Neuville undecided on final day tactics

The current rally leader is facing a dilemma ahead of Sunday's stages


With a lead of nearly 40 seconds and a team-mate tucked behind him that’s duty bound to play the game, surely the stress is off Thierry Neuville’s shoulders.

After a dramatic day of Rally Italy Sardinia in which three of his title rivals ran into trouble – and two of them (Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier) retired – Neuville starred to vault from third to first, and rather comfortably as well.

Saturday’s penultimate stage was key.

As Ogier crashed out, the driver that had been fighting him for the lead all-weekend long – Esapekka Lappi – backed right off, while Neuville (who was unaware Ogier had gone off) threw caution to the wind and vaulted into the lead of the rally.

“There have been plenty of dramatic days out there!” Neuville told DirtFish. “But this one was an especially tough and challenging one.

“I mean it was a bit like yo-yo, up and down getting closer, losing time, getting closer again step by step always with the hope to at some point get through and get the lead.

“Obviously we needed the conditions – the tricky conditions could help us because on a clean, dry rally it’s difficult to make big gaps. And at the end, yeah, the conditions were very tricky this afternoon and we were able to get through and make a good drive.”

The hard work, then, is done.

Neuville of course needs to survive Sunday’s four stages, but given Hyundai’s championship policy he is not going to be under attack from Lappi. And his nearest title rival, Kalle Rovanperä, is nearly two minutes behind.

But Neuville does face an important choice.

Does he risk it all in the powerstage, knowing that plenty others will be desperate to salvage something from their weekends on that final test? Or does he bank what he’s got and accept sacrificing a potential couple extra points in order to preserve the 25 he’s set to gain through victory?

Neuville openly admitted he needs to be “clever” tomorrow, but didn’t sound sure about which tactic he would employ.


“For the powerstage there are some drivers who have definitely much better tires than we have, that’s why I think we need to be clever tomorrow,” Neuville explained.

“We know that if we finished second without powerstage points we are P2 in the championship whatever the others do in the powerstage.

Live championship points after Saturday in Sardinia:

Position Driver Points
1 Kalle Rovanperä 113
2 Thierry Neuville 93
3 Ott Tänak 81
4 Elfyn Evans 81
5 Sébastien Ogier 69

“But the target as well is to close the gap to Kalle which is 30 points at the moment and if he goes for the powerstage it could still be 25 after the rally.”

In short, Neuville could do with those extra points. But he needs to work out if he’s prepared to jeopardize what he already has for them.

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The first pass of the Sardegna stage will likely provide him with his answer.

Rovanperä – who is poised to extend his championship lead regardless of the powerstage if everything stays as it is – meanwhile is prepared to go for it.

“I hope our tire package will be good compared at least to some of the guys who have been using the soft tires a lot,” the world champion told DirtFish.

“So yeah, hopefully the tire package is good and we can push on the powerstage.”