Thierry Neuville claimed a rags-to-riches first world rally victory in Germany Sunday, three days after virtually destroying his car when he rolled six times at pre-event shakedown.
In a chaotic final day at ADAC Rallye Deutschland, Neuville climbed from third after first Jari-Matti Latvala and then Kris Meeke crashed out of the lead.
The win on this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship was the first for Hyundai in its debut year back in the series. Dani Sordo added icing to the cake by finishing second for the Korean manufacturer.
Neuville’s story began on Thursday morning when he barrel-rolled through the vineyards near Trier. Team mechanics worked for 18 hours to rebuild the battered i20 car and Neuville repaid them in style, becoming only the second Belgian to win a world rally and the first since François Duval in 2005.
Latvala, chasing his first asphalt win to reignite his title bid, was almost a minute clear when he started the first of the final four stages in the vineyards on the banks of the Mosel River.
|Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R. (Photo: WRC)|
However, he crashed his Volkswagen Polo R in treacherously slippery conditions, handing Meeke an 8.4sec advantage over Neuville. But the Northern Irishman hit a wall early in the next test after a recce pace note error, ripping the left rear wheel from his Citroen DS3.
Neuville, who admitted dropping two wheels into a ditch in the opening stage, was in the clear and finished 40.7sec ahead of Sordo. The Spaniard enjoyed a clean run on his first rally since May, aside from a sixth gear spin yesterday after aquaplaning.
Co-driver Miikka Anttila surveys Jari-Matti Latvala's damaged car
Andreas Mikkelsen survived a spin where Latvala crashed to take third in a Polo R, 17.3sec further back. Elfyn Evans excelled on his debut asphalt event in a World Rally Car, matching a career-best fourth place after outgunning more experienced Ford Fiesta RS team-mate Mikko Hirvonen by 6.9sec.
Despite retiring after two crashes, Sébastien Ogier’s retains a 44-point lead over Latvala in the standings. Although a wretched weekend meant it failed to clinch the manufacturers’ title, the results guaranteed a Volkswagen driver – Latvala, Ogier, or Mikkelsen - will win the drivers’ crown.