WRC - Hyundai strengthens podium hold and attains milestone in Mexico
Neuville holds third place with just two stages left to run this weekend
Hyundai Motorsport has its sights set on a first podium of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) after Belgian crew Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul strengthened their grasp on third position on Saturday.
It was a far more positive day of rallying for Hyundai Motorsport after a frustrating Friday prevented the team from mounting a stronger challenge for the outright lead.
Hayden Paddon put yesterday’s difficulties behind him to move up to a top-five position overall, while Dani Sordo holds a solid top-eight position after 17 of the weekend’s 19 stages.
The penultimate day of Rally Mexico, the third round of the season, was the busiest of the weekend with stages covering a total distance of 157.57km. A repeat loop of three stages was followed by two more runs at the Autódromo de León with a special street stage, Feria de León, bringing Saturday’s action to a thrilling conclusion.
For Hyundai Motorsport, Saturday’s schedule heralded a milestone moment as the team registered the 100th stage win in its WRC history with victory in SS9 (Media Luna 1).
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul claimed a stage win on the first run through the legendary El Brinco (SS11 – 10.09km) to move closer to their first top-three finish of 2017. The Belgian duo has a one-minute advantage over Ott Tanak in fourth place with just two stages remaining.
Neuville said: “First of all, I’d like to thank all the guys for an outstanding job in preparing the car for today’s stages. The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC worked really well and it’s great to retain our podium position with two tests remaining. The morning loop went without incident. Our pace notes were perhaps a bit slow in places and some parts were quite tricky. Our tyre choice for the afternoon was maybe not ideal but we made it through and our aim now is to secure the podium with, hopefully, some Power Stage points. ”
Crew Notes: Paddon/Kennard (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard look set for their best result of 2017 to date after moving into the top-five overall. Chasing down the Toyota of Juho Hänninen, the Kiwi pair not only moved ahead after the first run through El Brinco on Saturday morning, but also extended their lead over sixth place by more than one minute.
Paddon commented: “The team did a great job to fix the car after our engine misfire issues on Friday. It’s never easy to respond to pressured situations but they did just that, and I have generally felt comfortable in the car. We had an issue towards the end of the morning loop, in El Brinco, where we slid wide on a right-handed just 2km from the end. We hit a rock that caused an instant puncture. Apart from that, though, it’s been a more positive day. Patience has rewarded us with fifth place so far but we need to find more speed. We have time to study things tonight and make some improvements for tomorrow.”
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
The Spanish crew of Sordo and Marc Martí bounced back in style to score the team’s 100th stage win in WRC on SS9 before adding the 101st just one stage later. The results helped them move up to eighth overall. The penalty, imposed for an apparent infringement on Friday’s super special, was overturned, allowing the crew to remain on equal terms with their nearest rivals.
Sordo said: “I was pleased that our penalty from yesterday was overturned. It meant we could focus on just getting the best out of the car and ourselves. I tried to do well and the feeling from our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC was very good. I was honoured to take the team’s 100th stage win this morning, and to take two stage wins in total. It shows just what we are capable of. The afternoon loop was not quite as clean. I picked up a flat tyre on the road section before the second run through Lajas de Oro, which meant we had to change to a worn tyre. It was a bit rushed, but we made it through the day and we’ll do all we can to reduce our deficit to the top-six in Sunday’s final two stages.”
After three WRC seasons and almost three rallies of the 2017 Championship, Hyundai Motorsport has registered its 100th stage win. The fact that the team’s three crews have already amassed 19 stage victories this season demonstrates the versatility and competitiveness of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. The team is hopeful that a Mexican podium might unlock better fortunes in the remaining ten rounds of 2017.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “On the whole, it has been a more satisfying day today. Despite the tough itinerary, with 157km of special stages, we have experienced no issues with our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars. We worked hard to identify and fix the issues from Friday, and the response from our crews has been spot on. We can’t lose focus now, even with just two stages left. They will prove decisive to this weekend’s results and we all have our eyes set on a podium finish on Sunday.”
Sunday at a glance
Two stages are left to contest in Mexico: the new 32.96km La Calera test and the 21.94km Derramadero Power Stage on Sunday morning.
Anything can still happen with 54.90km competitive stages remaining, but crews will hope to end the rally with a flourish – and some Power Stage points.