Neuville had closed to within 10.5s of Evans and looked set to offer the Toyota driver stern challenge for victory before his rally unravelled on stage six (Inabu Dam, 19.38km).
The Belgian had survived horrendous wet conditions across the morning stages before taking 15s out of Evans on stage five. However, a compression in the road at the first corner of stage six resulted in a heavy impact with trees, which ended hopes of denying Toyota a victory on home soil for the second year in succession.
“I was a bit too optimistic in that compression and I hit the sump guard, and it threw me out of the line,” Neuville told Motorsport.com. “So it was very unfortunate, but that is it.”
Sordo will be unable to rejoin the event in the third i20 N for the second successive season after a fire gutted his car on the opening stage of Friday’s leg last year.
Reflecting on Neuville’s shunt, Abiteboul felt his impatience had got the better of him.
“Thierry was able to navigate around all of the challenges of the morning and his motivation was high when the afternoon loop started in better conditions,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.
“We were all very impressed with his first stage of the afternoon, which cut the gap by 15s to Elfyn.
“He was probably a bit too much in a rush to recover the gap to Elfyn which led to a mistake and a misjudgement of the speed to tackle that compression.
Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport
Cyril Abiteboul, Team principal Hyundai World Rally Team, Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team
“It is what it is. But it is tough losing two cars, and Esapekka is not feeling well at all at this rally and is clearly struggling with confidence after a bad stint of events that he has been through lately, so it is difficult.
“Thierry was very clear arriving here that it was almost victory or nothing. There was nothing at stake in the championship, so I think he wanted to get that victory for him and the team and finish on a high.
“This always means that risk will be taken and we probably took a bit too much risk.”
While convinced of Neuville’s ability behind the wheel, Abiteboul is keen to understand if there is more the team can do to help limit mistakes in the future.
“He is capable of surprising…