Thierry Neuville kept calm in the heat of a furious fight to win Rally Sweden for Hyundai on Sunday and take the lead in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Belgian became only the third non-Nordic driver to win the calendar's only pure winter rally and end an agonising 12-month wait after crashing out of a comfortable lead last year.

The win was Neuville’s first since Kennards Hire Rally Australia last November. Off-setting a disappointing result on the season-opener in Monte-Carlo three weeks ago, it also put him at the top of the drivers’ standings – ahead of Sébastien Ogier - and the factory Hyundai squad first in the manufacturers’ competition.

He overcame an electrical glitch with his Hyundai's gearshift, a lurid spin into a snow bank and extreme pressure from the chasing pack to win the four-day encounter on snow and ice-covered forest roads by 19.8sec.

"It's an incredible weekend. We didn't expect to be so fast over here this year, but the team and the car gave us the chance to fight for victory. We deserved it last year, even more this year," Neuville said. He finally broke clear of his pursuers on Saturday afternoon and, with five stage wins to his credit, eased through Sunday's final three tests to head Ireland's Craig Breen, driving a Citroën C3, for whom second was a career-best result.

Breen climbed to second on Saturday morning when Andreas Mikkelsen spun at the same point as Neuville. He kept his composure to hold off the Norwegian, teammate to the rally winner, by 8.5sec. Esapekka Lappi hounded Neuville early on until he plunged down the order after burying his Toyota Yaris in a snow bank. He fought back and gained two places in the final three stages to finish fourth, 17.5sec adrift of Mikkelsen.

A final stage mistake from Hayden Paddon made life easier for Lappi. Although capturing two stage wins in his season return for Hyundai, the Kiwi stalled his i20 a couple of kilometres from the finish and trailed the Finn by 8.6sec. After only a day's pre-event testing, Mads Østberg was sixth on his debut drive in a C3. The Norwegian ran as high as second but slid down the order as unfamiliarity with the car and a lack of confidence in its set-up cost time.

Jari-Matti Latvala, who delivered Toyota Gazoo Racing a fairytale win last season on only the Japanese manufacturer's second rally back at the top level after a 17-year absence, was seventh after being delayed by a troublesome front differential and adverse road conditions. Fellow Finn Teemu Suninen was seventh in a Ford Fiesta and the leading M-Sport World Rally Team driver after the squad, which headed the manufacturers' standings after Rallye Monte-Carlo, endured a nightmare weekend.

Ott Tänak and Monte-Carlo winner Sébastien Ogier dropped big chunks of time in Friday's opening leg as they ploughed a path through deep snow. Ogier won the most stages overall, six, but neither he nor his world champion M-Sport teammate could regain lost ground, finishing ninth and 11th respectively.

The WRC tackles dramatically different conditions when it continues at the high-altitude Rally Guanajuato Mexico on 8-11 March. The gravel event based in León, 330 kilometres north of Mexico City, will see the return of nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb in the first of three 2018 cameos with the Citroën World Rally Team.

Final outright final standings, Rally Sweden (WRC round 2):

  1. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 2h52.13.1s
  2. Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +19.8s
  3. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +28.3s
  4. Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +45.8s
  5. Hayden Paddon/Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +54.4s
  6. Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 WRC) +1m15.3s
  7. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2m04.9s
  8. Teeu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m52.2s
  9. Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3m44.4s
  10. Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +5m27.4s

Fresh from its podium finish in the season-opening round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) at Monte-Carlo, Hyundai Motorsport moves to Sweden where it will compete with three New Generation i20 WRC cars for the first time. The New Generation i20 WRC made a successful debut at Rallye Monte-Carlo helping the team to take its first ever Monte stage wins as well as Power Stage points, and a third place finish. Hyundai Motorsport will now seek to put the New Generation i20 WRC through its paces on the snowy stages of Rally Sweden, where the team secured its debut podium of the 2015 season twelve months ago, with a three-car entry.

Monte-Carlo podium men Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul will return to the #3 car driving for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team and will be joined by Kiwis Hayden Paddon and John Kennard in the #4 car. Dani Sordo and Marc Martí will participate in their first ever Rally Sweden as Hyundai Motorsport drivers this season, and will represent the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team in a third New Generation i20 WRC.

Rally Sweden is the WRC’s only true winter round, though it was first run in 1950 as a summer event for 15 years. Since the WRC’s inaugural 1973 running, Sweden’s frozen roads lined with deep snow banks have been an iconic staple of the championship, with the conditions making for exhilarating competition.

