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WRC Rally Portugal

Neuville stunned by almost “impossible” result in WRC Rally Portugal

Thierry Neuville believes he achieved the almost “impossible” by scoring a Rally Portugal podium that helped extend his World Rally Championship lead to 24 points over Elfyn Evans.

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

The Hyundai driver had downplayed chances of a strong result in the first event of the WRC’s traditional gravel season given the disadvantage of opening the gravel roads on Friday.

An impressive performance on Friday, which included a stunning stage win on Arganil, limited the time loss to 18.1s to keep the Belgian firmly in the fight.

Neuville was able to steadily climb the leaderboard to sit third, claiming 13 points, heading into the final day having been assisted by retirements for rally leader Kalle Rovanpera and Takamoto Katsuta, who held third.

To cap off the display Neuville finished second in the Super Sunday standings and won the Power Stage to claim 24 points, 18 more than title rival Evans, who endured a difficult rally.

“Nobody expected us to be on the podium here actually and to increase the lead in the championship was nearly impossible,” Neuville told Autosport.

“But somehow, we made it with a strong Friday run and then after that, we were consistent yesterday and we pushed hard today for those extra points which have made the difference.

“It is quite a margin [in the championship] but you can see how easy it is to lose points with Elfyn having problems today. I mean if somebody has a good run on Friday and Saturday and you have problems on Sunday and he scores the 12 points, he can take back some of the gap, so consistency is going to be important.”

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Evans was fortunate to salvage six points from the event after a stone damaged his cooling system which required the Welshman to limp to the end of the penultimate stage in EV mode before undergoing a roadside repair.

This ended any hopes of securing any Super Sunday points leaving Evans with six points acquired from finishing sixth at the end of Saturday. Evans started the rally on the backfoot as he struggled for confidence with the balance of his GR Yaris.

The Toyota driver then had to drive to pacenotes being delivered from a mobile phone after co-driver Scott Martin accidentally left his pacenote book at the stage six time control. The misfortune was compounded by a puncture in stage seven.

“The six points is the only positive. Of course, you want to forget the weekend, but we have to learn from it and be ready for the next one,” Evans told Autosport.

“It is still early in the season. It is not what you hope for, and we obviously have to aim for some strong rallies and see what is possible.

“It is definitely the case that anything can happen at any point of the season. For sure, 24 points seems big now, but it can turn around very quickly.”

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