The Hyundai driver headed to Greece sitting 36 points adrift of Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera, but was in strong position to close the gap after starting Saturday with a 25.5s advantage over the third-placed Finn.
Neuville delivered an impressive performance over Saturday morning’s stages to lead Sebastien Ogier by 10.9s. However, the Belgian’s rally unravelled when he hit a hole the road on stage nine that inflicted terminal damage to his suspension.
Having lost an opportunity to claim at least 25 points for the win, at an event where he headed a podium sweep for Hyundai last year, Neuville now accepts his title bid is over for another season.
The task to reel in Rovanpera now appears even more difficult with the Finn leading the rally at the end of Saturday after Ogier’s exit following stage 12.
“Yeah for sure,” Neuville told Motorsport.com, when asked if his title hopes are over.
“The chances were not that big but still with the result we were doing here, and if we finished like this, we would have increased our chances a bit more. But it is what is.
“I felt [the victory] was possible but obviously luck was not with us this weekend, so we try to forget and look forward. I don’t know what has broken but something has broken.
“We will push as much as we can in the Power Stage but I think it will be for our own pleasure than anything else.”
Cyril Abiteboul, Team principal Hyundai World Rally Team
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Hyundai boss Cyril Abiteboul described Neuville’s retirement as “painful” and is yet to understand exactly what failed on his i20 N.
“There were times in the season where we were competitive simply because our competitors were weak or facing a difficult situation, but on this occasion I think it was a straightforward win that was possible for us and in sight,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.
“This was a combination of the car characteristic and the crew’s ability, and the hard work we put into the preparation. We also knew that this was an event where we can be strong.
“It is all the more painful when something like this happens. It is not due to lack of preparation, information or knowledge, we have, and they have all of that. Fate decided otherwise.
“We are yet to see exactly what part failed and the root cause of the failure. We need to be able to sustain those things [bumps in rallies], but we need to see the car to draw a conclusion.”