Neuville, Evans and Friday in Sweden. The final word

It was the hottest topic on the coldest round of the year. David Evans offers an opinion on Friday afternoon in Sweden

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It’s Monday, we’re the other side of the weekend, but Friday’s burning question remains: what are your thoughts on fuelpressuregate?

Did Thierry Neuville really have a fuel pressure problem that cost him 40 seconds in penalties and, crucially, one place on the road? All concerned had their say in our story on Friday evening. I thought that would be the end of it. It’s not.

The debate has raged across both the service park and, unsurprisingly, cyberspace. Pivotal to Neuville’s argument is the question of why he would ship 40 seconds on purpose? No driver wants to give a single second, let alone 40 of them?

Sounds entirely reasonable.

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There was a lot for the Hyundai team to talk about on Friday night in Sweden

But then you start to extrapolate the morning’s time loss and the worsening conditions through the afternoon and you can build a case. Now, math has never been my strong point, but here’s some simple numbers.

Between stages two and five, when the Monte Carlo winner was first on the road, the #11 Hyundai cleaned 41 miles of stage at the cost of 1m15s. That’s a loss of around 1.9s per mile.

The three stages remaining meant 25 further miles and a likely loss to the leader of around 54 seconds.

Generally speaking, we know the afternoon loop can mean even more cleaning – especially with so much snow falling at such a rapid rate. Second on the road, Neuville still lost 55.8s on Friday afternoon. Was it worth it? Well, just hold your horses a moment or two… Firstly, the loose hood pin probably cost him a handful of seconds and secondly, the real number to consider comes from Evans.

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There was no shortage of questions for Thierry Neuville at the end of the stages in Sweden

Now running up front, the lead Toyota dropped 1m22s over the same three stages.

You could extrapolate those numbers into a potential net gain for Neuville of around half a minute. I put that thinking to a former team manager on Sunday afternoon, the response was immediate.

“Stop with the numbers,” they said. “I would have done it. Straight away. No question. Don’t forget, no rules were broken. There’s nothing against you stopping on the road and taking penalties.

“Is it fair? What is fair? Fair is winning the world championship.”

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Penalties dropped Neuville to 14th place, but he battled back to fourth at the finish

We’re straying into the hypothetical here. Hyundai has maintained there were issues with the car’s fuel pressure. That’s the end of the debate. Surely?

Apparently not. A couple of questions are clearly nagging you lot out there. The first is the sound of Neuville’s car turning over. Apparently, it didn’t sound right. Sounded almost like there was no spark, no ignition? There was no lumpy turn over, no half-spark. Just nothing. And then there was the considerable amount of commotion going on under the hood, when the fuel pumps are towards the rear of the car, buried within the fuel tank.

The immediate reaction on Rally TV spoke volumes.

After a couple of “Mmms…” WRC commentator Mike Chen added: “It’s great that Hyundai has fired. Erm, Whatever, whatever that issue was, it now seems to have sorted itself.”

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Running first on the road seriously hampered Evans' progress through Friday afternoon

Did they? Didn’t they? They say they didn’t. That’s enough for me. Is it enough for Evans?

What we do know of Evans is that he’s the most conservative of stage-end interviews. Cautious in the extreme, he rarely says anything of note. So, when he delivered his line about the spirit of competition going out of the window, you knew something was amiss. Now? He’s moved on. He’s taken his 24 points and he’s looking forward to Kenya and another opportunity.

Toyota’s ultimately virtuous stance on taking a tactical approach to rallies is entirely honorable, but this is a professional sport at the very highest level. Playing the rules is part of the game. Always has been.

Remember Richard Burns’ enormously convenient puncture on the 2000 Rally Australia? Convincing marshals he had a flat, he was allowed to pull over and change a wheel in the control. That forced Tommi Mäkinen to run first on the road, sweeping Perth’s notoriously tricky ball-bearing surface clean.

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Flat or flat-out game-playing? That was the question for Richard Burns at the 2000 Rally Australia

On hearing of the Englishman’s puncture, Marcus Grönholm was less than sympathetic. There was a stunned silence across the service park when the Finn vented on the team radio (broadcast simultaneously across a bevy of scanners about the place).

“I hate Richard!” he shouted, “he is always crying, crying.”

Then as now, it provided another fascinating storyline on what was an already scintillating weekend. Will it decide the direction of the world championship? Possibly. But probably not. Depending on where you sit in the service park – or in cyberspace – it ranges somewhere between sporting outrage and storm in a teacup.

Either way, it gave us something to talk about.