The unusual extra motivational bet that capped Neuville’s WRC Croatia display

Neuville’s co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe put down a proposition on the event’s recce after noticing that the final stage of the Saturday morning and afternoon loop featured a 9.11km stage.

Wydaeghe suggested that if Neuville posted two fastest times on the passes through the stage then he would buy a Porsche 911.

While Neuville was already eyeing the stage wins to help extend his lead in an intense head-to-head with Evans, the Belgian duly delivered two committed runs to win the stages on his way to opening up a slender 4.9s overall lead.

“It started on the recce because the last stage of the Saturday loop is 9.11km so I said at the start if you are able to do two fastest times on that stage, I was to buy a [Porsche] 911, but that was maybe a most stupid decision I took in my life. Let’s see [what happens],” Neuville’s co-driver Wydaeghe told Autosport.

“Of course, my target was to take the two fastest times in that stage that was clear but not for any prize,” smiled Neuville. “I knew if I did a good stage the time would be good, and we did a good stage and it was a bit messy towards the end as the hard tyre didn’t work but I was very happy when we got the message that we were fastest.

“I think everybody knew [what we were doing].”

Neuville’s efforts topped a faultless drive across Saturday’s eight stages, of which he set fastest times in five of the tests, amid a relentless battle with Evans, with the pair never split by more than 4.9s, having started the day tied for the lead.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

“It is tough,” said Neuville when asked about the battle. “You know when the countdown clock goes down you know you are going for a real battle.

“I remember rallies of the past and now it is not like you can be a bit more careful on a few corners you have to be perfect everywhere. You cannot just say let’s brake five metres more early you need to be flat out on every corner without making a mistake, it is tough.”

Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul praised Neuville for his efforts behind the wheel but admitted there were plenty of nervous team members watching Saturday’s final stage as he attempted to win the challenge set by Wydaeghe.    

“I think the relationship between Thierry and Martijn is really nice to see,” Abiteboul told Autosport. 

“I think he was prepared to elevate the risk level at the end of the stage simply for the gamble with Martijn.

“We were all smiling, laughing, holding our breath and biting our nails as we could see that he was pushing very hard. I think it is good as you need to want something in sport today. I think Thierry wants it more than other drivers.

“We have a few cars in the Rally1 category but my gosh the level of competitiveness is mind blowing and indeed this fight between Thierry and Elfyn has bene pretty amazing, so hats off to Toyota and Elfyn they have been fantastic competitors, and they will remain to be tomorrow.

“It is super tight, but we got those provisional [178] points tonight which is great and a fantastic reward for Thierry and Martijn. It is clear they want to win this rally.”

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