Thierry Neuville has raced back into the lead in the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship after winning a gruelling Vodafone Rally de Portugal on the weekend.

Victory at the sixth round of the WRC in northern Portugal promoted Neuville to the top of the drivers’ standings for the second time this year as the series approaches its midpoint. After starting 10 points behind reigning champion Sébastien Ogier, the Belgian left Portugal 19 points ahead and with his Hyundai team still leading the manufacturers’ standings.

Neuville won by 40 seconds over M-Sport teammates Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen, steering his Hyundai i20 away from trouble during four days of attrition that sidelined many frontrunners.

Ogier and fellow title challenger Ott Tänak were among drivers who ended pointless after falling foul of Friday’s rock-strewn stages. Kiwi Hayden Paddon’s return to Hyundai after 11 weeks on the bench started with victory on stage two but ended abruptly with a crash later in the day that ended his rally.

Neuville hit the front near the end of Friday’s first leg after the lead changed hands six times in a frantic opening. He doubled his advantage on Saturday and pressed it home on Sunday by claiming four bonus points in the closing Power Stage to secure his second win of the year.

“It was a clever approach all weekend. I had a fantastic car which was working well and I felt comfortable,” he said. “We can be proud of what we achieved here There are a lot of Portuguese mechanics in the team and I think the party is going to be big tonight.”

Second for Evans eased the pressure after a disappointing season and teammate Suninen helped erase the frustration of Ogier’s blank weekend in the M-Sport Ford squad by claiming his maiden podium. He finished 7.3sec behind the Welshman.

Suninen held off Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo in an intense fight for the final podium place. Lappi was 7.4sec adrift of his fellow Finn in a Toyota Yaris with Spaniard Sordo 6.2sec further back in his Hyundai. Sordo went to bed on Saturday night in third but woke on Sunday morning in fourth after receiving a 10sec penalty for dislodging two bales on a Porto street stage roundabout on Friday night.

Round seven promises a high-summer shootout on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. The all-gravel Rally Italia Sardegna is based in Alghero on 8-10 June.

Results, Vodafone Rally de Portugal (WRC round 6 of 13):

1) Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3h49m46.6s
2) Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +40.0s
3) Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.3s
4) Dani Sordo/Carlos Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m00.9s
5) Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m04.7s
6) Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 WRC) +3m33.5s
7) Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +5m23.0s
8) Pontus Tidemand/Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia R5) +14m10.8s
9) Lukasz Pieniazek/Przemyslaw Mazur (Skoda Fabia R5) +16m17.3s
10) Stephane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau (Citroen C3 R5) +16m34.3s

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

Thierry Neuville has survived chaotic last-minute conditions to record his first Kennards Hire Rally Australia victory. Neuville had an early scare as torrential rain made the morning stages almost undriveable but he was able to pull clear when it counted to supply Hyundai with a perfect end to the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship season.

Jari-Matti Latvala’s pursuit of Neuville from second place ended dramatically when his Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris crashed into trees after sliding wide on a fast left-hand corner on the 20th and final stage in the Wedding Bells State forest. The uninjured but distraught Finn retired on the spot, elevating M-Sport driver Ott Tanak to second place in a Ford Fiesta and a surprised New Zealander Hayden Paddon to third in another Hyundai.

Five-times World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier (M-Sport) won the points-paying Power Stage that closed the rally and the season and finished fourth after a weekend beset with problems.

The 29-year-old Neuville recorded his fourth victory of the season, double Ogier’s score in achieving his fifth straight drivers’ world championship last month. He also hoisted his 54th special stage win of the 2017 season in the first run through Wedding Bells this morning, astonishingly also more than double Ogier‘s score.

Neuville had started the day more than 20sec ahead of Latvala but saw this halved after rain - described by Citroen driver Kris Meeke as “horrendous” – dumped on the second test, Bucca. The conditions affected other parts of the course and organisers cancelled the penultimate stage, Pilbara Reverse, leaving Latvala with too little time and distance to continue his charge.

In a post-event press conference, Neuville said the season’s achievements made he and the Hyundai Motorsport team feel like World Champions, even though they missed the title because of early mistakes and problems.

“This one is a special one and really goes to the whole team of Hyundai Motorsport,” he said, admitting Latvala had been close enough today to challenge for the win. “We are not World Champions, but we drove like World Champions. Every morning when you see Jari-Matti doing his push-ups you know that he’s going for a big attack.

“He did it this morning and he will not give up and try until the very end. There was a real opportunity for him to get the first place, so we had to resist in a clever way but not taking too much risk in the tricky conditions.”

While Latvala’s run finished bitterly, Tanak completed his M-Sport tenure with a solid performance before switching to the Tommi Makinen-run Toyota outfit in 2018.

“It’s important to finish the season like this. It was quite difficult to think about this (finishing second) on Friday as I was not comfortable in the car,” Tanak said. Paddon managed to take some positives away from his most difficult season in rallying. “On speed alone we didn’t deserve a podium this weekend,” the New Zealander said.

