Neuville’s Frustration Continues as WRC Safari Rally Troubles Continue

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Neuville frustrated as WRC Safari Rally hoodoo continues

The leader in World Rally Championship (WRC) points surged to second place on Saturday morning, capitalizing on punctures that delayed his Toyota counterparts Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta.

However, Thierry Neuville’s hopes for a podium finish were dashed when his i20 N struggled with power issues, forcing him to make several stops and ultimately finishing the stage in EV mode.

Despite efforts, Neuville couldn’t rectify the problem, attributed by Hyundai to the fuel system, losing over 10 minutes during the afternoon loop.

Consequently, the Belgian driver plummeted from second to fifth position, trailing leader Kalle Rovanpera by 11 minutes and 48.6 seconds, conceding a provisional seven championship points to rival Evans, who secured fourth place by the end of Saturday’s leg.

Expressing frustration in the service park, Neuville lamented the recurring issues at the Safari Rally over the past four years, stating, “I don’t have a lot to say to be honest. Obviously, it was visible that the car wasn’t running and somehow we couldn’t solve the problems, so we continued the whole loop like this.

Neuville's Frustration Continues as WRC Safari Rally Troubles Continue
Neuville’s Frustration Continues as WRC Safari Rally Troubles Continue (Credits: Autosport)

I’m really disappointed with the outcome when you put so much effort into that work and your preparations, and you don’t get the reward, and it is the fourth consecutive year we have been hit by trouble, it doesn’t feel very good. We kept fighting and we will keep fighting but obviously we gave seven points to Elfyn and five points to Ott [Tanak], so that is a lot of points we miss out. It is not related to Safari, it is not a Safari-related issue, which is even more frustrating.”

Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul echoed Neuville’s sentiments, acknowledging the unusual nature of Neuville’s issue in the afternoon and the need to analyze data and the fuel tank to comprehend the situation fully.

Neuville stands to gain at least eight championship points if he completes Sunday’s stages, where an additional 12 points are up for grabs under the new-for-2024 points system.

Meanwhile, Neuville’s teammate Esapekka Lappi faced his own set of challenges, including punctures and encounters with local wildlife. In the final stage of the day, Lappi’s i20N was struck by two birds in separate incidents, shattering his windscreen and compromising visibility. Lappi navigated cautiously through the Sleeping Warrior stage due to the impaired view, also grappling with debris entering his eyes.

Reflecting on the ordeal, Lappi recounted, “The last one [stage] was going well but we had a couple of birds and they were at different locations. One was just flying and I don’t know how big it was but [co-driver] Janne [Ferm] was sure it was going to come inside. The windscreen cracked immediately and I could live with that it was not too bad but a couple of kilometers later there was another strike and now the windscreen was really inside [the car]. I couldn’t see anything anymore and we needed to slow down a lot as it was not safe to drive. I still feel something [in my eyes] so I will need to go to see medical staff to try and wash them out.”

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