Thierry Neuville claimed victory on the Rally di Alba, beating Hyundai World Rally Championship team-mate Ott Tänak as he won on his first competitive outing since Rally Mexico in March.
WRC frontrunner Neuville delivered a peerless win in his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, claiming eight out of nine stage wins on his way to a second success of 2020, following his victory on the WRC’s season-opening Monte Carlo Rally in January.
“What a really nice day in the car,” he told DirtFish at the finish. “It was a very good feeling from the first moment this morning.
“We were making some changes – and no, I won’t tell you what they were – but all the time it was working with these new parts.
“I felt like this is how it needs to work and it did work really well. Our times were good, we were fast and as well as the car, I’m pleased with my performance and, of course, Nicolas [Gilsoul, co-driver] inside the car as well.”
Neuville’s first competitive return to rallying in almost five months delivered a good feeling for the future and the remainder of the WRC season, for him and second-placed team-mate Tänak.
Neuville added: “We were switching some parts between the cars and Ott and myself gave very similar feedback on those parts.
“Now I need a good debrief so we can go home with a lot of important feedback for the fight in the world championship.
“Before we go, I have to say a big thanks to Hyundai. This event shows the efforts they make to stick to the WRC. It’s great to have all of the family here we had a great weekend.”
The sentiment was similar from Tänak. It’s not often the Estonian will be quite so sanguine about finishing second to his team-mate, but the reigning world champion found success in his own way. He spent two of the three loops of stages searching for the right set-up, and found it on the last three stages.
“We found a good way,” he said after finishing 22.4 seconds behind Neuville. “We were changing a lot through the day, but in the end it all came together on the final loop.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet backed up his strong Rally Stars Roma Capitale finish seven days ago with – according to Hyundai Motorsport team principal Andrea Adamo – an even more impressive outing in Alba.
Last year’s WRC2 Champion (now WRC3) was third, 55.5s off Neuville, and his only mistake was a spin on the second loop of stages in the i20 Coupe WRC.
Luca Pedersoli was fourth in another Hyundai Rally1 car, ahead of a pair of M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRCs for Manuel Villa and Pedro.
This would be a good time to turn to Adamo to ask his view on the world post an event which, as the weekend passed, became known as the Adamo Grand Prix.
“What do I think?” he said, “Don’t think I’m like Colin [Clark] on DirtFish. Don’t think that I can immediately give you the five things I learned from this rally like he can!
“I can give you only two things I learned: Thierry and Ott have been really focused like I normally see them on a rally not a test. That’s one. And two, Loubet is really fast. The gap for Loubet [from Rome] is closer, it’s a big step for him.”
Rally di Alba ran two events, with Neuville winning the RA Plus section for Rally1 cars and Craig Breen (pictured above) winning the Italian Championship round ahead of Jari Huttunen.
Breen, like Neuville, was flawless in his performance. Never headed, he was entirely unruffled as he guided his Michelin-shod, DirtFish-liveried i20 R5 to the top step of the podium.
“Jari was really pushing, there was no opportunity to slow down,” said Breen. “But I really feel at one with this car, really comfortable.
“It’s been a good day – a good few days in Italy. To come here and win after the result in Rome [where he was fourth on MRF tyres] is great. And the boss is happy. That’s important.”
Let’s go back to the boss.
“Craig and Jari were quite, and I don’t want to exaggerate, a bit of a world apart,” said Adamo.
“Dani [Sordo, who finished third] was a bit behind, but he hadn’t tested the car. Craig did the event last week and we know how important it is to be used to these cars. But really, fantastic job from those guys.”