“When the rain came we knew it would be very, very tricky. We had a bit of an idea of what to expect and took it nice and easy to look after our position. So it was a nice way to finish what was a pretty trying year.”

Rally Great Britain winner Elfyn Evans was fifth ahead of Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi. Kris Meeke, who re-entered under Rally 2 rules after suffering a broken suspension yesterday, was seventh.

Australians Richie Dalton (Skoda), Nathan Quinn (Mitsubishi) and Dean Herridge (Subaru) completed the top 10 in a field of 78 starters. Quinn won the CAMS Australian Rally Championship, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 called “Shirley”, so named he says because the car has had more hits in its 10-year competition career than the famous singer Shirley Bassey.

Hyundai's Thierry Neuville won Orlen 74th Rally Poland on Sunday after one of the most remarkable battles in FIA World Rally Championship history. The Belgian claimed his third victory of the season after Ott Tänak crashed out of a slender lead three special stages from the finish.

The Hyundai i20 driver cut Sébastien Ogier’s championship advntage to 11 points with four rounds remaining until the final event at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the Coffs Coast on 16-19 November.

Tickets for Kennards Hire Rally Australia are available now from Ticketek.com. The four-day Poland rally provided edge-of-the-seat drama throughout in torrential rain, driving winds and thick mud.

The lead changed hands 10 times in 23 stages as title-chasers Neuville and Tänak traded tenths of a second on the WRC’s fastest roads, where average speeds reached as high as 135 kmh. Neuville began Sunday’s final leg in front, but a stunning drive through the opening speed test promoted Tänak ahead. But in the next stage his Estonian rival slammed his Ford Fiesta into a tree.

He limped to the finish but the damage was too great to continue. Neuville eased through the remaining kilometres to head teammate Hayden Paddon pf New Zealand by 1min 23.9sec. Tänak’s heartbreaking retirement lifted teammate Ogier into third place, a further 56.9sec adrift. Dani Sordo in fourth wrapped up a hugely successful weekend for Hyundai Motorsport.

“Ott drove a great rally. In such a fight nobody gives up. I wasn’t ready to give up and was prepared to win,” said Neuville, for whom this was a sixth consecutive podium. “I was sorry for him and congratulate him on the job he did before he crashed. He was amazing again and one guy who was hard to beat.”

Tänak was chasing his second straight win after claiming a maiden victory in Italy last month. It was the third year he has tasted disappointment in Poland after leading in 2015 and 2016 but failing to secure victory.

“It was the only muddy place in the forest. Maybe I didn’t expect it to be that bad. I hit a bank with the rear and it pulled the front into a tree at high speed,” Tänak said. “Was I driving too hard? You need to push hard if you want to win.”

Paddon ended a torrid 12 months since his last podium. The Kiwi could not match the pace of the early starters on Friday’s rain-soaked and sludgy tracks, but an error-free event, combined with several stage wins as conditions improved, brought its reward.

Ogier was blighted by a string of problems in his Fiesta, including sliding into a field on Sunday morning, but the Frenchman persevered to finish 26.6sec clear of Sordo. The Spaniard punctured a tyre but ended 24.4sec clear of Stéphane Lefebvre, who equalled his career-best result and brought hope to his struggling Citroën team. 

A final stage spin cost Teemu Suninen fifth, but the Finn was hugely impressive on his World Rally Car debut with M-Sport.

Mads Østberg and Elfyn Evans were next up, while Citroën draftee Andreas Mikkelsen overhauled Juho Hänninen for tenth in the final stage.

The next round of the WRC is Neste Rally Finland on 27-30 July. Based in the university city of Jyvaskyla, the event known formerly as the Rally of 1000 Lakes is one of the most famous on the calendar, popular for its spectacular high-speed stages along gravel forest roads lined by trees and featuring numerous jumps.

RESULTS, Orlen 74th Rally Poland:

  1. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 2h40m46.1s
  2. Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m23.9s
  3. Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m20.8s
  4. Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2m47.4s
  5. Stephane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau (Citroen C3 WRC) +3m11.8s
  6. Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m16.8s
  7. Mads Ostberg/Ola Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m39.6s
  8. Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4m39.1s
  9. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Citroen C3 WRC) +4m43.5s
  10. Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4m53.7s

Hyundai Motorsport has salvaged a third-place podium finish in last weekend’s Rally Italia Sardegna, round seven of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), after a difficult weekend for the team. All three of the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team crews showed the pace to compete for victory. Neuville and Sordo experienced car-related problems, which prevented them from capitalising on their potential, while Paddon twice crashed out.

After 19 special stages, including this morning’s repeated loop of the 14.06km Cala Flumini and 6.96km Sassari-Argentiera tests, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul cemented third position, their fifth consecutive podium this season.

Dani Sordo and Marc Martí completed the rally as the second best placed Hyundai Motorsport crew, following an accident for Hayden Paddon and Seb Marshall in SS18 (Cala Flumini 2). The Kiwi and Briton crashed their #4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC at a right-hander, but were thankfully unharmed, although their rally was brought to a premature end.

