Neuville exultant after Rally of Belgium triumph

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.

"We knew we had to deliver here, not just because it is our home event but because of the need to score big points for the championships," said the winner.

"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.

"We're just 15km from my hometown, with friends and family cheering us on so we did some celebratory donuts," he said after spinning his car around in noisy circles for the fans.

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.

Neuville's team principal Andrea Adamo described the rally as just beautiful as everything came together.

"This result is like an alignment of planets, sometimes it happens. To be the first time here in this beautiful event, with a tremendous atmosphere, to see Thierry win, with (navigator) Martijn (Wydaeghe) taking his first WRC win, at Ypres Rally Belgium is amazing. A true team effort."

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 been 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.