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Neuville, Ogier And Tanak Set To Resume Their Gripping Three-way WRC Fight in Rally Turkey
Posted by WRC - 12/09/18 07:02AM - 0 Comments - WRC - 1/52/53/54/55/5

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Neuville arrives in Marmaris with a 23-point championship lead over Ogier

Hyundai holds a slender advantage over Toyota and M-Sport Ford 

MARMARIS (TURKEY): Belgian driver Thierry Neuville has a superb opportunity to move a step closer to a maiden FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) title at this weekend’s Rally Turkey.

On the country’s return to the WRC for the first time since 2010, none of the demanding rock-strewn gravel special stages in the Marmaris and Mu─čla areas are known to the leading drivers. That means that it is a level playing field for the leading crews with starting positions and running order likely to be a crucial deciding factor on stages that could potentially clean over time. It also placed additional importance on the two days of reconnaissance sessions that finished today (Wednesday).

Neuville drives one of three Hyundai i20 Coupe WRCs in the event and arrives at the start with a 23-point advantage over the defending multiple champion Sébastien Ogier.

The man in form in recent weeks, however, has been Estonia’s Ott Tänak of the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team. He survived a titanic battle with Citroën’s Mads Østberg to claim victory in Finland, after the pair had traded top spot on four occasions, and followed that performance with a stunning success in Germany.

The German win enabled Tänak to equal his fellow countryman Markko Martin’s record of five WRC wins and has catapulted the Toyota Yaris WRC driver into a comfortable third place in the title race – 36 points behind Neuville and a mere 13 adrift of Ogier. Two rallies before, the Estonian trailed the series leader by 72 points and Ogier by 45! “I am still focusing on rally-by-rally and not the championship,” he said defiantly.

With pre-event testing banned in Turkey, Toyota ventured to southern Portugal to try and seek out similar gravel roads and weather conditions. High ambient temperatures caused problems for the Yaris WRCs on oxygen-starved roads in Mexico in March and team principal Tommi Mäkinen is keen to maintain the momentum.

Neuville is convinced that he is now embroiled in a three-way fight for the title, despite finishing second in Germany. A possible 120 points are still available to the winner at the remaining rallies in Turkey, Wales, Spain and Australia, including a maximum five Power Stage points per rally, and that makes the permutations fascinating heading into the autumn showdowns.

Both Neuville and Ogier have destiny in their own hands at this point but maximum points for Tänak could still see the Estonian potentially falling short of his target. Punishing temperatures in the mid thirties centigrade, dust and excessive tyre wear could also be critical factors over the weekend.

Ogier tackled the last of the WRC Turkish events to be staged in 2010 and finished fourth. That event took place around a month shy of the Frenchman claiming the first of his 43 WRC wins.

The five-time WRC champion said: “This is the first completely new event for a long time. There’s a lot of work to do on the recce with brand new notes for every single kilometre. Our goal is the best possible result, but the loose gravel will be a challenge and a lot of fast drivers will be benefiting from a cleaner and faster road behind. The most important this is to score a strong haul of points. That is what we will focus on.”

The three-way battle amongst the drivers also brings a similar tussle between rival manufacturers into play. Hyundai leads the Manufacturers’ Championship by just 13 points from Toyota, while M-Sport Ford are a mere 17 further adrift.

Things can change swiftly with two drivers scoring points for their registered teams and a couple of podium finishes for Ogier and Elfyn Evans could easily hand the Blue Oval a superb opportunity of retaining the title they earned in Wales last autumn.

The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team is a distant fourth, but Østberg has been in excellent form since joining the team for the remainder of the season at the expense of Kris Meeke and Craig Breen is also overdue a good finish after several positive recent performances. A recent three-day test session in the Aude in south-central France could be beneficial.

The French team has a good track record in Turkey, a place where the Xsara WRC secured the brand’s first gravel win. Besides, Citroëns won four of the six Turkish WRC events that ran in the past.

Østberg said: “We’re expecting it to be hot. It’s going to be a technically difficult and demanding rally and that’s why we prepared in the Aude. I’m feeling pretty confident because I always produce decent performances on this kind of surface. The car is more efficient and easier to drive than it was in Sardinia and we will use some of the things we learned in Finland on this surface.”

Hyundai and Toyota will be hoping that Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala can also push for the podium and boost their Manufacturers’ title chances. The Norwegian and the Finn lie fifth and seventh in the Drivers’ Championship after nine rounds, with Latvala’s team-mate Esapekka Lappi holding fourth place and Spaniard Dani Sordo shadowing Hyundai colleague Mikkelsen in sixth.

Thirteen World Rally Cars are on the 52-car entry list. Finn Teemu Suninen drives the third of the M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRCs and Kiwi Hayden Paddon wheels out the third Hyundai.

Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi – who makes his third WRC start of the season – drives the third official Citroën C3 WRC and Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi has the number 21 on the side of his privately-run, older-specification Ford Fiesta RS WRC.

Thursday

Tomorrow, a hectic day’s timetable gets underway with the opportunity for crews to carry out multiple passes through a five-kilometers Shakedown stage at De─čirmenyani to work on the most effective car set-up for rally weekend.

This precedes the official FIA pre-event press conference in the Media Centre at Asparan and the ceremonial start at historic Marmaris Meydan from 18.30hrs. A short super special stage in the centre of Marmaris then gets the timed action underway from 20.08hrs.

2018 FIA World Rally Championship – positions after round 9:

1. Thierry Neuville (BEL)                                             172 pts

2. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)                                             149 pts

3. Ott Tänak (EST)                                                       136 pts

4. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)                                              88 pts

5. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)                                      65 pts

6. Dani Sordo (ESP)                                                     60 pts

7. Jari-Matti Latvala(FIN)                                            55 pts

8. Elfyn Evans (GBR)                                                   52 pts

9. Mads Østberg (NOR)                                              48 pts

10. Craig Breen (IRL)                                                   47 pts, etc

2018 FIA WRC Manufacturers – positions after round 9:

1. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT                                      254 pts

2. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT                                     241 pts

3. M-Sport Ford WRT                                                   224 pts

4. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT                                 159 pts



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WRC Standings (After Round 12/13)
1. S. Ogier 204
2. T. Neuville 201
3. O. Tanak 181
4. E. Lappi 110
5. J. Latvala 102
6. A. Mikkelsen 84
ERC Standings (After Round 8/8)
1. A. Lukyanuk 150
2. N. Gryazin 129
3. B. Magalhaes 115
4. F. Kreim 101
5. C. Ingram 90
6. N. Herczig 63
 
       
       
       
       
       
       

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