Competing for the Qatar World Rally Team at Rally New Zealand, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul finished the event in fifth place overall. The Belgian pair produced an error-free performance, gradually improving as the rally progressed before claiming three stage wins on day three.
Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul achieved one of their childhood dreams when they experienced the Rally New Zealand stages for the first time during reconnaissance. Fifth in the qualifying stage, they were faced with a real dilemma when it came to choosing their starting position for the first leg. Gambling on fairly mild weather conditions, they decided to set start in twelfth place, just ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala.
After making a good start to the rally, Thierry was regularly slowed down by the car in front: “I don’t feel any animosity towards him, because he did what he could to let me past, but in places the road just wasn’t wide enough. I ended up losing at least twenty or thirty seconds, so my sixth position at the end of day one didn’t really reflect our level of performance. When the conditions were right, we managed to get among the leaders with our times.”
Saturday’s leg enabled the Saint-Vith driver to continue to improve. Runner-up on SS10, Thierry was quicker overall on the day’s stages than all of his direct rivals. “It wasn’t easy, though. We had to keep switching between hard and soft tyres depending on the changing weather conditions. We worked a lot, not only on my pace notes, but also on the set-up of the DS3 WRC. We have closed the gap to fifth place. I’ll be going after it on the last leg.”
Day three, much shorter than the first two days, provided further confirmation of Thierry’s good form. Having carefully managed his allocation of ten soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres, the Qatar World Rally Team driver was well equipped to go after a top 5 place. A very relaxed Thierry began the day with two stage wins. After cutting Ott Tänak’s lead to 16s by the day’s half-way stage, he looked set to keep up the pressure! Indeed, Thierry then went on to win SS20, while his Estonian rival was forced out of the rally after rolling his car.
“I’m sorry for Ott, but that’s racing, and I’m happy to make it into the top 5 at this rally. If I hadn’t lost so much time on day one, we might have finished fourth,” concluded the Belgian. “I’m pleased to have reached the end of the rally without making any significant mistakes. These three days of racing have been extremely beneficial for me and I would like to thank Nasser Al-Attiyah once again for having given me this superb opportunity! I really enjoyed driving on this magnificent stages and I can’t wait to come back.”