Neuville mulling over crucial Safari Rally decision
By Jason Craig
Saturday 24th June, 2023 - 2:53am
Thierry Neuville has hinted he might not start the second full day of Safari Rally Kenya on Saturday unless there is a realistic prospect of him scoring points for the drivers’ title.
Neuville retired 7.9 kilometres into the penultimate Friday stage when his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 suffered suspension damage after the front-left wheel hit a rut.
Prior to bowing out, the Belgian was only 5.3 seconds in arrears of the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Yaris Rally1 of third-placed Elfyn Evans. Sebastien Ogier currently leads ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Kalle Rovanpera.
Neuville had manoeuvred himself back into podium contention from sixth earlier in the day after picking up front-right tyre damage that cost him around nine seconds.
In the run-up to the Naivasha-based event, Neuville spoke of the need to build on his Rally Italia Sardegna success a few weeks ago, a performance that catapulted him back into the World Rally Championship fight with Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera and M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tanak.
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The Belgian conceded, however, this setback was one he did not need.
“What happened is not good for the championship and it is not good for the fight we were in, so we are really disappointed,” he said.
“There were no warnings at all and just before it happened the damper came out of its position on the top mount and I had to retire the car.
“We could see on further inspection the top mount nut came loose and that meant the damper went out of its position under braking and that was the end of the rally for us.”
Given the problem is easily fixable by Hyundai Motorsport mechanics, the expectation in most cases is the car will rejoin the action on Saturday.
But the Korean squad’s leading driver has cast some doubt on that when asked what his thoughts were looking ahead, with a tough decision looming.
“We have to analyse,” he added. “If there is an opportunity to get back into the points, there will be a reason (to rejoin), otherwise not, so we are going to see.”
Under the rules, if Neuville wants to score bonus points on Sunday’s rally-ending Power Stage he must leave parc fermé on Saturday otherwise he will be classified as being ‘over the time limit’ and out of the rally.
Once on the first road section, he can then decide to go to the opening Saturday stage or park up and retire to preserve his car for Sunday’s six speed tests.