Why Neuville’s Saturday crash is no disaster

It was a tough ending to Thierry Neuville's day on Rally Italy


There were three unforced errors that led to rally-ending accidents on the Saturday of Rally Italy. The first, Esapekka Lappi’s Toyota becoming unsettled on a bump and throwing him off-line into a bank that turned the Yaris into the metal ball inside a pinball machine, was terrible news across the board.

Starting way back in the road order and with Elfyn Evans already out, Lappi was going to be Toyota’s main source of points in Sardinia. And for the man himself, it was a golden chance to end a five-year drought without an overall win in the World Rally Championship.

Then there was the second mistake. Thierry Neuville. An impact with the side of the road, akin to Lappi’s off, rolled his i20 onto its roof.

“We left this morning with one single goal, to go fast this weekend,” Neuville said.

We kept believing and continue our strategy but unfortunately I just got caught on a very slow right and a bit late on the brakes. Thierry Neuville

“I just tried to push hard to catch back some time on [Kalle] Rovanperä and some other drivers in front of us. The gap this morning was a minute to the closest guy in front of us. We knew there was a very small chance to catch anyone but we had to try – and we saw some interesting stage times in the two first stages this morning.

“We kept believing and continue our strategy but unfortunately I just got caught on a very slow right and a bit late on the brakes. I climbed a bit the mountains and just rolled over the car.”

With that, seventh place was gone. With Fourmaux crashing out on the final stage later in the day and Katsuta nursing a damaged Yaris, it could be argued that had he kept it on the straight and narrow, he’d be fifth. A solid if unspectacular result.

But there’s an interesting aspect to Neuville’s situation that frames the context of his crash a bit differently. The takeaways from each are more nuanced than simply crash equals bad.

For Lappi, the problem was clear. He was there solely to add to the teams’ points tally – he’s not around enough to have a drivers’ title to think about. He won’t be adding much – it’ll come down to which of him or Evans is faster on the powerstage.

For Fourmaux, it’s fairly brutal. M-Sport has grown tired of him having rally-ending crashes. The last thing he needed was another one.

But Neuville’s position is less precarious. He was back in seventh place and pushing to catch the two Toyotas of Rovanperä and Takamoto Katsuta only because he’d lost over a minute and a half with a transmission fault on Friday.

At the end of the previous day, Neuville had said something interesting. He’d been cagey about whether he’d go full-out attack or doddle around and wait for events to unfold further up the road. But he did say this to DirtFish:


“I can’t be behind and waiting for something to happen in the front anymore. I’ve had enough of this.”

He had a right to be at his wits’ end. Reliability woes had ruined his rally once more. And it’s easy to forget that without the last two stages of Friday’s itinerary being called off, current rally leader Ott Tänak faced the prospect of taking on those two tests with only three-wheel drive.

Would Lappi have made the same mistake without Tänak so close behind?

Neuville was also running last of the works Hyundais. With Tänak out front and the ever-dependable Dani Sordo battling for a second podium finish in as many rallies, it afforded Neuville a bit of freedom to take some extra risk.

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Lappi did not have such freedom. Neither did Fourmaux; Pierre-Louis Loubet ahead of him isn’t nominated for points and Gus Greensmith behind will score less than Fourmaux would have as it stands, thanks to Katsuta’s one-man Next Generation team being in between.

Crashes have consequences. It means extra work for the mechanics. But unlike the other two major offs on Saturday, Neuville’s disagreement with the Sardinian countryside was a calculated gamble gone wrong.

Had it gone right, he’d likely be right behind Kalle Rovanperä, the man he needs to take points off more than any other.

And as Neuville has shown throughout this season, sometimes it’s better to throw the kitchen sink at it and hope nothing goes awry than take it easy and hope for the best.