There seemed to be a sense of inevitability about Thierry Neuville’s monumental accident in last weekend’s inaugural Rally of Chile.
Leading the World Rally Championship before the event, and the series’ runner-up four times previously, Neuville is seemingly at the top of his game.
Yet close observers of the WRC, and avid viewers of the championship’s WRC All Live coverage, would be well aware that the Belgian has ridden his luck over the past couple of years.
All the top drivers have near misses in every rally, and perhaps Neuville’s were just more alarming than his rivals. Yet one gets the sense that he’s been on the fortunate side of “the big one” more often than others
His luck – if that’s what it is – ran out big time in Chile.
Running wide on a slight right hander, his Hyundai i20 barrel-rolled seven times, landing on its side and forcing the cancelation of the stage.
Fortunately, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul emerged relatively unscathed, but had it not been for the incredible safety of the current day WRC cars, the result may have been a lot different.
Surprisingly, it’s a rare occurrence that a top line WRC driver has such a big accident.
Kris Meeke’s crash into the trees in Portugal last year is the most recent, and we all remember Ott Tanak’s plunge into a Mexican dam, and Jari-Matti Latvala’s flight off a Portugal mountainside in his Ford Focus.
But these incidents are a lot rarer than you’d expect.
How Neuville bounces back from this accident will be the next big question to be answered.
Mikko Hirvonen – another driver who finished second in the WRC more times than he’ll care to remember – had a similarly huge crash in his native Finland in 2010.
According to Finns in the know, Hirvonen was never quite the same after that shunt. And it’s easy to see why.
Whether Neuville can put the accident to the back of his mind, or whether it hampers his speed – consciously or sub-consciously – may be the key factor in whether the talented Belgian salutes from the top step of the podium come season’s end, or whether he drifts back into the chasing pack.
On that note, it could well be ‘advantage Ogier and Tanak’.