Drivers expertly lean their cars against the snow banks to guide them around corners in a slingshot effect. In warmer temperatures, however, drivers must be wary as the banks disintegrate under pressure and catch cars, slowing or stopping them. New features for 2016 include the service park being situated at Karlstad Harbour, a more southerly location than its usual Hagfors airport base. Over a quarter of the special stage distance will be new compared to 2015, providing new challenges for the drivers. Service will be available only at the start and finish of each leg, emphasising to drivers the importance of a consistent approach, with Friday’s itinerary taking in a cross-border visit to Norway.

Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “We visit Sweden in good spirits following our podium in Monte-Carlo but we know this will be another learning experience for our New Generation i20 WRC. We will be running three new cars for the first time in this rally with Thierry and Hayden in the Hyundai Shell WRT, and Dani - in his first Sweden rally with our team - driving for the Hyundai Mobis WRT. We have some experience of the new car in snowy conditions thanks to our Sweden test in mid-December so we will put this to good use as we prepare for this second round of the Championship. We have a lot of nice memories from Sweden with Thierry’s podium last year a real highlight. We have also had good performances on the legendary Colin’s Crest jump, so we’ll see if we can make it three in a row for a Hyundai Motorsport driver this year! Our three driver crews are motivated following some encouraging performances in Monte-Carlo, so we head to Sweden in determined mood and hoping to be on pace with the front-runners from the outset.”

Neuville (#3 New Generation i20 WRC) took three stage wins and momentarily led Rally Sweden last year on his way to taking second overall. (SS18). The Belgian also laid claim to last year’s Colin’s Crest Award, breaking the record for the longest jump in the Vargåsen stage - a staggering 44m. He returns this year having already achieved a podium at the season-opener.

Neuville commented: “I have very good memories of Sweden, especially from last year when we were fighting for the win until the last stage and ultimately finishing on the podium. It was a great result for us so of course I’m really looking forward to this year’s event, especially with the new car. We had a pretty good start to this season with the New Generation i20 WRC, finding improvements from the car day by day. Taking stage wins and a podium in our first event with the new car was a nice feeling and I hope we can take this forward to Sweden. It could be a really strong event for us so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve.”

Paddon (#4 New Generation i20 WRC) will make his debut with the new car next weekend after a rally of learning in the 2015 specification i20 WRC in Monte-Carlo. The Kiwi had a strong run to fifth in Sweden last year and will be aiming to excel on familiar terrain.

Paddon commented: “Monte-Carlo was full of difficult days, exactly as I expected it to be, but it was a good learning experience. We can look back on a very productive weekend but now I’m looking forward to my first taste of the New Generation i20 WRC. The team made great progress with the new car in Monte-Carlo and it was a real boost for everyone to get a podium. Sweden is a rally I really enjoyed last year and I particularly like rallying on snow. We want to put up a good performance for the team and for ourselves, to try to push towards the top-five for a good result, maybe even on the podium. We had a good run last year and I hope we can have another strong result with the New Generation i20 WRC.”

Sordo (#20 New Generation i20 WRC) attends Rally Sweden for the first time as a Hyundai Motorsport driver, having missed 2015’s event through injury. The Spaniard is keen to improve on his Monte-Carlo result, where he finished sixth and took the team’s first Power Stage points of 2016.

Sordo said: “Sweden is a really nice event and it is really good fun. I like to drive in the snow flat-out, which is a really special sensation. I enjoy this event a lot and can’t wait for my first participation as a Hyundai Motorsport driver. The conditions can be a little bit complicated when there is not really a full covering of ice; when the snow is soft, there is not very much grip. When it is icy and really good conditions, you can push hard because it grips just as well as gravel. I am looking forward to Sweden and building on my experience in the New Generation i20 WRC after making sure I had a safe and reliable start to this season.”

This year’s Rally Sweden will cover 331.21km over 21 stages, starting with the traditional Super Special at the Karlstad trotting track on Thursday night where huge crowds will gather. Drivers will rally across two countries on Friday with a total of eight stages straddling Sweden and Norway.

