Thierry Neuville isn’t one to beat about the bush. He pulled his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC up to the final stop control of Friday in Greece, knowing that he had worked incredibly hard just to be there.
“We had a f****** s*** day, nothing was working.”
On a day where championship leader Sébastien Ogier defied the odds to lie third and right in the thick of a three-way fight for top spot, Neuville saw his chances evaporate with a power-steering issue that beset his first full day of Acropolis Rally competition.
The problem manifested itself at the tire fitting zone after SS3. Neuville had been fifth overall at that point – hardly in his most electric form – but was robbed of the opportunity to fight for more.
“[I’ve been] much more mechanic than driver to be honest,” he said.
“From this morning [we had] electric issues, and very soon we got hit by a power-steering issue as well.
“It was leaking and we couldn’t stop the engine, we left it running during the regroup and only then we realized there was a leak when we came back into the tire fitting zone and basically there was [then] only one goal: trying to repair the damage in the tire fitting zone.
“That’s what we did, but obviously [there was] not enough time between the stages to fill oil, stop the car, push the car.
“It was a tough day.”
We used everything we had in the car. If we had needed to pee I would have done itThierry Neuville on the lengths he went to to keep his power-steering going
Neuville arrived to the start of SS4 a spectacular 24 minutes late, incurring an instant four-minute time loss. He then had to battle through all 10.9 miles of Aghii Theodori 2 – which, as the only stage on Friday to be repeated, was extremely rough – without steering assistance.
“I think it was the worst stage to be without power-steering we have had for years,” Neuville claimed.
“It was very rough, very twisty as well so I really had a struggle.”
He lost 1m50.9s on the stage and was catapulted down the leaderboard to 26th overall. Mercifully, Neuville managed to do enough to repair the power-steering and was back on pace thereafter, setting the second-fastest and then fastest times (albeit a notional) on the final two stages.
“I knew that the upcoming stages would be easier but the team pushed me to continue to [do the] mechanic work and we fixed the problem basically in the tire fitting zone,” he said.
“But we just missed out [on] time every time to refill oil because it’s a long process if you don’t have the right equipment.
“I got it working but [it was] still not perfect, but good enough to do the stages which were obviously much less rough than the morning stages.”
Keeping the power-steering system going required a constant top up of fluids, and Neuville had to get resourceful to ensure the pump didn’t give up again.
“[We used] everything, everything we had in the car,” he said. “We used the brake fluid, we used the engine oil. If we had to pee inside I would have done it.
It doesn't matter what Elfyn does. The only concern is about Ogier and obviously he had a clean and trouble-free runThierry Neuville on his WRC title rivals
“I wanted to get back with a minimum [amount] of time lost. At the end it’s six minutes lost, but if we do the calculations we can still hope for a seventh and if something happens at the front maybe a sixth.”
Seventh place is currently held by the leading Rally2 car of Marco Bulacia, who put in an extremely accomplished leg performance to lead more esteemed Toksport team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen.
Neuville is currently 18th, 3m20.5s adrift of Bulacia’s Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo. Given he recovered 51.3s on just two stages and there are nine stages remaining of the Acropolis Rally, Neuville’s calculations do appear feasible other than the fact Elfyn Evans – who suffered gearbox trouble for most of the day – will be on a similar comeback charge and is 1m16.7s up the road.
Either way, a smattering of championship points would represent a good recovery in the circumstances but the damage may have already been done to Neuville’s championship.
He took a good chunk out of Ogier’s lead by winning last month’s Ypres Rally, but with a 38-point deficit to make up and just three rounds remaining after Greece, he can ill afford to drop more ground.
Asked how he felt about the championship situation in the context of Evans – who currently shares second spot with Neuville – also hitting strife, Neuville interrupted: “It doesn’t matter what Elfyn does.
“The only concern is about Ogier and obviously he had a clean and trouble-free run today, didn’t get hit with any problems since a while so [they] might come one day.
“We never hope for that but it’s part of rally and I think we were unlucky enough so far, so let’s see on the upcoming days.”