Turkey WRC: Neuville leads as Loeb stars despite setback

Thierry Neuville holds the lead for Hyundai at the end of the second day of Rally Turkey, delivering some searing stage times as he bids to stay in the race for this year’s FIA World Rally Championship title.

Overnight leader Sebastien Loeb rolled the dice by putting two medium-compound tyres on his Hyundai i20 WRC for the opening stage of the day and paid a heavy price as the softer rubber failed to endure on the rock-strewn surface.

Loeb’s struggle to recapture lost time could not compare with that of his Hyundai team-mate Ott Tanak, however, who suffered a steering failure mid-way through the same stage and went out of the event.

WRC points leader Sebastien Ogier capitalised for Toyota, winning the first two stages of the day and taking the overall lead of the event. Neuville, who had been complaining about his car’s performance on the opening tests, then attacked on the final stage of the morning loop and was able to peg the Frenchman’s advantage back to just 1.6 seconds.

The lead battle between Ogier and Neuville pulled clear of a three-car battle for third between Loeb and the Toyotas of Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanpera, in which tyre management was the primary concern over outright pace. Evans was content to drive at nine-tenths and his consistency kept him in front of the podium battle for much of the day, while still more drama unfolded after spectators made their way out into the countryside.

Due to Covid-19 measures, Rally Turkey is officially taking place without spectators even though large gatherings can be seen in the hills looking down on certain sections of the route. Some individuals tried to get a closer look and were caught out by the FIA’s new safety protocols but the delay was relatively short-lived.

The afternoon loop brought further drama as Ogier began to suffer transmission issues and a puncture while Neuville hustled a Hyundai that was much more to his liking to claim an advantage of almost 22s.

Ogier was back on the pace for the next stage and surrendered just 0.2s to the Belgian, who then accelerated to end the day with a 33.2s lead to take into the final day.

“We worked on the setup and I must say I was much more happy with the car this afternoon, especially in the rough sections, we were able to get what we were looking for,” said Neuville. “Maybe not 100% yet but anyhow we went in the right direction so the engineer was pushing me for some changes and finally it worked well so I’m happy with that and pleased with the job that the team has done.”

Loeb also got back on the pace and beat Neuville to win the final stage of the day by 0.9s, equalling Ogier’s overall time for the event and sharing second place with his former nemesis on the overnight leaderboard.

“It’s not too bad!” the nine-time champion beamed before heading back for the overnight service halt.

Four stages remain on the itinerary for the closing day of the rally and both Neuville and Hyundai’s team principal Andrea Adamo must hope that Loeb can edge in front of Ogier’s Toyota to maximise the manufacturer and driver points advantage.

“Obviously nothing is done, tomorrow is the roughest stage of the rally,” said Neuville. “I mean, we have seen Ogier getting a puncture close to the end of the stage so he continue pushing and he’s still in P2. I’m going to try to do my best tomorrow and hopefully we’re going to survive.”

Cla Driver/Codriver Car Total Time Gap Interval
1 Belgium Thierry Neuville
Belgium Nicolas Gilsoul
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:36'38.600
2 France Sébastien Ogier
France Julien Ingrassia
Toyota Yaris WRC 1:37'11.800 33.200 33.200
3 France Sébastien Loeb
Monaco Daniel Elena
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:37'11.800 33.200 0.000
4 United Kingdom Elfyn Evans
United Kingdom Scott Martin
Toyota Yaris WRC 1:37'39.400 1'00.800 27.600
5 Finland Kalle Rovanperä
Finland Jonne Halttunen
Toyota Yaris WRC 1:37'57.400 1'18.800 18.000
6 Finland Teemu Suninen
Finland Jarmo Lehtinen
Ford Fiesta WRC 1:38'13.600 1'35.000 16.200
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 Tanak’s WRC title hopes take blow after Rally Turkey crash
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