Accepting that victory on Rally Estonia will be “difficult”, Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville will focus his attention on finishing ahead of Toyota’s Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans – his main title rivals – this weekend.
The Belgian’s first visit to Estonia for last month’s South Estonia Rally ended with him struggling for pace and finishing fifth. Neuville is confident, however, this week’s World Rally Championship round will bring more speed from the #11 i20 Coupe WRC.
“For the win I think it’s going to be difficult, but a podium position should be possible,” he told DirtFish.
“To be honest, this rally is looking much more interesting than the rally we have done two weeks ago and the stages are a bit more challenging in terms of pacenotes and everything. I hope we have done a good job and we can rely on that to push very hard in the stages.
“But, honestly, it’s no secret that if you know the stages from the previous years you clearly have an advantage. My main target is to finish ahead of Ogier and also Elfyn [Evans] who are my main competition right now in the championship because they are both ahead of me. And all the others guys who are definitely going to be very fast, I will try to keep them behind – but it could be challenging.”
A commanding win on the all-asphalt Rally di Alba’s RAPlus class in early August allied to a Finland test – interrupted after he crashed – and the Võru-based south Estonian event mean Neuville’s not short on seat time, despite a near six-month WRC lay-off.
“We’ve had good preparation ahead of this event,” he said, “There’s been quite a lot of driving in the last couple of months and I’ve been in the car enjoying that time, but now it’s back to real competition.”
While most have likened Rally Estonia to Rally Finland, Neuville was reassured to see some Poland in the roads as well. He wasted no time in pointing to Hyundai’s one-two in Mikołajki in 2017 as a reason for not fearing the speed coming this week.
“Not all fast gravel rallies have been a problem,” he said.
“In Poland we have already been on the top step and had a double podium over there. This weekend it looks more similar to Poland than to Finland. Some stages are quite soft and a bit or narrow as well, it’s quite an interesting event this weekend.
“It will be quite fast in some places, but with the improvements we made in the car we should be at a good speed this weekend.”
Neuville was fifth fastest on shakedown, behind Ogier but ahead of Evans.