Gastaldi confident Austria will suit Lotus

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After a disappointing showing in the last two races, Federico Gastaldi is confident that Lotus will bounce back in Austria at the Red Bull Ring next weekend.

The team principal was left cursing his bad luck after both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado were forced to retire from last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, with both sniffing at the points. In Monaco, Grosjean did finish in eighth place, but the team could have fared far better had it not been for an early incident.

“We have potential which is still to be fulfilled,” Gastaldi said. “Canada was a kick where it hurts for everyone at the team but we took stock, identified the issues and have taken action to avoid any repeats.

“The last thing you want is both cars sat in the garage at the end of a race, but that’s what we had. Thankfully it is very rare for us.”

In fact, it was Maldonado’s third retirement in seven races, and the Venezuelan remains rooted to the bottom of the drivers’ standings.

Nevertheless, Gastaldi believes that the fast-flowing nature of the Red Bull Ring – which hosts F1 for the first time since 2003 next weekend – should suit the E22 car.

“Monaco and Montréal were both races which didn’t play to our strengths and additionally we had reliability problems at both of them,” he explained. “Austria looks to be more positive in terms of its potential for us, as well as the next few races too. We’re making improvements all the time so we can tackle all the aspects which cause us a challenge.”

Lotus may be a long way off its 2013 form, but with eight points in the board, it has in fact exceeded many early expectations after a disastrous pre-season testing period. Now, the focus will be on gradually cutting the gap to the top ten and picking up a few more points to move ahead of Toro Rosso in the constructors’.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”