stage – all 27 kilometres – was very abrasive, lots of gravel came out, so very early we could feel the tyre was getting hot, the studs were starting to move and they were being damaged as well. You just needed to reduce the speed a little and be a little bit less aggressive,” he added.
Neuville did have a heart-stopping moment on the road section to SS3; up against time he had to perform a check on his car’s energy recovery system. The e-kit’s battery pack failed on the second test but luckily for him he finished it under reg flag conditions following a Craig Breen accident.
“That was the only problem, otherwise the car was good. We made some small changes at midday service and the car worked well so that is a good point,” said Neuville, who feels the hard work of team personnel to improve the I20 N's pace and reliability in-between Rallye Monte Carlo and Rally Sweden is clear for everyone to see.
“After Monte Carlo we could not have imagined we would have that speed here this weekend but things have obviously turned very positive so far and I am very happy for the team because they deserved it and to see some good times today is very promising and encouraging for everybody.”