Hyundai Motorsport has seen its hopes of fighting for the FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers’ title completely eradicated after another hugely disappointing result in Rally de España.
Following a double retirement for Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen on Saturday afternoon, it was Thierry Neuville who suffered misfortune on the final morning. The Belgian was forced to stop at the end of SS16 (Santa Marina) after sustaining damage to the front right of his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC after cutting a corner.
It was a bitter blow for the team in both championships, as the non-score drops Neuville to third place in the drivers’ standings behind M-Sport duo Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tanak.
Sordo and Mikkelsen both re-joined under Rally 2 regulations on Sunday morning but were classified down the order. The result means that Hyundai Motorsport has 275 points in the Manufacturers’ Championship, an 83-point deficit to M-Sport with two rounds remaining and 86 points up for grabs.
Sunday morning saw crews tackle six stages – a repeat loop of the 6.28km L’Albiol, 16.35km Riudecanyes and 14.50km Santa Marina tests – with no mid-leg service. The second run through Santa Marina acted as the rally’s Power Stage with drivers vying for extra points. Home hero Sordo showcased what might have been this weekend with a determined Power Stage victory, securing himself five consolatory points.
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí had enjoyed exceptional pace at times during their home rally, setting several top-two stage times on gravel and tarmac, as well as the Power Stage win. It was just one misjudged corner on Saturday afternoon that derailed their podium challenge this weekend.
Sordo said: “There are plenty of positive things to take away from this weekend, especially the Power Stage win, which was a nice consolation. For me, the car has been handling really nicely. Sure, there are some things we can still improve but I have felt comfortable and the stage times have been generally good. There has been just one negative thing – but unfortunately it was a really big one! I am really sorry for the team, the spectators and of course for myself that such a stupid error has cost us heavily this weekend. We will come back from this more strongly, I am sure. These things can happen in rallying.”
Crew Notes: Mikkelsen / Jæger (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Mikkelsen and co-driver Anders Jæger have certainly turned heads in their first weekend as a Hyundai Motorsport crew. Setting the standard on Friday’s gravel stages, the Norwegian duo experienced a steeper learning curve when they moved onto tarmac. Even a broken windscreen on Sunday morning didn’t prevent them from seeing the positive progress they have made in Spain.
Mikkelsen said: “It has been an eventful weekend for us but one that has generated a lot of positives. Our gravel pace on Friday was good, and it was a nice feeling to lead in our first event with Hyundai Motorsport. We need some more time in the car on tarmac to get the best feeling but we’ve made important progress over the past two days. We couldn’t really find the confidence to push today. We had to drive SS15 with the bonnet open after we didn’t secure it properly after removing the light pods following the dark early morning stage, and that also cracked the windscreen. Even so, we have been able to try some new things and to find a good direction for the future. It is very useful to have these three events to get as prepared as we can for next season.”
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
For Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, any hopes of a podium charge were hampered on Saturday morning following a hydraulics issue. However, the Belgians were still targeting a top-five finish when disaster struck on SS16. Suffering front-right damage after taking a slow corner too tightly, and with no service, the crew was forced to retire, severely denting their Championship aspirations.
Neuville said: “We are obviously hugely disappointed, but at the same time this sort of bad luck is part of the game in the World Rally Championship. After our problems on Saturday, we were pushing hard this morning to make up time. Unfortunately, I turned a bit too tightly in a slow corner in SS16 and hit something that damaged the wheel, and caused the front suspension to break. That was it, game over. Of course, this result makes things much more difficult in the Drivers’ Championship, but we have to keep both feet on the ground. We have had a fantastic season on the whole. The team has put in a great effort to give me a fast car. This just hasn’t been our weekend. Now we want to finish the season with some good results in GB and Australia.”
Small glimmer of hope
Hyundai Motorsport is determined to learn from its frustrating Spanish rally. The team will regroup back at its factory in Alzenau to make improvements for the two remaining rounds of the championship – and for 2018.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “This has been a difficult weekend for the whole team, and certainly not an acceptable one. We asked the drivers to give everything this weekend, which they have done. There have been some positives in amongst the disappointment. Dani has been on the pace, as expected in his home event, and has been generally happy with the handling of his car. His performance in the Power Stage really showed his true potential here. However, we have seen we have to improve on tarmac so we will continue to work on this area for the future. There is still a small glimmer of hope for Thierry in the Drivers’ Championship, but we have to accept that the Manufacturers’ title is all but over for us now.”
The FIA World Rally Championship now moves to the gravel challenges of Wales Rally GB, the penultimate round of the season, which takes place 26-29 October. Hyundai Motorsport will contest the event with a four-car entry. Neuville, Mikkelsen and Hayden Paddon will be joined by Sordo.
Final Overall Classification - Rally de España
|1||K. Meeke||P. Nagle||Citroën C3 WRC||3:01:21.1|
|2||S. Ogier||J. Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||+28.0|
|3||O. Tänak||M. Järveoja||Ford Fiesta WRC||+33.0|
|4||J. Hänninen||K. Lindström||Toyota Yaris WRC||+54.1|
|5||M. Østberg||T. Eriksen||Ford Fiesta WRC||+2:26.2|