• Result: 1 Neuville 2 Paddon, 3 Tänak
• Averages hit 135 kmh on WRC’s fastest rally
• Neuville cuts Ogier’s championship lead again
HYUNDAI’S Thierry Neuville won Orlen 74th Rally Poland on Sunday after one of the most remarkable battles in FIA World Rally Championship history.
The Belgian claimed his third victory of the season after Ott Tänak crashed out of a slender lead three special stages from the finish.
The Hyundai i20 driver cut Sébastien Ogier’s championship advntage to 11 points with four rounds remaining until the final event at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the Coffs Coast on 16-19 November.
Tickets for Kennards Hire Rally Australia are available now from Ticketek.com.
The four-day Poland rally provided edge-of-the-seat drama throughout in torrential rain, driving winds and thick mud.
The lead changed hands 10 times in 23 stages as title-chasers Neuville and Tänak traded tenths of a second on the WRC’s fastest roads, where average speeds reached as high as 135 kmh.
Neuville began Sunday’s final leg in front, but a stunning drive through the opening speed test promoted Tänak ahead. But in the next stage his Estonian rival slammed his Ford Fiesta into a tree.
He limped to the finish but the damage was too great to continue. Neuville eased through the remaining kilometres to head teammate Hayden Paddon pf New Zealand by 1min 23.9sec.
Tänak’s shattering retirement lifted teammate Ogier into third place, a further 56.9sec adrift. Dani Sordo in fourth wrapped up a hugely successful weekend for Hyundai Motorsport.
“Ott drove a great rally. In such a fight nobody gives up. I wasn’t ready to give up and was prepared to win,” said Neuville, for whom this was a sixth consecutive podium.
“I was sorry for him and congratulate him on the job he did before he crashed. He was amazing again and one guy who was hard to beat.”
Tänak was chasing his second straight win after claiming a maiden victory in Italy last month. It was the third year he has tasted disappointment in Poland after leading in 2015 and 2016 but failing to secure victory.
“It was the only muddy place in the forest. Maybe I didn’t expect it to be that bad. I hit a bank with the rear and it pulled the front into a tree at high speed,” Tänak said.
“Was I driving too hard? You need to push hard if you want to win.”
Paddon ended a torrid 12 months since his last podium. The Kiwi could not match the pace of the early starters on Friday’s rain-soaked and sludgy tracks, but an error-free event, combined with several stage wins as conditions improved, brought its reward.
Ogier was blighted by a string of problems in his Fiesta, including sliding into a field on Sunday morning, but the Frenchman persevered to finish 26.6sec clear of Sordo. The Spaniard punctured a tyre but ended 24.4sec clear of Stéphane Lefebvre, who equalled his career-best result and brought hope to his struggling Citroën team.
A final stage spin cost Teemu Suninen fifth, but the Finn was hugely impressive on his World Rally Car debut with M-Sport.
Mads Østberg and Elfyn Evans were next up, while Citroën draftee Andreas Mikkelsen overhauled Juho Hänninen for tenth in the final stage.
The next round of the WRC is Neste Rally Finland on 27-30 July. Based in the university city of Jyvaskyla, the event known formerly as the Rally of 1000 Lakes is one of the most famous on the calendar, popular for its spectacular high-speed stages along gravel forest roads lined by trees and featuring numerous jumps.
RESULTS, Orlen 74th Rally Poland:
1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 2h40m46.1s
2 Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m23.9s
3 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m20.8s
4 Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2m47.4s
5 Stephane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau (Citroen C3 WRC) +3m11.8s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m16.8s
7 Mads Ostberg/Ola Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m39.6s
8 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4m39.1s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Citroen C3 WRC) +4m43.5s
10 Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4m53.7s
2017 FIA World Rally Championship for drivers after round eight:
1 Sebastien Ogier 160
2 Thierry Neuville 149
3 Jari-Matti Latvala 112
4 Ott Tanak 108
5 Dani Sordo 82
6 Elfyn Evans 57
7 Hayden Paddon 51
8 Craig Breen 43
9 Juho Hänninen 30
10 Kris Meeke 27
2017 FIA World Rally Championship for manufacturers after round eight:
1 M-Sport World Rally Team 259
2 Hyundai Motorsport 237
3 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT 153
4 Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 117