It is Neuville’s first World Rally Championship victory since Rally Japan last November, moving him three places up to second in the points standings behind the current leader and champion. in title, Kalle Rovanpera.
The turning point came on Saturday’s penultimate stage when Neuville turned the wick to pass teammate Esapekka Lappi and take the lead in the timesheets by 23.8 seconds. It was a drama-filled stage as Sébastien Ogier – who was leading the race as he aimed for a record fifth success in Sardinia – retired when he ran wide in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 and stranded it on the edge of the road.
With confidence levels high, Neuville pushed for more tenths and finished Saturday 36.4 seconds ahead. He added a further 6.1 seconds in Sunday’s first three speed tests before opting to slow the end-of-rally Power Stage slightly given the wet and muddy conditions the crews faced.
Neuville said he always believed he could win on the Mediterranean island despite his recent bad luck, although he revealed in his post-rally comments that he had to maintain higher speeds than he would have preferred, due to the way his Korean car reacts.
At recent events he has publicly complained about the ride and handling of the i20 N Rally1 – but in Sardinia, after reverting to the setup of Lappi and his Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo, he seemed to be more agree with that.
“I was just driving and trying to keep a decent pace because we all know once you drive too slow the car doesn’t run and it’s just awful,” he said. “I felt comfortable like that, but yeah, the Power Stage was the worst for me.”
He continued: “I am happy to be back on the first place on the podium. It was a rough and difficult weekend, as everyone could see.
“We were involved in a tough fight from the start with ups and downs all weekend, but still able to fight back with a good attack, better feeling in the car and a pretty good tire strategy.
“In the end, the strategy paid off by putting pressure on Ogier who made a mistake and that gave us a good opportunity for us and for the team to secure a double podium here this weekend.
“That’s all we were looking for, expecting and that’s what people deserve in the team too. So we’re grateful for that and happy to be here.