Thierry Neuville has launched himself firmly into victory contention on Ypres Rally Belgium with a stunning stage time, as Elfyn Evans extended his advantage over Ott Tänak.
Evans led the rally by 1.1 seconds before SS6, with last year’s winner Neuville trailing by 7.6s. But despite Evans growing his rally lead, it’s all closed up thanks to a superb effort from Neuville on the second stage of Friday afternoon.
Stopping the clocks 4.5s up on Tänak and 3.3s faster than Evans, Neuville is now just 4.3s off the lead – two seconds behind Tänak.
“I’m still fighting a bit in the bumpy to get the confidence, but other than that I felt I had a bit more grip than the first pass,” Neuville said. “But it’s not where I want to be yet.”
It was a bit of a wild run from Tänak who fought off a big fifth-gear slide after a cut kicked him slightly off-line, and then suffered a particularly harsh landing over a crested junction.
Tänak denied that he’d had any moments when asked at stage-end, but his time loss to his team-mate was obvious.
Evans meanwhile felt his Toyota’s setup had disturbed his rhythm somewhat.
“We’re probably a bit more geared up for rain and it was full dry in here, so not so easy to be super fast,” he said.
However if Evans was geared towards the rain, that was nothing compared to some others as fellow Toyota driver Takamoto Katsuta continued to leak time with his tire choice heavily chosen based on the rain that has so far yet to fall.
“It’s like the drift grand prix, it’s OK I’m just enjoying,” Katsuta smiled, despite losing 19.6s to Neuville’s benchmark.
M-Sport’s Craig Breen was in the same boat with one fewer wet tire – three instead of four.
“Obviously we were hoping that the rain was going to come a bit earlier, but we’ll do a rain dance now,” he said.
Fourth-placed Esapekka Lappi pulled away from Breen by 2.5s on SS6 to enjoy a nine-second advantage overall.
Oliver Solberg reported a small issue with the gearbox and three key snaps from the rear of his Hyundai, but he was impressed by what was going on ahead.
“They’re some strong times from the guys at the front, bloody hell,” Solberg said, after losing 18.3s to the stage best.
Despite his troubles, he still managed to outpace M-Sport’s recovering Adrien Fourmaux to extend his advantage in seventh overall to 7.7s.
Gus Greensmith was slowest of the Rally1 runners but remains safe in his current sixth spot.
“It felt OK but the time’s crap, not sure why because it felt all fine to me,” Greensmith said.