Hermann Neubauer’s return to the FIA European Rally Championship has ended in disappointment, being forced to retire from the Azores Airlines Rallye after a heavy accident in yesterday’s Vila Franca / São Brás stage.
Thursday’s tricky 17 kilometre stage caught out several drivers, with Neubauer the first thanks to his position as third in the road order. He crashed within 500 metres of the finish line, and while both he and co-driver Bernhard Ettel were uninjured, his Ford Fiesta R5 sustained significant enough body damage for stewards to exclude them from restarting in leg two.
Neubauer explained that he had been driving conservatively throughout the stage, and incorrect pace-notes were to blame for the incident.
“It was not a driving mistake, we were really smooth and easy on the road, far away from the absolute limit,” said Neubauer.
“But then there came this slight crest and I noticed immediately [making the corner] wouldn’t work. Usually you would write there ‘brake’ or ‘brake early’, but we did not have that in writing.
“I remember the place exactly [from the recce]. A farmer came to meet us on the tractor, then we were in traffic; with those distractions you can make a tiny mistake in the notes which has big consequences.
“That was unfortunately the case. The ERC is a different level. However, that does not remove my own responsibility [for what happened].”
Despite the early exit and damage incurred to his Fiesta R5, Neubauer was already focused on his return to ERC action.
“I’m sorry for the team, who worked so hard. We’ll look forward and fix it for next time at Rally Islas Canarias.”