Thierry Neuville believes there was “nothing I could have done” to avoid going off on the corner that ultimately led to him retiring from the lead of Ypres Rally Belgium.
Neuville was leading Hyundai team-mate Ott Tänak by 17.2 seconds after 14 of the event’s 20 stages but was caught out on the second pass of Wijtschate.
Approaching a slow-speed left-hander, Neuville’s Hyundai ran wide and was sucked into a ditch, being thrown nose-in at a 90-degree angle to the road.
Nearby spectators managed to extricate the home hero from the ditch but Neuville soon parked up on an access road with damage to the front-right of his Hyundai – ceding the lead to Tänak.
Neuville believes the messy condition of the corner meant it was impossible for him to avoid a mistake.
“It was actually a very simple, slow left corner and there was no information that it could be dirty or was dirty,” Neuville told DirtFish.
“Also, when the gravel crew went through the corner, [it] seems to be quite clean but, unfortunately, when we arrived there was [a] hell of a lot of dust on the corner and it’s easily visible on the pictures as well, and I just understeered in the ditch.
“The conditions just obviously weren’t the ones we expected. The corner had been clean on the first pass and it was supposed to be clean as well on the second pass, but I guess the couple of cars in front of us went very hard in the cut and pulled out a lot of dust. We got caught by surprise.”
Asked why Neuville had to stop, he confirmed that he “felt a hit” when the car landed in the ditch, “like a strange noise so we could expect that something was not correct and unfortunately the steering was damaged, so we couldn’t carry on until the end of the stage”.
But despite missing out on the chance to win his home round of the World Rally Championship for a second time, Neuville was relatively upbeat about the situation.
“Like I say we got really caught out by surprise. Nothing I could have done.
“I think we were doing well and the approach was a good one again, but yeah it felt like a big surprise for me and I couldn’t do anything.
“I should have maybe just spun the car but you always try and carry on and don’t lose any time, but unfortunately it would’ve been better to do a spin and lose a couple of seconds than going into the ditch.”
Hyundai deupty team director Julien Moncet was unsurprisingly disappointed by Neuville’s off, though drew short of landing criticism on his driver’s feet.
“We are very disappointed. For sure Thierry and Martijn are disappointed, the whole team are disappointed; that’s how it is,” said Moncet.
Neuville will restart on Sunday, where he will aim to recover as many points from his weekend as possible courtesy of the powerstage.