BRENTWOOD, England - The Qatar M-Sport squad were left to ask what could have been as Rallye de France-Alsace came to a close. Having led the rally in its early phases, Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville finished the event in fourth place with the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team Ford Fiesta RS WRCs of Evgeny Novikov and Mads Østberg in fifth and eighth places overall.
Despite finishing the event off the podium, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were superb throughout the four-day fixture. Having led the field for much of the event, the Belgians were on course to secure a maiden FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) victory until a puncture on the second pass of Saturday’s ‘Vallée de Munster’ stage (SS12) undid their good work.
Losing almost a minute and a half to the chasing pack, the pairing were relegated to fifth place with all to do on Sunday’s remaining 56.58 kilometre distance. Unfazed by the disappointment, Neuville entered the treacherous, mud-strewn stages with one clear goal – to keep his Fiesta RS WRC firmly planted to the black-top stages and reap the rewards of any time loss ahead.
The 25-year-old’s strategy worked well. Despite taking a more cautious approach for the final day, Neuville was never out of the top-three on overall stage times. When nine-time World Champion, Sébastien Loeb, fell foul of the conditions, the Belgian recovered fourth place and valuable points for his championship campaign.
Having claimed two additional points on the opening Power Stage, Neuville lost just one point to Jari-Matti Latvala and retains his strong second place in the Championship – 18 points clear of the Finn – with two rounds remaining.
“Obviously I am disappointed having had the opportunity to take my first win this weekend, but I have to accept it,” said Neuville. “. I think that we had a really good weekend and we have definitely shown that we have the speed and the car to win rallies.
“Ultimately it was my mistake – just 10 centimetres wide in one corner. Of course it’s a shame, but both ‘Sebs’ were here, and we were beating them, so I have to be happy with that.
“Again I need to thank the entire M-Sport team for everything they have done this weekend. This is our eleventh event in the team and we have not had a single problem with the car all season. We know that we have everything we need to secure a win this season, so now we just need to go out there and get it.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson, said: “It’s obviously a big disappointment that Thierry [Neuville] and Nicolas [Gilsoul, co-driver] were not able to take their first victory here this weekend – especially after dominating the first half of the event to such an extent – but there is no question that their first win is not far away.
“The way he [Neuville] recovered after the disappointment and went on to continue to set fastest times is testament to both him and the [Ford] Fiesta [RS WRC]. We know that the car is competitive on both gravel and Tarmac, and the whole team is now looking forward to Spain where we can go and challenge for the victory once again.”
1) S.Ogier VW
2) D.Sordo Citroen
3) J.M Latvala VW
4) T.Neuville Ford
5) E.Novikov Ford
6) M.Ostberg Ford
7) M.Hirvonen Citroen
8) A.Nikkelsen VW
9) R.Kubica Citroen
10) R.Dumas Ford