Neuville exultant after Rally of Belgium triumph
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Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) (AFP) –
Thierry Neuville wrapped up his 14th WRC career win with victory at the Ypres Rally of Belgium on Sunday, followed closely by his Hyundai teammate Craig Breen of Ireland.
The Belgian, who claimed his win in the finale Spa-Francorchamps race circuit thereby closed the gap atop the world championship standings where seven-time world champion Frenchman Sebastien Ogier has 162pts, with Neuville and Elfyn Evans also of Toyota level second on 124.
"What a fantastic feeling," Neuville said. "So happy to win at home," he added after clinching his first home rally win in front of major crowds.
Much of the race took place on the narrow tarmac roads of Flanders but huge unmasked home crowds applauded Neuville in the main stand of the Spa circuit at the end as he spun his Hyundai around in noisy circles.
There was shock shortly after the race, however, with news of the death of racetrack director Nathalie Maillet, who had not shown up for the finale.
According to local reports, quoting police, a search at her home found Maillet and a close friend had been shot dead in a domestic double murder, followed by the suicide of the suspected perpetrator.
On this eighth of 12 rallies in this year's calendar, Neuville led for most of the weekend, which took in around 300km of competition on narrow farm lanes as well as the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
He finished a comfortable 30.7sec ahead of Breen following the finale at the racetrack where Hyundai had ben desperate to keep their 1-2.
But Irishman Breen clearly enjoyed racing beneath the low grey skies of Belgium
"The furrows made by the tractors after the rains of the last few days make grip very difficult," Breen said. "I love this track."
The boyish looking Kalle Rovanpera, 20, who won the last rally in Estonia, finished third after a fierce intra-team battle with fellow Toyota drivers Evans and Ogier.
Welshman Evans took fourth with championship leader Ogier down in fifth.
Saturday's racing was marked by a dramatic accident as Japanese Toyota driver Takamoto Katsuta hit an electric pole and crashed out of the rally, as the bumpy 10th stage was neutralised.
Toyota head the constructors' championship, 41 points ahead of Hyundai.
The next rally is in Greece on September 9.
© 2021 AFP