As much speculated and anticipated, it happened. Belgian bullet Thierry Neuville has been confirmed by the Korean car manufacturer Hyundai, for its car number 1 seat in the upcoming debut season of its new spec WRC car, Hyundai i20.
Almost since a month, the Belgian was spotted in the Hyundai campus, and various news and rumours were lingering around ever since. And since the official statement being made, it is pretty transparent. Thierry Neuville, who started his career in the WRC car last season in Citroen Junior World Rally Team and showed his potential. He displayed a stunning speed and brave driving style for a debut WRC driver, but it was the consistency that he had lacked. But his pace setting run in this season, the Belgian was offered a seat by the French team, and the outcome of the meeting was quite obvious in the last weekend's speech by its team principal, Yves Matton.
After moving to M-Sport's base this year, in the newly formed Qatar based World Rally Team, Thierry quickly settled down and started delivering what he really does his best. However, his real performances came to light after the mid-season break, where he came close atleast twice to win an event, but perhaps it was his rookie status that evaded his quest for immediate glory. His results were so strong, that he almost overshadowed his team-mates in QMWRT.
He currently holds a strong second overall with just the finale at Rally GB to happen. Let's hear, what he and his new boss-to-be Michel Nandan had to say during the announcement.
"I believe Hyundai Motorsport is the perfect fit for me because it is a young, emerging and ambitious manufacturer team with long-term objectives for championship success and I have long held aspirations of driving for a manufacturer team," Neuville said. "I was impressed with the team's facility, their approach to the rally programme and their clear potential. I hope my two years of experience in WRC will be beneficial to the team as we build a harmonious working partnership. We know we have a steep learning curve ahead of us in our first season but I am convinced we will have a successful future together."
Hyundai team principal Michel Nandan said, "Thierry is having a fantastic 2013 season and is proving himself to be one of the most exciting young drivers in WRC." He gladly mentioned that signing Neuville reflects Hyundai's long-term ambitions in this [WRC] top level sport.
"His raw speed, driving skill and dynamic approach to rallying make him the ideal lead driver for Hyundai," added Nandan, "By signing a driver of Thierry's talent, we can show that Hyundai's WRC engagement is serious and focused on long-term success. It is also great recognition for the work that the entire team has carried out in such a short time."
It was no-doubt that M-Sport was sad to lose Neuville, especially to its competitor and managing director Malcolm Wilson unquestionably admitted that losing Neuville was a serious blow to the team's future plans, especially when he was yielding results like it ought to be.
Malcom said, "we are obviously disappointed that Thierry has made the decision to go to Hyundai after a strong performance from all the team this year. However, now that he has made the decision, our focus turns to Wales Rally GB and securing his second position in the drivers' championship."
Malcom also mentioned, "Once this goal is achieved we will then re-direct our attention to the 2014 season. We are speaking to a number of drivers about potential options. M-Sport has a strong history of developing drivers in the WRC and we look forward to announcing our 2014 programme in the near future."
In two competing seasons in the World Rally Championship, Neuville has contested a total of 32 rallies. He finished seventh in the 2012 championship, which acted as a prelude to a championship challenging 2013 season in which he has so far claimed four consecutive runner-up results (Italy, Finland, Germany and Australia), in addition to two third-place finishes (Mexico, Greece), leaving him second in the WRC standings with just one rally left to run.
This is still not just the end of the shuffle, but just the beginning of the game of musical chair. Citroen is certainly not happy of loosing its numero-uno status to the new-comer and newly titled champions. We believe it would start to unravel once the dirt and muck kicks up and settles down for a while at Wales in all about less than a fortnight from now.