WRC Belgium: The Good, The Bad and The Bizarre

Belgium became the 36th nation to host a World Rally Championship event as the famous Ypres Rally provided a new unique asphalt challenge in Thierry Neuville’s homeland. Motorsport.com reviews the highlights, lowlights, turning points, close calls and heartbreak that made round eight of the 2021 season

WRC Belgium: The Good, The Bad and The Bizarre

Top Performer - Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe

It's an obvious choice, but it is impossible to overlook Ypres Rally winners Thierry Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe. They were supreme in every department.

The Hyundai Motorsport pair were under huge pressure to deliver in front of a expectant home crowd, heading into the event as overwhelming favourites given their knowledge of Ypres' unique bend of narrow varying grip asphalt roads, bordered by treacherous ditches.

On top of the pressure to deliver as the local favourites, it really was a must-win for Hyundai - having led the previous four rallies, only for likely victories to vanish through misfortune and reliability woes. Even team boss Andrea Adamo admitted he was feeling the heat.

Read Also:

A steady start on Friday morning before a string of four stage wins on the bounce set up a 7.6-second overnight lead preceded a series of controlled drives, picking up three more stage wins across Saturday and Sunday to record a memorable victory. It was his first since last year's Monte Carlo Rally.

Neuville crossed the flying finish at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit, 30.7s ahead of Craig Breen for a Hyundai 1-2 that was just what the doctor had ordered.

The only reliability issue of the entire rally concerned a non-mechanical component: "I was fighting like hell with my glasses – they were slipping all the time," he said on Friday. 

In all seriousness, given the context and the pressure surrounding the event, this will go down as one of Neuville's best WRC drives to date. It also could be the turning point that re-ignites the championship as the Belgian has moved up to second - tied with Toyota's Elfyn Evans - with four events remaining, 38 points behind long-time rival Sebastien Ogier. Game on.

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

Honourable Mentions - Craig Breen and Kalle Rovanpera

Adamo's decision to issue Neuville and Breen with "warm recommendations" robbed the neutral of a true fight for victory between the pair.

In another universe, Breen - who is driving a partial season in Hyundai's third car that he shares with Dani Sordo - could easily have won this rally, such was his impressive pace and knowledge of the event that he previously won in 2019.

However, he played the team role brilliantly and secured back-to-back WRC podiums for the first time in his career. It was another shot in the arm for his bid to snare a full-time seat next year.

Finally, Kalle Rovanpera delivered a hugely impressive drive considering he'd crashed out of the last tarmac event - Rally Croatia - on the opening day back in April. Fresh from scoring his maiden win in Estonia, the Finn turned heads to beat far more experienced teammates Evans and Ogier to third.

Ott Tänak, Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak, Hyundai Motorsport

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

Moment of heartbreak - Ott Tanak

Ott Tanak must have walked under several ladders this year to warrant the luck he has endured. The 2019 world champion's nightmare title campaign received a further blow when a puncture on Saturday's opening stage robbed him of a likely third place finish.

This follows suspension failures in Portugal and Sardinia while leading comfortably and a double puncture that ended his Estonia tilt, an event he was favourite to win.

Pieter Tsjoen's WRC3 Volkswagen hit trouble on Stage 9

Pieter Tsjoen's WRC3 Volkswagen hit trouble on Stage 9

Lucky Escapes

Stage 9 was cancelled after the top line crews had passed when WRC3 competitor Pieter Tsjoen and co-driver Eddy Chevaillier crashed into the side of a house that lined the stage. The local crew were reported to be okay and were taken to hospital for precautionary checks.

The driver emerged unscathed, while it has now been confirmed that Chevaillier sustained a fractured vertebra - but is expected to make a full recovery. The VW Polo GTI pair were lucky considering the size of the impact, highlighting the much improved safety standard of the current cars.

Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta and M-Sport Ford's Adrien Fourmaux were also fortunate to escape without serious injury after two huge accidents that ended their rallies prematurely.

Fourmaux was caught out by a slippery left-hander on Stage 3 that forced him wide and into a ditch, triggering a series of wild pirouettes.

 

Katsuta's accident was similar, although numerous rolls had brought down a telegraph pole that blocked the road and necessitated a red flag to clear the stage.

Team of the week - Oliver Solberg and Aaron Johnston

WRC2 pairing Oliver Solberg and Aaron Johnston displayed teamwork of the highest order in difficult circumstances when the power steering failed on the brand-new Hyundai i20 Rally2 car they were debuting.

