How big is the home field advantage for Thierry Neuville en Martijn Wydaeghe?
Last year, the Ypres Rally welcomed the world top of the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time. Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe dominated the rally and they turned it into a Belgian rally party at home. But Craig Breen, already winner in Ypres in 2019, was always present. The question is how big is the home advantage of Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe.
“We didn’t run into problems at all last season. The differences were never big, but I had to take fewer risks than the competitors. With our experience on this course, we can avoid bad cuts, where you have a risk of punctures ,” says Thierry Neuville. “But, you should certainly not exaggerate the advantage. There are WRC events that I have driven a lot more than Ypres.”
Teammate Ott Tänak, who won last weekend in Finland, has experienced home advantage in Estonia in recent years, although this year he was beaten by “resident” Kalle Rovanperä. “Last year you could clearly see that Craig and Thierry had a small advantage. At this level, the differences are always small, but they were a bit more comfortable. I didn’t know what to expect and I thought beforehand that it would be more difficult “Sometimes it looked like Germany. This year their advantage will be noticeably smaller. We now know what to expect, so it will be a fun battle. In any case, Ypres is ideal for the hybrid Rally1. Due to the long braking zones, we will always regenerating power, giving us the boost when exiting the corners,” predicts Ott Tänak, who kept home driver at bay Rovanperä at Rally Finland.
“In Finland I really don’t have a home advantage,” laughs Kalle Rovanperä, the championship leader. “Those guys have participated in my home rally than I have. As far as Ypres goes, I was the best of the newcomers last year. That gives me confidence for this year, because I now know that I can go fast on these asphalt tracks.”
Elfyn Evans was also tipped as a contender last season, but the Welshman had never driven in Ypres and it showed. “I really enjoyed discovering Ypres last year, because it’s a different course. We don’t want all the rallies to be alike. It brought the necessary variety, although it wasn’t our best weekend.
I had never completed the rally before and that took some effort. Perhaps my settings were not ideal for this type of tarmac. Compared to Ireland or Wales, you have a lot more right angle and slow corners. In the fast sections we lost no time, but in the slow corners I had a hard time getting the car to turn. You have to have a good feeling in the brakes and a car that steers well. This year we should be closer,” predicts Elfyn Evans.
Ypres is not unfamiliar territory for Esapekka Lappi, but his previous participation dates back to 2014, some eight years ago, when he was driving a Fabia S2000. Lappi sat in third place after the opening night’s stages and took a stage win on Saturday morning. However, on the next stage, he hit a power pole… “Yes, I remember it well. I made one mistake. I thought I was going to get Mister Freddy Loix back (laughs). Maybe this year will be better. For a long time I thought that asphalt rallies with a lot of dirt in the corners didn’t suit me, but in Croatia it went really well this year. Maybe I’m in good shape this time with the Yaris Hybrid. I’m curious,” laughs Esapekka Lappi, together with Oliver Solberg, who drove the new Hyundai i20 N Rally2 last year, the only one to drive a top class rally car for the first time at Ypres this year.
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