After a difficult start to the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Hyundai Motorsport is ready to reassert its credentials as Championship contenders at Rally Mexico, the third event of this year’s campaign.
The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC has already displayed rally-winning potential in the opening rounds of the season in Monte-Carlo and Sweden. In the two events to date, the team claimed thirteen stage wins in total, in addition to ten power stage points across all three of its crews.
The team will once again field a three-car entry into the rally with Hayden Paddon returning in the #4 car, Thierry Neuville, who claimed Hyundai Motorsport’s first-ever WRC podium at Rally Mexico in 2014, in the #5 and Dani Sordo, in the #6.
Coming off the back of the coldest event on the WRC calendar, the crews will have to adapt quickly to the much warmer Mexican climate, in what is one of only three rallies to be held outside of Europe. In addition to the hotter temperatures, one of the largest challenges posed by the event is the altitude, with some stages being run at nearly 3,000m above sea level.
With testing prohibited outside of Europe, the team carried out a five-day test in the Granada region of Spain to prepare for Mexico. All three crews had time in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in conditions that replicate those expected next weekend. The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC’s engine has been put through its paces on the dyno in a bid to minimise the impact of the lower oxygen levels on the higher stages, which can reduce engine power.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “Mexico is without a doubt one of the toughest events on the schedule with the altitude and massively different climate to our last event in Sweden. These conditions will push the drivers and the cars to the limit, but we are happy with the work that we have done to prepare for this rally. Obviously the last couple of events have been difficult for us but we cannot dwell on that. We know what the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is capable of and we have seen our ability to challenge for the win. We are confident that we can come back strongly in Mexico, where we memorably scored our first ever WRC podium in 2014.”
Crew Notes: Paddon/Kennard (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard will be hoping to compete for their first podium finish of the season on the Mexican gravel. They achieved a top-five finish in the event twelve months ago, scoring a Power Stage point at the rally’s conclusion. They will be hoping to pick up from there next weekend.
Paddon commented: “I’m looking forward to Rally Mexico. It feels like a long time since we’ve been on gravel and rallying outside of Europe. It’s an event with a nice atmosphere with passionate fans and enjoyable roads. The altitude is a key characteristic of this rally. We have to adjust the car and ourselves to the conditions. We have to make sure that we put in the extra effort so that we’re fully prepared. Maintaining hydration levels in the hotter conditions is obviously important too. We’re going to try everything that we can to put in a solid performance and to secure a positive result.”
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Neuville and Belgian co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul want to bounce back after a harsh run of results so far this season. Having led for extended periods in Monte-Carlo and Sweden, the crew heads to Mexico hoping to build on the impressive pace that they have displayed in the opening two rounds.
Neuville commented: “Mexico is a unique event and one which brings back happy memories of the team’s first WRC podium back in 2014. It is the first hot event of the season, which combined with the fact that the event takes place at such a high altitude, makes it special. It’s an enjoyable rally; we can really push because of the knowledge and experience we have from the previous seasons. We are confident that we can perform well. The car has already demonstrated what it can do in Monte and Sweden, so we have to go out there and show what we know we are capable of. We’re determined to fight back!”
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
The Spanish pairing of Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí just missed out on a podium finish in Mexico last season, so will be aiming to rectify that this season. The duo enjoyed a solid run to fourth in Sweden but the gravel terrain and fiesta feel of Rally Mexico could allow them to go one better next weekend.
Sordo said: “I am excited about Rally Mexico because it is the first gravel event of the year and for our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. Thanks to the additional power that is present in the new car, it should be an even more spectacular rally than normal, as usually we would expect the performance to drop slightly as a result of the altitude. Making the transition from wintry conditions in Sweden to the warmer climate of Mexico is all part of life in the WRC. We have spent time preparing for the change, with the most important process being adapting our bodies. I am confident we can put ourselves in the podium fight.”
Rally Mexico 2017 at a Glance
The season’s first non-European and gravel event, Rally Mexico will take place over 19 stages and a competitive distance of 393.8km. The service park remains in sun-drenched León, around 400km north of Mexico City, with some of the warmest temperatures facing the crews being encountered in this area.
The event will get underway with a Super Special Stage at Mexico City’s Zócalo main square – known for its appearance during the opening scene of the James Bond film Spectre – with more than 200,000 fans expected to attend. Friday’s itinerary see the crews take to the stunning scenery and thin air of the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains, before descending back down to the very depths for the Rally’s famous underground stage through former silver mine tunnels.
The rest of the weekend will see the action return to the León region, featuring new stages at Lajas de Oro on Saturday and La Calera on Sunday. Sunday’s live TV Power Stage at Derramadero will bring the event to a close.