With Solberg forced to use all of his strength to keep the i20 on the narrow strip of road, co-driver Johnston was required to pull the handbrake - under instruction from Solberg - to help navigate the car through the litany of tight junctions. As they say, teamwork makes the dream work.

 

Top Tweets

It may have divided opinion, given it required crews to drive three hours from Ypres, but for Sunday's final stages incorporating the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit certainly provided some spectacular footage.

 

Current WRC2 driver-turned-WRC Live television pundit Mads Ostberg provided arguably the quote of the event.

Ostberg described Evans as like "a cat getting ready to jump onto your kitchen table to steal your food" when an onboard camera captured the Welshman preparing to enter a stage.

 

Hot Shots

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Gus Greensmith, Chris Patterson, M-Sport Ford WRT Ford Fiesta WRC

Gus Greensmith, Chris Patterson, M-Sport Ford WRT Ford Fiesta WRC

Photo by: M-Sport

Podium: Winner Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, second place Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, third place Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Podium: Winner Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, second place Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, third place Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Top Video

 

shares
comments

Related video

Latvala: Toyota "didn't have the experience" to win in Ypres

Previous article

Latvala: Toyota "didn't have the experience" to win in Ypres

Next article

Rally Japan still scheduled but WRC monitoring COVID situation

Rally Japan still scheduled but WRC monitoring COVID situation
Load comments
Does Neuville have a point with his WRC Rally1 rant? Prime

Does Neuville have a point with his WRC Rally1 rant?

OPINION: Thierry Neuville's diatribe against the upcoming Rally1-spec machines that will usher in the World Rally Championship's new hybrid era was remarkable in an era where drivers are usually reticent to air their views in public. But are the Belgian's concerns about speed, safety and cost entirely valid?

WRC
Sep 16, 2021
How Rovanpera reached new heights in the Greek mountains Prime

How Rovanpera reached new heights in the Greek mountains

After Kalle Rovanpera’s historic feat at Rally Estonia, the Finn scaled new heights at the Rally of the Gods with a commanding victory. And this time Toyota’s young star demonstrated why the future is bright with his devastating speed and consistency at the Acropolis Rally

WRC
Sep 13, 2021
The WRC drivers that came of age at the Acropolis Rally Prime

The WRC drivers that came of age at the Acropolis Rally

Five drivers have won first time out at the Rally Acropolis, transcending the tough dirt and gravel Greek roads to cement a place in rallying folklore. Here are three of the first-time winners' tales

WRC
Sep 9, 2021
Understanding Suninen’s sudden WRC exit gamble Prime

Understanding Suninen’s sudden WRC exit gamble

From being considered a likely contender to drive the next-generation M-Sport Ford Puma in 2022, Teemu Suninen's abrupt exit has created plenty of questions. The Finn's bid to become his country's next World Rally Championship winner won't be furthered by being sidelined, but there may be reason behind the decision

WRC
Sep 2, 2021
Could Spa’s cameo offer the WRC a new avenue to exploit? Prime

Could Spa’s cameo offer the WRC a new avenue to exploit?

OPINION: The Ypres Rally featured a cameo from the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in its final stage, giving WRC teams the chance to experience its iconic corners in rallying machinery. It proved to be an engaging addition to the rally, and could perhaps serve as an example for other events to visit famous circuits

WRC
Aug 24, 2021
Home hero Neuville delivers overdue WRC success for Hyundai in Belgium Prime

Home hero Neuville delivers overdue WRC success for Hyundai in Belgium

With limited recent fortune and pressure starting to mount, Hyundai needed a big result at the Ypres Rally. All the key components came together in Belgium to see home hero Thierry Neuville lead a manufacturer 1-2 and kickstart its World Rally Championship challenge

WRC
Aug 16, 2021
The new car that can resurrect Ford's WRC winning pedigree Prime

The new car that can resurrect Ford's WRC winning pedigree

M-Sport has become the first to unveil its new-for-2022 hybrid World Rally Championship challenger, the Puma Rally1. Ford has upped its support in a bid for glory, but can the new machine roll back the years and return the Blue Oval to the top of the WRC tree?

WRC
Aug 12, 2021
The rookie WRC driver aiming to continue Loeb and Ogier's legacies Prime

The rookie WRC driver aiming to continue Loeb and Ogier's legacies

French drivers have dominated the World Rally Championship across the past two decades; Sebastiens Loeb and Ogier have racked up the titles in commanding fashion. With Ogier calling it a day on full-time WRC competition from next year, France will pin its long-term hopes on rookie Adrien Fourmaux, who looks to have a bright future.

WRC
Aug 7, 2021