Thierry Neuville says he “expected” to win Rally Turkey – an event that was seen as a must-win to rescue his seemingly dwindling 2020 World Rally Championship title hopes.
Neuville did, in his words, an “exceptional job” to lead on Saturday night by over 30 seconds but was one of five drivers to pick up a puncture on the fearsome Çetibeli stage that started Sunday, which dropped him to third.
Third soon became second when he got the better of Ogier on the third-to-last stage, but he couldn’t reel in rally winner Elfyn Evans who escaped from both passes of Çetibeli without a scratch.
A powerstage win underlined Neuville’s credentials, but it did little to cheer him up as he feels he and Hyundai deserved the victory and not second place.
When DirtFish put it to him that second place, and reducing his championship deficit from 37 points to 32, was a positive result, Neuville said “the only positive thing” was that he now trails team-mate Ott Tänak by five and Ogier by 14 in the championship table.
Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä shares the same tally as Tänak with Evans now a clear 18 points out front.
“[I’m a] bit disappointed about what happened this morning,” Neuville told DirtFish.
“We were driving on the middle of the road, managing the race but unfortunately we have seen we were not the only ones to be unlucky here with the punctures.
“But still we were able to fight back for second so at the end [it was] still a good result, we get a bit closer to the championship leader, much closer to Ogier and Ott as well so yeah, that’s the only positive thing I can take from here.”
One other positive for Neuville is he will again start a rough, gravel round of the WRC in Sardinia next month from fifth on the road, which should enable him to go faster than his rivals.
“[There are] two or maybe three rounds to go so definitely we still believe,” he said, when asked if he still had hope of claiming a maiden WRC title.
“It was nice to see that the performance was there as well [in Turkey], the car was working nice as well but to be honest I expected a better result, I expected first.
“After what happened to us here in the last years, we really believed in that first place but unfortunately we are really close but we didn’t get it so let’s try and focus on the next one.
“We’re going to be fifth on the road in Sardinia, trying to do the same job as we did here.
“I think we did an exceptional job and no mistakes, very good management. We reacted very quickly to the set-up changes to get the car faster and it finally worked.
“I think [we were the] strongest performer.”