They may have been the favourites but our WRC pair, Neuville-Gilsoul were not shoo-ins for victory. Far from it!
There were many reasons for this as had never won in Ypres in six previous attempts and he was in an unfamiliar car. The Hyundai i20 R5 is a world away from the Hyundai i20 WRC that he is used to - with a dramatically different tyres and technical specification. While some other early favourites retired early including Bouffier-Panseri (Skoda Fabia) who crashed on SS2 and Abbring-Tsjoen (Citroen C3) who experienced a broken hub on SS3, the Hyundai duo gradually learned the R5, gaining confidence and speed. It was a great late birthday present for Neuville who turned 30 a week ago and surely raises his morale for the rest of the World Rally Championship.
The fight for second would go down to the final stage as Verschueren-Hostens (Skoda Fabia R5 #46) battled with Princen-Eelbode (Skoda Fabia R5 #6). The fight was settled by under 10 seconds in the end with Verschueren - the reigning Belgian Champion managing to resist Princen’s fight. Indeed, Princen battled hard, winning three of the final four stages but it was not enough. Verschueren, therefore, extends his lead at the top of the Belgian Rally Championship.
In fourth place was Cherain-Cuvelier (Skoda Fabia) who completed a great and intelligent rally. He chose to open the road on Friday, figuring it would be better to do that than go out eighth - something that turned out to be a smart decision.
Next came Bedoret-Walbrecq (Skoda Fabia) who were talking on Ypres Rally for the first time in an R5 car. Coached by Belgian rally legend, Freddy Loix - an 11 time Ypres winner - Bedoret showed intelligence and poise during the event, deserving the top five finish. Fernemont-Maillen (Skoda Fabia) came home sixth, having previously won the Spa Rally earlier in the season. He, did however, have a difficult end in Ypres, losing a lot of time on the final two special stages.
Dutch pilot Kobus with De Wild (Skoda Fabia) came home 7th ahead of the MSA BRC winner Edwards-Garrod (Ford Fiesta). Edwards took a surprise victory in the British Championship. They entered the final loop in third, but benefitted from a puncture from Cronin-Galvin (Hyundai i20) in the final stage and the retirement of McCormack-Moynihan on SS20. For Edwards, it was his second victory of the season and he had to battle reliability issues right from the Qualifying Stage. Bogie-Rowan finished second in the British Championship and ninth overall. For Cronin, his puncture dropped him to third in the MSA BRC and tenth overall.
Notable retirements included Veiby-Skjærmoen - who then restarted on Saturday, Mévius-Wydaeghe, Vanneste-Snaet and Demaerschalk-Vanneste. Additionally, Abbring-Tsjoen (Citroen C3) suffered from broken suspension on Friday and restarted on Saturday. This failure ensured that it took time for Abbring to regain confidence with the car but he gradually improved the times throughout the rally.
As for the NGT class, it was full of Porsches. The domination of Snijers-Thierie was total - but not enough. Snijers was a victim of a clutch issues over the final loop, losing more than five minutes, gifting the victory to Tanghe-Squedin. Tanghe had earlier taken advantage of a puncture for Van Woensel-Pattyn dropping the latter to third in class. Monnens-Vandaele would also suffer a puncture on SS7 and would end up retiring on SS14. The final finisher in RGT was Bruneel-Depotter, fourth in class.
Finally, in RC4, it is the neighbours from across the Channel who set the pace. Williams-Whittock (Vauxhall Adam) took the victory and the win in the MSA BRC. Wagemans-Hanssens were the fastest Belgian crew, taking second in RC4 - 1:43 behind WIlliams. Munster-Louka (Opel Adam) took third in the class - an unexpected podium for the duo. For Pyck-Mourisse, they were fast all weekend but had to retire on SS21 - Vleteren (SS21).