It was a victory celebration quite like any other Thierry Neuville had experienced. Or, quite probably, ever will again. When he won the Rallye des Crêtes last year, it was a big moment. A big moment in a small car.
Announced as winner of this round of a provincial Belgian series round, Neuville was driven into a room packed with adoring fans. He was sitting on the roof of an Opel Corsa. The revs built and beneath him, arguably the biggest burn-out ever achieved by a Corsa took place.
The event was the second stage event he ever started in his career. The Opel was the car he started the event in.
Twelve years on, Neuville had located and bought the Corsa he competed in for the very first time.
Outwardly, the car was identical. Beneath the skin, the now Hyundai Motorsport star had made the odd modification.
“We found a kit car engine for it,” said Neuville. “It was a very rare engine with 210bhp, so a bit faster than when I started. We also made some other changes to the car. It’s not the same like it was, it’s more of a hybrid.”
Among the other changes was the shift to a sequential gearbox.
Neuville took the car to the Legend Boucles de Bastogne in 2018 and 2019.
“I love that rally,” he said. “I love the atmosphere from the rally and the people around it. We drove there with a Porsche 911 [in 2017], but when I went back it was a good time to go with my old car. We went and had a lot of fun showing the car to the fans.”
First time around, the Opel Corsa didn’t last long. Into 2008 and Neuville switched to a Suzuki Swift and Ford Fiesta ST. It was with the Blue Oval that he scored his maiden class win on the Rally de Wallonie. Two years on and he was making his mark on the FIA Junior WRC with a Citroën C2 R2 Max and ran second on his debut at Rally Turkey before a transmission problem forced him out.
Two rounds later, he was winning the Junior WRC at Rally Bulgaria.
Four years further down the road and he broke his duck at the highest level. Victory at the 2014 ADAC Rallye Deutschland was another chapter in a book which began with the Opel Corsa.