1. Home hero Neuville in charge
It was dominant. It was controlled. It was ruthless.
Walk around the Grote Markt service park in beautiful Ypres town center before the start and there were few dissenters that Belgian Thierry Neuville would pick up a victory he and the home fans have been waiting for.
Hyundai Motorsport teammates Ott Tänak and Craig Breen both led briefly, but once Neuville took the lead on Friday afternoon’s first stage, the writing was on the wall.
He and Breen battled it out until mid-morning Saturday, by which time the two i20 World Rally Cars were more than half a minute ahead of the Toyota Gazoo Racing trio of Elfyn Evans, Kalle Rovanperä and Sebastien Ogier.
With a 1-2 on the line and a significant boost to Neuville’s championship challenge on the cards, the fight was called off and he sailed through the final day at the Spa-Francorchamps racing circuit, near his home in the Ardennes.
Video: Winner’s stage Ypres Rally Belgium 2021
2. Wydaeghe’s Delight
As Neuville celebrated his 14th WRC victory, stepping onto the top step of a WRC podium was a new experience for his co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe.
It should have happened almost a few months earlier when the duo led Safari Rally Kenya, only for their suspension to collapse on the final day and send them into retirement.
It is fitting, then, that victory ultimately came on the Flemish roads of northwest Belgium, where Wydaeghe is from.
“Maybe it’s part of fate,” he smiled afterwards. “I firmly believe that things come as they should come.
“We are also very proud to share this moment with the Belgian fans. Since the beginning of the year we had a lot of support from them, so it was nice to celebrate together and to celebrate our cooperation with the victory in Ypres was something wonderful.
3. Toyota’s consolation scrap
Whether it was Hyundai’s weekend was underlined by the fact that Neuville, Breen and Tänak won 15 of the 19 stages together.
After a puncture relegated Tänak and ruined Hyundai’s hopes of a top-three lockout, Toyota’s quartet had to fight each other for the final step of the podium.
The four-car train was reduced to two when Takamoto Katsuta first crashed, then Ogier punctured. Remain Rovanperä and Evans. The young Finn eventually claimed the spoils after swapping places with the Welshman throughout the event.
Video: Review of Ypres Rally Belgium 2021
4. Belgium bites
Ypres came with a reputation for punishing mistakes. Large roadside ditches swallow wayward cars that stray off-line, and huge wooden power poles are no less forgiving. Many ignored the warnings.
Katsuta and rookie co-driver Keaton Williams escaped unscathed when they hit a bump in a fast corner that threw their Yaris into a ditch. He spun through the air and hit a pole before landing hard.
Adrien Fourmaux exited after cutting an embankment and launching his Ford Fiesta into a huge aerial spin. M-Sport Ford teammates Gus Greensmith and Pierre Louis-Loubet also dropped their cars in the ditches.
5. Thermal Oasis
Spa-Francorchamps is one of the big meetings on the Formula 1 calendar and its legendary corners graced the rally during two tests on the final day.
In a classic section, the riders plunged downhill into the fast Eau Rouge bend before soaring uphill into the equally fast Raidillon right-hander – much to Neuville’s delight.
“I really enjoyed the part on the race track because the grip was very high and you have to adapt your driving because our cars are very soft and high and groan a little too much. It makes you slide at high speeds. was great fun,” he enthused.
• Full coverage of Ypres Rally Belgium will be available on WRC+ All Live hereincluding every stage broadcast as you go along with key interviews, reports and expert analysis from the service park