Few people know Thierry Neuville like Alain Penasse. Nobody knows the Ypres Rally like Alain Penasse.
So when Penasse tips Neuville for victory next week, it’s a tip worth taking seriously.
Ypres Rally manager Penasse worked as team manager throughout Neuville’s first eight years at Hyundai Motorsport and was one of the principal figures in helping shape the Belgian’s career.
He knows what it takes to win Ypres and he knows Neuville has all of those attributes.
Recent rain might favour Sébastien Ogier being first down what will be increasingly muddy roads on Friday, but if the expected dry weather arrives, starting two places behind Toyota’s championship leader should be enough for a maiden Neuville win in 2021.
According to Penasse: “Thierry has the best chance, he knows the rally. He’s very hungry to put an outstanding result here.
“He will be third on the road, so if everything starts to dry a bit he will be in a very good position still. My favorite is Thierry Neuville.”
A Belgian winning Belgium’s first ever WRC round would be a dream result for both Neuville and Penasse.
“The Belgians want Thierry winning,” he said. “All Ypres Rally fans are Thierry Neuville fans and for Belgian rallying it would be magic if a home driver won the first WRC round in Belgium.”
Heavy rain in Belgium has left the stages wet and potentially muddy, but Penasse says that can soon change.
“If we get some sunshine and some wind then the stages and the roads will dry quickly,” he said. “I think it will always be best to be the first on the road, it’s always going to be a bit dirty with the corners being cut, and for sure if you’re starting ninth or something like that on Friday, it can be a bit more complicated.”
Neuville won the Ypres Rally outright in 2018, driving a Hyundai i20 R5 and the Ypres Rally Masters element aboard an i20 Coupe WRC one year later.
He is the only driver among the factory crews to have competed on the rally in a World Rally Car.