Thierry Neuville dared. Thierry Neuville delivered. Precisely one week ago, Hyundai Motorsport’s team leader stood in a field in England and told DirtFish he had to go faster and more sideways. He had to risk it.
Seven sleeps on from Goodwood’s Festival of Speed and the Belgian has delivered on one of the fastest days of the season so far. But what’s the secret to a Rally Estonia Friday night second place – just three seconds behind Kalle Rovanperä, a man unbeaten in these parts since 2021?
“I feel good in the car,” he told DirtFish. “The car is working well and everything feels well.”
He said it right there: he feels good in the car. Comfort, confidence and consistency are the keys to speed on Tartu’s fast gravel.
And all of that is coming through the Hyundai’s dampers. It’s been a recurring theme since the top of the season – and Esapekka Lappi’s arrival. The Finn stepped into Ott Tänak’s shoes, when the Estonian departed the Korean squad at the end of last year, and identified what he felt was a weakness with the i20 N Rally1.
Neuville explained: “Ott liked the car more very soft and crashing through all the time. For me it was like, frightening – giving me heart attacks.
“The difference from last year is mainly coming in the dampers – we worked on the dampers, a bit on the kinematics as well, but more slowly throughout the season. Compared to last year, the dampers are giving much more protection and much more confidence when it’s rough on the second pass.
“That’s more my driving style, and together with Esapekka, we are similar driving style and preferences, so we work in the same direction and that works quite well.”
What now then? Can he take 3.1 seconds out of the world champion and deliver a maiden fast rally win on Sunday?
“Ah, I don’t know,” he smiled. “To be honest, I think they [Toyota] still have a little bit more speed and Kalle also is very fast on this rally – they have proven that a couple of times already.
“I’m not sure I will be the guy to match his speed tomorrow, but I will try.
“Sure, I will keep the pressure on and I will do my job. I mean, guys behind are pushing as well so there’s no need to slow down.”
It’s already looking good. This time last year, he was 1m09s further from P1 than he is right now.