Photo: Hyundai Motorsport / Fabien Dufour
With the Arctic Rally, the drivers of the World Rally Championship will finally be presented with a real snow rally. For Thierry Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe, in Rovaniemi, the home of Santa Claus, it is mainly trying to follow the Scandinavian specialists.
Originally, the WRC circus should have been in Karlstad around this time. However, the organizers of the Rally of Sweden threw the towel a few months ago, for the well-known corona reasons. Drivers and teams weren’t even sad about that, because the Swedish World Cup round has been a soft spot for several years now. In 2020, a large part of the course even had to be scrapped, due to too little snow.
Then head in the direction of Rovaniemi in Finland, where 251 kilometers are driven against the clock between the snow walls and in less than 48 hours. The first of the ten tests starts on Friday afternoon at 2 pm.
Rovaniemi is almost on the Arctic Circle and that provides enough snow. Although the temperatures have risen somewhat in the last few days, the mercury is invariably below zero. In the run-up to the event, Neuville also visited Santa Claus to fully settle in.
“I always have something on my wish list”, Neuville grinned on Thursday evening. “Although my daughter would probably benefit from such a visit. But it was fun. A moment of relaxation in a busy preparation. ”
Because the Arctic Rally will not be easy for Neuville and the entire Hyundai team. Competitor Toyota – which has its rally home base in Finland – appears to be starting with an advantage. “I have no idea how strong we can be, but I fear it will be even more difficult here than in Monte Carlo to beat Toyota,” said Neuville. “I hope we can finish on the podium again.”
The region around Rovaniemi received some extra snow on Wednesday, and some extra flakes are also expected on Friday afternoon. And Neuville doesn’t really like that. “Mainly because of my position on the road,” explains Neuville. “I start third, and fresh snow offers less grip for the first few cars. Agreed, I am less disadvantaged than Ogier and Evans who start in front of me, but the guys after me take even more advantage of it. I would actually rather start the special stages 53rd and last. Fortunately, a snow thrower goes over the roads before the start, which significantly reduces that disadvantage. Still, I will be happy if I can conquer a more favorable starting position in the Friday stages for the rest of the rally. ”
Neuville will also wear appropriate glasses. “To increase the contrast,” said the Hyundai driver. “With freshly fallen snow, you sometimes barely see the difference between the road and the verge. There are riders who wear yellow glasses, I prefer orange. Just like my frames, yes. ” (grins)
The Arctic Rally will also be the second World Cup rally that Neuville will complete together with Martijn Wydaeghe. The West Flemish replaced Nicolas Gilsoul for the Monte Carlo at the eleventh hour, but the duo did win a third place. However, it was clear to all parties that there was still a lot of work to be done.
“And we have made those efforts,” Neuville emphasizes. “I leave here with much more confidence than in the Monte Carlo. Martijn and I have completed a few test days together, and also drove a small rally in Otepää, Estonian. The explorations for this weekend went very well. Well, to create a blind trust between the two of us, it still takes some time, but I do intend to continue working with Martijn after this Arctic Rally. ”