John Floyd
Motorsport columnist
8 minute read
17 Aug 2021
9:32 am

Neuville and Hyundai victories in action-packed Ypres WRC

John Floyd

Ypres' granting of WRC status for the first time saw the event turn into a fast but car-wrecking affair.

Home victory for Thierry Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe in the first ever Ypres WRC. Picture: Hyundai

It was a first for the Ypres Rally Belgium as the event joined the World Rally Championship.

It is an event known for its very fast twisty tarmac farm roads, with tight junctions and deep drainage ditches waiting for the over enthusiastic and it proved to be a tough one for many.

A total of 108 teams left the capital of Ypres most with no previous knowledge of the roads and all eyes were on local hero Thierry Neuville.

Friday, day 1 and a very different itinerary, the rally runs as a three-day event. The preliminary shakedown took place in the morning with the first special stage getting away at 1.36pm with Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT’s Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia sweeping the roads once again, followed by teammates Elfyn Evans with Scott Martin. It was a repeat of Estonia as the Hyundai Shell Mobis i20 of Ott Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja took SS1, all the crews commenting on the slippery conditions.

Neuville and Craig Breen, both previous winners on such events, stamped their authority on the rally from the first day, with the Irishman winning two stages and Neuville taking four more of the days seven stages, stage eight cancelled due to safety issues with spectators. So a Hyundai team clean sweep on day one.

Ypres WRC
Seven-times champions Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia finished fifth overall. Picture: Toyota Gazoo Racing.

It certainly was not a great day for the M-Sport Ford WRT when on SS3 Adrien Fourmaux and co-driver Renaud Jamoul ran wide on a high speed left hander 23km into the stage ending in a ditch, fortunately the crew escaped injury but their rally was over the damage too great to repair overnight.

On the following stage it was an end for their teammates Gus Greensmith and Chris Patterson who ran wide on a left corner just after the stage start into a ditch and retiring for the day.

ALSO READ: Hyundai out to cut Toyota’s lead at WRC in Belgium

Tanak arrived at the end of SS6 with a missing side window and an engine issue, at the end of SS7 the Estonian is 7.2 seconds off the pace with the i20 low on boost and lacking power. The end of day 1 and it was Neuville, Breen and Tanak with the Toyota’s of Rovanpera, Evans and Ogier completing the top six.

Day 2 and the field are led into SS9 by the returned Fiesta of Greensmith who completes the stage but is out for experience due to the major time loss of the previous day.

Ypres WRC
Ypres an event to forget for M-Sport Ford and the partnership of Gus Greensmith and Chris Patterson. Picture: M-Sport Ford.

Once more drivers battle with the low grip surface and Tanak suffers a puncture 16km into the stage and stops to change the wheel but is hampered by a non functioning jack, after losing over three minutes he gets underway but has to move aside to allow teammate Breen to pass. Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Evans and Martin take advantage of Tanak’s problems to move the Yaris into third overall.

SS10 is red flagged after the Toyota of Takamoto Katsuta with stand in co-driver Keaton Williams pitch their car into a ditch and roll out of the rally, fortunately the crew were unscathed. The wreckage and a fallen electricity pole blocked the stage resulting in a 25-minute delay. Ogier and Ingrassia received a notional time as they had already started when the stage was red-flagged.

Breen takes the first two stages of the day but on SS11 Evans becomes the first non Hyundai driver to win a stage, although 35 seconds behind the leader, with his teammate Ogier, winning SS13 and SS15 but it is Neuville who takes the balance and holds his lead. This leaves just four stages, the final being the Wolf power stage and Neuville leads  by 10.1 seconds from second-placed Breen who is a healthy 32 seconds ahead of the Toyota trio as they  head for the final day.

Sunday morning and on SS17 Ogier picked up a left rear puncture taking the tyre right of the rim and losing 6.9 seconds in his fight for the podium. Rovanpera put in the quickest time and reduced the gap to third placed Evans to just 1.7 seconds with three stages remaining. Breen dropped a further 7.6 seconds but seems content to now settle for second place.

Ypres WRC
Second in the championship after Ypres but only fourth in the event for Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin. Picture: Toyota Gazoo Racing.

SS18 and its Tanak again with Rovanpera just 0.5 seconds behind, Evans loses another 5.6 seconds which moves the Finn into third place.Tanak won SS19 and moved on to SS20 and the chance of increasing his points tally on the power stage.

The Estonian once more wins the stage and takes maximum points for the team, but it is the Belgian duo of Neuville and Wydaeghe who take the overall honours, the first win of the season for the team, finishing 30.7 seconds ahead of Breen who made it two second places in a row, third went to Rovanpera of the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT. But the rally belonged to the Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT winning an impressive 15 stages of the 20 total.

The gap has closed with Neuville tied on 124 points with Evans and reducing the gap in the manufacturers title chase to 41 points.

Next on the calendar is the rough and rocky Acropolis Rally in Greece a real test of car strength and driver skills.

Final Positions

1.         T.Neuville/M.Wydaeghe                 Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20

2.         C.Breen/P.Nagle                              Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20

3.         K.Rovanperä/J. Halttunen             Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris

4.         E. Evans/S. Martin                           Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris

5.         S. Ogier/J.Ingrassia            Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris

6.         O.Tanak/M.Jarveoja             Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20     

47.       G. Greensmith/C.Patterson            M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta

FIA World Rally Championship Drivers (after round 8 of 12)

1.         S.Ogier                      162

2.         E.Evans                     124

3.         T.Neuville                  124

4.         K.Rovanpera               99

5.         O.Tanak                     87

6.         T.Katsuta                   66

7.         C.Breen                     60

8.         G.Greensmith           34

9.         D.Sordo                     31

10.       A.Fourmaux              30

11.       T.Suninen                 17

FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers (after round 8 of 12)

1.         Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT           348

2.         Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT            307

3.         M-Sport Ford WRT              135