Reputed to be one of the most difficult events to get to grips with, Rally Finland provided Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul with the perfect opportunity to show off their talent. In their first ever outing here, the Citroën Junior World Rally Team crew matched some of the leading lights of the WRC with their stage times.
Competing in the Qatar World Rally Team’s DS3 WRC, Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot were thrilled to feel the atmosphere of the World Championship again and return to Finland for the first time since 2008.
Well prepared after taking part in the Rally Estonia, Thierry Neuville waded into battle right from the word go. On Thursday afternoon, the Belgian finished third, fourth and fifth on the early stages. Bombarded with questions from Finnish journalists who were finding it hard to believe that a rookie could be fifth overall, the Citroën Junior World Rally Team driver nonetheless remained hard on himself: “I didn’t always feel that I was driving well, because I tended to ease off a little on the trickiest bends. I wanted to start at a good pace to be right up there fighting with my usual rivals. For the time being, things are obviously going pretty well.”
On Friday, Thierry enjoyed a great scrap with Mads Østberg, separated by just a few seconds. On the second run on Mokkipera (SS9), the Belgian got the better of the Norwegian to cut his lead. Unfortunately, a series of unfortunate incidents led to Thierry being forced to retire on SS11: “We hit a rock on SS10 on the racing line, the same one that Chris Atkinson had hit. The continued to drive normally, but we had a lot of vibration and a loud noise that prevented me from hearing the Nicolas’ pace notes, who also had also lost his voice! On the next stage, I went off on a tight bend. The car went into a roll and we couldn’t manage to get it back on the road.”
Thierry and Nicolas were able to rejoin the next day under Rally2 regulations: “It was important for us to complete all the stages, including the famous Ouninpohja test. It helped me to fine-tine my pace notes and assess how much progress I still have to make. When we crossed the finishing line, I felt disappointed because I believed I had it in me to make it to the finish without making any mistakes… My only wish now is to come back to this rally and continue to make progress!”
Whilst Nasser Al-Attiyah was off winning a bronze medal at the London Olympic Games, in the Skeet category (clay pigeon shooting), Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot were excited to experience their first competitive outing in the Qatar World Rally Team’s DS3 WRC. On Thursday, the Australian was running in the chasing group. Lying seventh at the end of day one, he was determined to kick on the following day. But like Thierry, things didn’t work out well for Chris: after suffering radio problems at the start of the leg, he then found himself stuck on an embankment on SS8. Despite losing 16 minutes, he kept racing until one of his wheels was torn off when he hit the same rock as Thierry (SS10).
Like his stable-mate, Chris was able to compete on the final day thanks to the work of Citroën Racing Technologies’ mechanics, whose night was reduced to its strict minimum. Having to deal with running second on the road, he rebuilt his confidence before really enjoying the Ouninpohja stage: “It was really fantastic to drive on this stage again. I’d really like to thank the entire team. We have spent the weekend in a top class car. If I hadn’t made that mistake, I think we could have achieved my goal of finishing in the top 5. I don’t know when I’ll be back in the WRC, but I hope it will be soon and with Citroën if possible!”