Neuville clinches win in Poland win
HYUNDAI'S Thierry Neuville won the 74th Rally Poland on Sunday after what has been described as one of the most remarkable battles in the FIA World Rally Championship history.
The Belgian driver claimed his third victory of the season after Ott Tänak crashed out of a slender lead three special stages from the finish.
Behind the wheel of his Hyundai i20, Neuville cut current points leader Sébastien Ogier's championship advantage to 11 points with four rounds remaining until the finale Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the Coffs Coast on November 16-19.
The four-day Poland rally provided tonnes of drama after the lead changed hands 10 times over 23 stages as title-chasers Neuville and Tänak traded tenths of a second on the WRC's fastest roads, where average speeds reached as high as 135kmh.
Neuville, driving more cautiously than his nearest rival, began Sunday's final leg in front but a stunning drive through the opening speed test promoted Tänak ahead. But in the next stage his Estonian rival slammed his Ford Fiesta into a tree.
Tänak limped to the finish but the damage was too great to continue.
This allowed Neuville to ease through the remaining kilometres ahead of New Zealand teammate Hayden Paddon by 1min 23.9sec.
Tänak's forced retirement lifted teammate Ogier into third place, a further 56.9sec adrift while Dani Sordo in fourth wrapped up a hugely successful weekend for Hyundai Motorsport.
"Ott drove a great rally. In such a fight nobody gives up. I wasn't ready to give up and was prepared to win,” Neuville said after clinching his sixth podium finish.
Tänak was chasing his second straight win after claiming a maiden victory in Italy last month. It was the third year he has tasted disappointment in Poland after leading in 2015 and 2016 but failing to secure victory.
"It was the only muddy place in the forest. Maybe I didn't expect it to be that bad. I hit a bank with the rear and it pulled the front into a tree at high speed,” Tänak said.
"Was I driving too hard? You need to push hard if you want to win.”
The next round of the WRC is Neste Rally Finland on July 27-30. Based in the university city of Jyvaskyla, the event known formerly as the Rally of 1000 Lakes is one of the most famous on the calendar, popular for its spectacular high-speed stages along gravel forest roads lined by trees and featuring numerous jumps.