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Neuville thrilled with maiden Monte Carlo win

 

Thierry Neuville

Thierry Neuville upstaged a revamped Toyota team to snatch victory on the final leg of a dramatic Monte Carlo Rally.

The Belgian had trailed the Toyotas of Elfyn Evans and Sebastien Ogier through Friday and Saturday but responded yesterday with fastest times on each of the final four stages, including the Power Stage, to jump from third to first to record his and Hyundai's first Monte Carlo win.

It meant bitter disappointment for Evans, who for so long looked like he could become the first British winner of the iconic Monte since Paddy Hopkirk back in 1965. The Welshman, winner of the Ulster Rally in 2016, was making his Toyota debut having moved from Ford to replace Kris Meeke and partner another new recruit Ogier, winner of the rally for the last six years.

But Evans, whose only World Championship win came in the 2018 Rally GB in his home Welsh forests, adapted immediately to the Toyota Yaris and matched Ogier in the icy Alps, the two of them swapping places through the Friday leg.

And he continued in the same vein on Saturday, driving superbly in the treacherous conditions and eventually taking a five-second lead over six-time world champion Ogier into yesterday's final leg. Ominously, Neuville was less than two seconds further back in third.

Yesterday, he moved to a different level, totally outpacing the Toyota duo to win by 12 seconds over Ogier, who snatched second away from Evans on the final stage.

It was sweet revenge indeed for Neuville, who lost out to Ogier by two seconds on the final stage last year. "The target was to win this rally and take revenge and it feels good," said Neuville. "It's something we've been fighting for, for a very long time. Rally Monte Carlo is one of the most historic events that every driver wants to win at least once, and now we've done it."

The victory also provided a major boost for the Hyundai team who had seen their big pre-season signing, Ott Tanak, exit the rally in a huge accident on Friday.

It was Tanak's shock decision to leave Toyota after winning the world title to move to Hyundai which sparked a major re-shuffle among the top teams.

Ogier took his place at Toyota, leading to the exit of Citroen, and saw Meeke and Jari Matti Latvala ousted to be replaced by Evans and teenager Kalle Rovanpera, who finished fifth behind Ford's Esapekka Lappi. But Tanak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja were lucky to escape unhurt when their Hyundai debut ended in a massive crash.

Meanwhile, Ryan Loughran followed up his national division victory in the Donegal International back in June by winning the Donegal Mini Stages Rally in his Ford Escort.

The Cookstown driver, whose family NPL motorsport company was featured building an Escort for an Australian customer in a short BBC True North documentary earlier in the week, won by just over four seconds from top seed Damien Gallagher, also in an Escort, with Johnny Jordan third in a Toyota Starlet.

Loughran and co-driver Gareth Doherty took the lead on stage three after early front runner Kevin Gallagher retired his Darrian.

It proved an abortive American debut for Andrew Watson in the Daytona 24-Hour race, his Aston Martin being forced out after two accidents. In the first, team-mate Pedro Lamy was clipped by a Corvette, sending it spinning off the track, and after it had been repaired Ross Gunn crashed into a wall, bringing their race to an end.

Watson will hope for better luck as he heads across the Pacific for next weekend's Bathurst 12-Hour race at the daunting Mount Panorama circuit.

Belfast Telegraph