Saturday will then feature drivers taking on the snowy forests of the renowned Hagfors region with two runs of the classic Rämmen (22.76km) and Vargåsen (24.70km) stages, the latter featuring the Colin’s Crest jump. The exhilarating Hagfors Sprint (1.87km) breaks up the day before it finishes with a repeat of the Karlstad Super Special. Sunday offers two passes of the Lesjöfors (15.00km) and Värmullsåsen (15.87km) stages, the latter run once as the rally’s Power Stage.

Hyundai Motorsport Crews' Info

New Generation i20 WRC #3 
Chassis number: 002
   
 

Thierry Neuville

Nicolas Gilsoul

DOB

16 June 1988

5 February 1982

First WRC event

2009, Rally Catalunya

2007, Rallye Monte-Carlo

WRC starts

60

55

WRC podiums

13

13

WRC wins

1

1

Rally Sweden starts

4

5

Rally Sweden previous results

2012: 12th, 2013: 5th, 2014: 28th, 2015: 2nd

2008: 30th (16th N4 class), 2012: 12th, 2013: 5th, 2014: 28th, 2015: 2nd

New Generation i20 WRC #4 
Chassis number: 001
   
 

Hayden Paddon

John Kennard

DOB

20 April 1987

11 February 1959

First WRC event

2007, Rally New Zealand

1985, Rally Finland

WRC starts

48

56

WRC podiums

1

2

WRC wins

-

-

Rally Sweden starts

2

2

Rally Sweden previous results

2012: 23rd (4th SWRC), 2015: 5th

2012: 23rd (4th SWRC), 2015: 5th

New Generation i20 WRC #20 
Chassis number: 003

   
 

Dani Sordo

Marc Martí

DOB

2 May 1983

1 October 1966

First WRC event

2003, Rally Catalunya

1992, Rally Catalunya

WRC starts

129

164

WRC podiums

38

44

WRC wins

1

3

Rally Sweden starts

6

7

Rally Sweden previous results

2006: 16th. 2007: 12th, 2008: 6th, 2010: 4th, 2012: Ret., 2013: Ret.

1998: 36th (6th A7 class), 2003: 9th, 2004: 5th, 2006: 16th, 2007: 12th, 2008: 6th, 2010: 4th

Fresh from a two-car finish in the top six at Rallye Monte-Carlo in January, Hyundai Motorsport heads to Rally Sweden with renewed optimism as it fields three cars for the first time this season. The team has been forced to make a last minute change to its driver line-up for Rally Sweden after Dani Sordo sustained injuries in a training accident on his mountain bike. The Spaniard will miss the event in order to rest and recover in time for Rally Mexico next month. Belgians Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC) registered a top five finish in Monte-Carlo to get their second season with Hyundai Shell World Rally Team off to a flying start. The duo will be joined by Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, who will now take control of the #8 car instead of the #20. Sweden will be the first of 12 WRC events for the Kiwi crew in 2015 as they look to pick up from where they left off at the end of their maiden season with Hyundai Motorsport.

This second round of the season will also see the team field a third car with Dutchman Kevin Abbring making his competitive debut in Hyundai Motorsport colours. Alongside his British co-driver Sebastian Marshall, Abbring will take charge of the #20 Hyundai i20 WRC in Sweden, and compete under the recently announced Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team banner. Rally Sweden is the only true winter round of the WRC season with frozen, snowy conditions offering unique challenges for teams and drivers alike. The team carried out a four day test in Sweden in mid-December in order to prepare the developed Hyundai i20 WRC for the team’s second participation in the event. Two additional days were carried out in the region this week with Neuville and Paddon sharing driving duties for half day each and with Abbring testing for one full day.

Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “Rally Sweden was one of the sternest tests for our young team in our maiden season last year. We learned a lot over the course of the event and we will put that experience into practice at next week’s event. We are pleased to field three Hyundai i20 WRC cars for Sweden, although our driver line-up has had to change following Dani’s mountain bike accident earlier in the week. He will miss this event so he can recover from his injuries in time for Mexico and on behalf of the entire team and all the drivers, I wish him a quick recovery. In his place, Hayden and John, who were going to drive the #20 car in Sweden, will now compete in the #8 car. Our test driver Kevin and his co-driver Sebastian will make their debut for the team earlier than planned, driving the #20 car, allowing us to continue with our three-car approach to this event. On the technical side, we have to prepare the Hyundai i20 WRC to cope with the extremely cold conditions. We carried out a test in December, as well as two days this week, in order to prepare ourselves. From the infamous snow banks to sub-zero temperatures and spectacular sights such as Colin’s Crest - which was definitely one of our highlights last year – Rally Sweden is truly unique and we can’t wait to get started.”

