We speak to M-Sport’s Belgian driver who's fast becoming the young WRC talent to watch.
Third places in Mexico and Greece and now two seconds in succession in Italy and Finland…Thierry Neuville can surely start to sense a maiden victory in the World Rally Championship as he heads to Germany this week.
For the 25-year-old, the Trier-based rally is very much a home event, just a two-hour drive away from his apartment in Liege, Belgium.
He’s now equal second in the championship table with Ogier’s VW team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala thanks to an outstanding drive in the previous round in Finland. There he took the fight to Ogier and then saw off M-Sport ‘team leader’ Mads Ostberg for the runner-up spot.
Neuville also beat Ogier to be fastest on Finland’s bonus-scoring Power Stage. In fact it was the closest anyone other than Sebastien Loeb has come so far in 2013 to beating Ogier in a straight fight.
A win in Germany would not only be significant as his first victory in the WRC but because it would mean Ogier having to put any title celebrations on ice…
Asked if a win in M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta is achievable in the remaining five rounds, Neuville’s reply is direct: “Yes it’s possible, but I think that Sebastien needs to be in trouble!
“I’m really looking forward to the first Tarmac event of 2013 in Germany. I did it twice before so know it quite well; now I have just to see how the Fiesta is on Tarmac. I never drove it on asphalt before so I have to see if I can find good settings and then I think we are able to fight with the Volkswagens.”
Neuville’s ability to coolly resist pressure from team-mate Ostberg and Citroen’s Mikko Hirvonen for second position in Finland impressed many, and the experience will surely prove to be invaluable when a first win is within reach.
“I could feel some pressure at the start of the stages with Mads setting off before me. I could see every time his car going into the first corner and that he was really pushing so I really had no other option but to go for it the same way. And we got there in the end.”
If more proof that Neuville is a cool customer was needed, the young Belgian is only the second driver from eight events so far this year to beat Ogier on a Power Stage.
“I don’t know if Sebastien was at his maximum pace. I feel at the first braking point that the car was at the limit on the brakes.
“Then when I got the first split, I could see we are good so I say, ‘OK, we can take two points here’ [for second place on the stage]. Then I saw the giant TV at the end and that Sebastien was behind then ahead on the split times. But then I guess I must have driven a really good final sector and it came my way. But it was close!”
Rally Germany gets underway with a ceremonial start in Cologne on Thursday afternoon (August 22nd) prior to its two opening stages on the drive back to the host city of Trier where it will finish on Sunday.