Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe have claimed their first victory of the FIA World Rally Championship’s Rally1 era – and their first on EKO Aropolis Rally Greece – by heading home an historic 1-2-3 for Hyundai Motorsport.
The Belgians seized top spot early on Saturday after nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb retired his pacesetting M-Sport Ford Puma with alternator failure. From that moment onwards they never looked back, heading home team-mates Ott Tänak and Dani Sordo in a podium lockout for the South Korean manufacturer.
Neuville carried an advantage of 27.9s over Tänak into Sunday’s three-stage finale. Tänak cut that margin by 2.9s on the first pass through Elefthori, but any hopes of the Estonian putting more pressure on his colleague ended when team orders were deployed.
With fourth-placed Elfyn Evans – driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 – was sidelined by turbo problems on the road section before the first stage of the day, leaving the frontrunning trio more than three minutes clear of the field.
Under instructions to bring the cars to the finish, all three Hyundai drivers went into safety mode. Their positions remained unchanged and Neuville took the victory by 15s.
“It has been a tough season so far and to get the victory after a very difficult weekend in Belgium is a relief,” Neuville said. “The most important thing is that we have a 1-2-3 for the team. After all these years we finally got it and it’s a historical moment for the brand and the team. Everybody has worked hard for this and it’s a nice reward.”
Tänak’s score moved him to within 53 points of championship leader Kalle Rovanperä, who finished more than 17 minutes off top spot, with three events remaining.
The 21-year-old Finn hit a tree on Saturday and haemorrhaged as he nursed his Yaris to service. He did, however, salvage four points from the Wolf Power Stage and could seal the crown at the next round should he outscore Tänak by eight points.
Pierre-Louis Loubet fought back to equal his career-best result by finishing fourth overall aboard an M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1. Loubet briefly led and took two stage wins on Friday but tumbled down the standings with a damaged front-left tyre the following day. He eventually ended up 1m52.5s down on Sordo.
Loubet’s team-mate Craig Breen had similar issues on Friday but, aided by problems for those ahead, climbed to sixth overall. At the finish in Lamia, the Irishman trailed Loubet by 26.8s with Toyota youngster Takamoto Katsuta 2m12.1s behind.
FIA WRC2 and WRC2 Junior winner Emil Lindholm was an impressive seventh overall aboard a Toksport Škoda Fabia, one position ahead of team-mate Nikolay Gryazin. Cypriot Alexandros Tsouloftas was set to finish just outside the overall top 10 and fifth in WRC2 aboard a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 but came through to ninth overall and third in WRC2 after Yohan Rossel rolled his PH Sport Citroën C3 Rally2 into retirement on the final stage and after he outpaced Eyvind Brynildsen by 2.9s.
Armin Kremer won the FIA WRC2 Masters’ Cup with ease, while Diego Dominguez came out on top in FIA WRC3 driving a Ford Fiesta Rally3. Estonian Robert Virves claimed FIA WRC3 Junior honour and is the provisional champion ahead of Jon Armstrong.
Repco Rally New Zealand hosts round 11 of 13 on its return to the WRC schedule after 10 years away. The event is based in Auckland from September 29-October 2.