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Neuville frustrated as WRC Safari Rally hoodoo continues

Thierry Neuville says the fuel system issue that dented his World Rally Championship podium hopes in Kenya was not event-specific, which is “even more frustrating”.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

The WRC points leader climbed to second position across Saturday morning, benefitting from punctures delaying his Toyota rivals Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta.

However, Neuville’s bid for a podium was dashed when his i20 N struggled for power, and he was forced to stop on several occasions before ending the stage in EV mode.

Neuville was unable to fix the problem that Hyundai stated was related to the fuel system and ultimately lost more than 10 minutes navigating through the afternoon loop.

As a result, the Belgian dropped from second to fifth [+11m48.6s behind leader Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera], conceding a provisional seven championship points to title rival Evans, who ended the day in fourth overall, from the Saturday classification.

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Neuville cut a frustrated figure in service park given this is the fourth year in succession he has encountered problems on the Safari Rally.

“I don’t have a lot to say to be honest. Obviously, it was visible that the car wasn’t running and somehow we couldn’t solve the problems, so we continued the whole loop like this,” said Neuville.

“I’m really disappointed with the outcome when you put some much effort into that work and your preparations, and you don’t get the reward, and it is the fourth consecutive year we have been hit by trouble, it doesn’t feel very good.

Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team

Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

“We kept fighting and we will keep fighting but obviously we gave seven points to Elfyn and five points to Ott [Tanak], so that is a lot of points we miss out.

“It is not related to Safari, it is not a Safari-related issue, which is even more frustrating.”

Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul added: “Thierry’s issue in the afternoon is something we haven’t really seen before, so we need to have a look at the data and the fuel tank to understand what is going on.”

Neuville will stand to pick up eat least eight championship points if he can finish Sunday’s stages, where a further 12 points are offer under the new-for-2024 points system.

Lappi explains bizarre double bird strike

Neuville's team-mate Esapekka Lappi also encountered a myriad of issues ranging from punctures to run ins with the local wildlife.

In the final stage of the day Lappi's i20N was struck by two birds in separate incidents which left his windscreen smashed. The impacts forced the Finn to crawl through the Sleeping Warrior stage due to poor visibility while Lappi also struggled with debris entering his eyes.

"The last one [stage] was going well but we had a couple of birds and they were at different locations. One was just flying and I don’t know how big it was but [co-driver] Janne [Ferm] was sure it was going to come inside.

"The windscreen cracked immediately and I could live with that it was not too bad but a couple of kilometres later there was another strike and now the windscreen was really inside [the car]. I couldn’t see anything anymore and we needed to slow down a lot as it was not safe to drive.   

"I still feel something [in my eyes] so I will need to go to see medical staff to try and wash them out."

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