Neuville wins Rally Poland after Tanak crashes out

Neuville wins Rally Poland after Tanak crashes out
2017-07-02 16:44:52
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Thierry Neuville racked up his third victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season in Poland today after a neck-and-neck fight which ultimately forced Ott Tanak into a mistake as he pushed to the maximum for the win.

The Estonian powered into the lead in today's opener but then hit a tree in the following stage, leaving Neuville with an unassailable lead of over a minute. Hayden Paddon moved up to second to give Hyundai a one-two, with Sebastien Ogier claiming the final podium position for M-Sport.

"I'm really happy," said Neuville. "We've been strong in the last couple of rallies. Our main goal was to catch points on Ogier and we've done that two events in a row. Closing up the gap is a good achievement. The end of the championship will be really interesting and tough."

Ogier retains his championship lead but Neuville has narrowed the gap and is now just 11 points adrift in the Drivers' Championship. In the Manufacturers' Championship, maximum points for Hyundai Motorsport also sees the Korean marque edge to within 22 points of M-Sport with five rounds remaining.

The final day of Rally Poland was set to be a thriller with Neuville in the overnight lead and Tanak just 3.1 seconds adrift. The Estonian set the opening stage alight and, 4.9 seconds faster than his rival, powered into the lead. However, in the following test the Estonian hit a bank with the rear of the car, which pulled the front end into a tree. While he was able to complete the stage, he was then forced out with too much damage; it was the second consecutive year he has been so close to claiming the winner's trophy in Poland.

Neuville was fastest in this stage and the next to take a 1m13s advantage into the Power Stage. He was only fifth fastest but wasn't prepared to risk the win for a top haul of extra points. Sitting in third and too far adrift of the fight for the win, Paddon was watching in the wings and his no risk strategy paid off as he moved up to second following Tanak's off. Similarly, Ogier was hanging back for a push and maximum points in the Power Stage but he ended up in a field in the penultimate stage when the car snapped out at the rear. Four points in the Power Stage were a welcome addition to his tally however.

Behind the leading trio, Dani Sordo had a near miss with a tree this morning and then a puncture this afternoon, but fourth for the Spaniard alongside Hyundai's one-two was a great result for the team. Stephane Lefebvre had a tricky morning, off the road in the first stage and then he clipped a fence in the second, distracted by a tool kit that worked loose and ended up under the brake pedal. Nevertheless he managed to move into fifth in the Power Stage, benefiting when Teemu Suninen had a near off. While a fine result for the Finn in his first outing in a 2017 World Rally Car, he was disappointed to have made a mistake in the final stage of the rally.

Mads Ostberg claimed seventh and Elfyn Evans eighth. Andreas Mikkelsen moved into ninth for Citroen despite an overshoot this morning and Juho Hanninen was Toyota's lead driver in 10th overall. Teammate Jari-Matti Latvala – returning under Rally 2 regulations – took some consolation from maximum points in the Power Stage.

Ole Christian Veiby won the FIA WRC 2 Championship, the Norwegian claiming his first victory in the category after leading for all but the first stage. He beat Pontus Tidemand by 32.9 seconds and moves into second in the Championship. Nil Solans took his third consecutive victory in the FIA Junior WRC Championship and continues to top this category and the FIA WRC 3 Championship.

The FIA World Rally Championship contenders now head to a classic on the calendar, the gravel-based Neste Rally Finland (July 27-30).