Thierry Neuville bids to give his FIA World Rally Championship title aspirations a badly-needed boost on home roads this weekend as Belgium becomes the 35th country to stage a round of the series.
Neuville has bagged five third places in seven rounds but is still searching for his first victory of the year. He trails championship leader Sébastien Ogier by 52 points with five fixtures remaining.
Renties Ypres Rally Belgium (13 - 15 August) provides a perfect opportunity for the Hyundai i20 World Rally Car driver to close on Ogier. Neuville is one of the few top-level drivers with Ypres experience and won the asphalt event in 2018 before it reached WRC status.
He better than anyone understands the characteristics of West Flanders’ narrow farm roads on which the bulk of the event is based, before a final day charge across the country for a finale at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps race circuit.
The lanes are littered with tight junctions and lined by drainage ditches and telegraph poles. Big cuts in corners mean mud and debris will be dragged onto the asphalt, making conditions progressively dirty.
“It’s very challenging as the roads are quite narrow and slippery and the ditches on both sides are always very deep, so you have to make sure to not make any mistakes and keep all four wheels on the road,” explained Neuville.
“I think we are going to see a lot of action. It has different characteristics to any other Tarmac event we’ve seen so far.”
Neuville is joined in Hyundai Motorsport’s line-up by 2019 Ypres winner Craig Breen and Ott Tänak, the trio seeking to eat into Toyota Gazoo Racing’s 59-point manufacturers’ championship lead.
Ogier is supported by Elfyn Evans, second in the drivers’ standings, and Kalle Rovanperä, who scored his debut WRC victory in Estonia last month. They drive Yaris World Rally Cars.
“Generally, the grip is changing a lot there and I think this will be the main difficulty when we are trying to find the limits without any previous experience of this rally,” Ogier explained.
“It’s nice to be in the position we are right now with a bit of a lead in the championship, but we have to stay focused with some difficult rallies – like this one – still to come.”
Adrien Fourmaux replaces Teemu Suninen in M-Sport Ford’s Fiesta World Rally Car line-up alongside Gus Greensmith.
Takamoto Katsuta pilots a fourth Yaris and is co-driven by Keaton Williams for the first time as regular partner Dan Barritt recuperates from back injuries suffered in Estonia. Pierre-Louis Loubet completes the top-tier drivers in a huge entry of more than 100 competitors, driving an i20.
The rally starts in Ypres on Friday afternoon and competitors tackle 20 stages covering 295.78km before Sunday afternoon’s finish at Spa-Francorchamps.