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.
Hyundai Motorsport has brought an action-packed Rally Mexico to a positive conclusion as all three Hyundai i20 WRC cars finished the gruelling 21-stage event, successfully tackling some of the season’s most demanding stages in the process. Dani Sordo (#8 Hyundai i20 WRC) battled through the pain barrier on Sunday to secure a satisfying fifth-place finish, scoring valuable Manufacturer points to help Hyundai Motorsport keep its second place in the standings. The Spaniard, who was forced to miss Rally Sweden after sustaining injuries in a pre-event training accident, returned to rally action for one of the season’s physically most demanding events. Alongside co-driver Marc Martí, Sordo put in a heroic performance, claiming a stage win in Saturday’s SS13 (El Brinco) and scoring his best result of the season to date.
Sordo quote: “I have really enjoyed this weekend and being back with the team. I have felt at ease with the car this weekend and the performance was competitive on most of the stages. We were able to set some good times, including a stage win on Saturday, but we also had a few issues to contend with along the way – which is quite normal in this tough rally. Physically, I have felt ok most of the time but I started to feel some pain after the long Guanajuatito stage this morning. To come away from this rally with a top-five result is very good, and great that we have been able to add some important points for the Manufacturers’ Championship. I look forward to building on this for Argentina.”
Thierry Neuville (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC) and Hayden Paddon (#20 Hyundai i20 WRC) both made the most of their Saturday morning restart under Rally 2 conditions to complete the event with no further issues. Neuville, who was one of the fastest men on the opening day with two stage wins, fought back superbly from his Friday roll, to claim eighth place overall. He put in a particularly eye-catching performance in Sunday’s monster 55.82km Guanajuatito stage, the longest stage of the rally. He then took a stage win in the SS20 Derramadero stage before finishing third in the final El Brinco stage to take an important Power Stage point.
Neuville commented: “Our objective today was to push to the maximum in the final stages. The long Guanajuatito stage was perfect; we had to manage the brakes but I took the jump flat out at 190kph and we set a good time. We then took a great stage win and third in the Power Stage to finish in eighth overall, so I am happy. The car has been competitive this weekend so it is a shame that the roll we had on Friday prevented us from capitalising on that. Nonetheless, the team has done a good job this weekend so it has been important for us to salvage some points today. Our stage wins on Friday and today, and strong performances in other stages, show what our potential was this weekend. Still, it is good for us to have a three car finish and keep our second place in the Championship considering the demands of this rally.”
Hayden Paddon (#20 Hyundai i20 WRC) and co-driver John Kennard have been on the back foot ever since a small off during Friday’s El Chocolate stage forced them to retire and re-join under Rally 2. The Kiwi crew were then first on the road on Saturday, which hampered any progress, but they made a clear step forward on Sunday as they improved their feeling in the car on Mexico’s unique stages.
Paddon said: “It’s been an eventful rally for us but I think there are plenty of positive things for us to take away. The car has been good. Coming into today’s final stages, I watched the on-boards from my team-mates last night and I learned a few valuable things about my driving which I can now take forward to Argentina. The final stage today pretty much summed up the weekend for us after I was caught out under braking early on in the stage, but we have still got lots of mileage this weekend and built up a good bank of experience in these stages, which was the main target, so I’m reasonably happy.”
Hyundai Motorsport continues to hold second place in the Manufacturers’ Championship following a determined and professional performance in Rally Mexico. Four stage wins and a Power Stage point gives the team a lot of encouragement heading to the next event in Rally Argentina, but everyone is aware of the work still required to keep up the pace with the front-runners. Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “All in all, it has been a busy and gruelling rally but the team has worked exceptionally well to cope with the tough conditions we have faced in Mexico. The performance of the Hyundai i20 WRC cars met our expectations for this event, where the high altitude can really affect the car’s behaviour; I am satisfied that our hard work in this area paid off. Dani did a good job in his first rally back from injury and showed a real determination to perform at the highest level. Fifth place is a good result and, with Thierry in eighth, gives us more Manufacturer Points. Thierry set some strong stage times this weekend, and this was perfectly highlighted with third in the Power Stage. The puncture and subsequent roll on Friday stopped him from mounting a podium challenge this weekend. Hayden, too, was unfortunate on Friday and was hurt by an early road position on Saturday. He showed the usual professionalism and fight, making a breakthrough in today’s final stages. We have a lot to be happy with, a lot still to work on but we hope that Rally Argentina will show another improvement in our overall team performance against tough opposition.”
Overall Unofficial Final Classification
1. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 4:19:13.4
2. M. Østberg / J. Andersson (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:18.8
3. A. Mikkelsen / O. Floene (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:25.1
4. E. Evans / D. Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:40.2
5. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai i20 WRC) +5:01.8
6. M. Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:36.1
7. N. Al-Attiyah / M. Baumel (Ford Fiesta RRC) +14:52.7
8. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +22:43.3
9. N. Fuchs / F. Mussano (Ford Fiesta R5) +22:49.0
10. J. Ketomaa / K. Lindstrom (Ford Fiesta R5) +23:10.2
17. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +54:20.5
2015 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
S. Ogier 81 points / A. Mikkelsen 47 / T. Neuville 35 / M. Østberg 32 / E. Evans 26 / J.M. Latvala 19 / D. Sordo 18 / M. Prokop 14 / O. Tanak 12 / H. Paddon 10 / K. Meeke 10 / S. Loeb 6 / N. Al-Attyiah 6 / Y. Protasov 2 / N. Fuchs 2 / J. Ketomaa 1
2015 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
Volkswagen Motorsport 99 points / Hyundai Motorsport 75 / M-Sport World Rally Team 48 / Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 42 / Jipocar Czech National Team 20 / Volkswagen Motorsport II 15 / Hyundai Motorsport N 3 / FWRT SRL 1