Neuville has a best finish of fifth in Sweden, although his final classification in last year’s event masked some impressive performances. The Belgian twice secured the runner-up position in stages which is something he is keen to build on in this year’s event. Neuville commented: “Rally Sweden is the first and only snow event of the season, which offers special challenges. It is probably the surface on which I have least experience. I have taken part in Rally Sweden on three previous occasions and although I have found it difficult, I have learned more with each visit. For my fourth participation, I am sure can further improve my speed and confidence. If you haven’t become accustomed to driving on such fast roads in these conditions from a young age, it is hard to find a rhythm. I have still set some interesting times and, even last year in our first visit with the Hyundai i20 WRC, we set some second and third quickest stage times, so I hope to improve on that and to be more competitive.”

Paddon made an impressive debut with Hyundai Motorsport in 2014, taking part in six events with the team. With a best result of sixth in Australia and a debut stage win in Spain, the young Kiwi is all set to resume action with Hyundai Motorsport in Sweden. Paddon said: “It was nice to have a bit of time off back home in New Zealand and to catch up with a few of our partners. We have a pretty big year ahead so it’s nice to be back, refreshed and ready to go. I have only taken part once before in Rally Sweden – three years ago – so it’s still a relatively new event for us. I haven’t really done much snow rallying in the past so it promises to be a fun learning curve. It’s certainly fast and I like that aspect, but the grip levels can be inconsistent, depending on the snowfall before the rally, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m definitely looking forward to it and being part of the Hyundai Motorsport team once again.”

Abbring has never competed in Sweden before so his first event with Hyundai Motorsport will be an important learning curve. He already has some experience with the team which will undoubtedly aid his adaptation to the #20 Hyundai i20 WRC. Abbring said: "I am pleased to have the chance to compete in Rally Sweden with Hyundai Motorsport, which will be a special occasion as it will be my first ever event in a WRC car. Obviously, the circumstances of this opportunity are not ideal and, like everyone else, I send my best wishes to Dani. We have a lot of preparation work to do in order to get up to speed but both Seb and myself will use this event as a learning experience and do all we can to help the team. It will be a bit like jumping in at the deep end but I relish this sort of challenge. Whatever happens, it will be a privilege to represent Hyundai Motorsport and the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team on the WRC stage."

Rally Sweden takes in 21 competitive stages over a distance of 308km. The rally will get underway with Thursday night’s traditional super special in Karlstad. Friday’s itinerary will take in stages in Norway, with crews not visiting the Service Park for midday service, as well as cross-border action on roads not used since 2011. The frozen forests around the Hagfors service part will make up Saturday and include the famous Colin’s Crest in Vargåsen – which was won by Hyundai Motorsport in 2014. The 15.87km Värmullsåsen Power Stage will act as a prelude to Sunday’s final ceremony in Karlstad.

Hyundai Motorsport Crews’ Info

Hyundai i20 WRC #7 
Chassis number: 006

   
 

Thierry Neuville

Nicolas Gilsoul

DOB

16 June 1988

5 February 1982

First WRC event

2009, Rally Catalunya

2007, Rallye Monte-Carlo

WRC starts

47

42

WRC podiums

10

10

WRC wins

1

1

Rally Sweden starts

3

4

Rally Sweden previous results

2012: 12th (11th WRC), 2013: 5th, 2014: 28th

2008: 30th (16th N4 class), 2012: 12th (11th WRC), 2013: 5th , 2014: 28th

 

Hyundai i20 WRC #8 
Chassis number: 008

   
 

Hayden Paddon

John Kennard

DOB

20 April 1987

11 February 1959

First WRC event

2007, Rally New Zealand

1985, Rally Finland

WRC starts

34

42

WRC podiums

-

-

WRC wins

-

-

Rally Sweden starts

1

1

Rally Sweden previous results

2012: 23rd (4th SWRC)

2012: 23rd (4th SWRC)

 

Hyundai i20 WRC #20 
Chassis number: 009

   
 

Kevin Abbring

Sebastian Marshall

DOB

20 January 1989

29 May 1988

First WRC event

2007, Rallye Deutschland

2008, Rallye Deutschland

WRC starts

24

22

WRC podiums

-

-

WRC wins

-

-

Rally Sweden starts

-

1

Rally Sweden previous results

-

2010: 43rd (1st class A6)