Sardinia statistics

It had been a more positive morning for Paddon up to that point, following a frustrating Saturday, as he claimed his second stage win of the weekend in the opening run through Cala Flumini. Sordo maintained the team’s momentum into SS17 (Sassari-Argentiera) with his fourth stage win of the Sardinia event. Those results have taken Hyundai Motorsport’s total stage wins for 2017 to 48, the highest number for the team in any of its WRC seasons to date.

It also represented the second rally in a row in which all three Hyundai Motorsport crews scored stage wins, underpinning the feeling of what might have been this weekend without the various issues. Both Sordo and Neuville added important Power Stage points to their drivers’ totals, finishing second and fourth respectively in the final stage of the rally.

Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

Neuville and Gilsoul were left lamenting brake dramas on Saturday that halted their charge for a second consecutive Sardinia victory. The Belgians still took their third podium in a row on the Mediterranean island, matching their 2015 result. Neuville has scored Power Stage points in each of the rallies so far this season, and with the day's result slightly closes the gap to Championship leader Sébastien Ogier.

Neuville commented: “Overall it has been a positive rally, even though we are disappointed at not being able to fight for the victory this weekend. We were just unlucky with a brake issue on Saturday that lost us over a minute, which we were not able to get back. To score a podium in this tough rally is still good and extends our run of positive results this season. I gave everything I could in the Power Stage but the road conditions didn’t really suit us and we weren’t able to raise the ride height enough. Still, we took a few more points and should be reasonably satisfied. We have closed the gap to Ogier ever so slightly but we know it will need a big push into this second half of the season to catch him.”

Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

With four stage wins over the course of the rally, Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí demonstrated strong potential on each of the three days. It is the most stage wins for the pair in a single event as a Hyundai Motorsport crew, emphasising just what might have been possible. They also doubled their season total of Power Stage points with an assertive second place in SS19.

Sordo commented: “A much better way for us to end the rally today compared to the frustrations of earlier in the event! I was happy to take a stage win this morning, our fourth of the weekend. We wanted to save our tyres for a good push in the Power Stage and we did just that. It wasn’t easy but I am happy to take some points away from this event. Without the turbo issues we had on Friday, we would have been more firmly in the hunt for a podium but we can do nothing about that now. We will just focus on the next rally in Poland and target a more representative result for us and the team.”

Crew Notes: Paddon/Marshall (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

Paddon and Marshall had looked on course to finish Rally Italia Sardegna in style after taking a stage win on the morning’s opening pass. Unfortunately, the crew experienced an incident similar to the one that forced them to retire on Saturday, ending any hopes of Power Stage points.

Paddon said: “After Saturday’s misfortune, we wanted to use today to get back into a rhythm. Things started out well with a stage win, but that was the extent of our positives from today. In the penultimate stage, we had another very strange incident on a ‘nothing’ corner, where like yesterday I clipped the inside, which sent us wide. I don’t know why this is happening. I am incredibly disappointed in myself and for the team. I want to learn from this but at the same time put it behind us and look ahead to Poland.”

Realistic reflections

Hyundai Motorsport has seen the gap to Manufacturers’ Championship leaders M-Sport increase to 40 points after more missed opportunities in Sardinia. Despite scoring more stage wins and showing strength across all three crews, the team can only take minimal consolation from a solitary podium.

Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “We have to reflect on this rally with the realistic fact that we have lost ground to M-Sport in the Manufacturers’ Championship. Our congratulations to them, and to Ott Tanak for his debut WRC win. We just had too many issues throughout the weekend, and missed the chance to assert our authority on the event, as we should have. All crews showed their potential with eight stage wins in total but it wasn’t to be. Of course, it’s frustrating but we have to learn from this and regroup for the next event in Poland. A podium is still a decent result and Thierry has closed the gap to Ogier by a few points in the Drivers’ Championship. The team has worked hard this weekend, so we will gladly take the consolatory podium, all things considered.” 

Preparing for Poland

WRC continues its run of gravel events onto Rally Poland later this month, round eight of the 13-rally Championship. Taking place from 29 June to 2 July, the event will be run over 23 stages. It’s an event favoured by Hyundai Motorsport as the scene of podium finishes for Thierry Neuville in 2014, and Hayden Paddon last season.

Final Overall Classification - Rally Italia Sardegna

1 O. Tanak M. Jarveoja Ford Fiesta WRC 3:25:15.1
2 J.M Latvala M. Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +12.3
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:07.7
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +2:12.9
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC +3:25.3
6 J. Hänninen K. Lindstrom Toyota Yaris WRC +3:38.5
7 M. Østberg O. Floene Ford Fiesta WRC +6:31.8
8 A. Mikkelsen A. Jaeger Citroën C3 WRC +8:07.8
9 E. Camilli B. Veillas Ford Fiesta R5 +11:15.8
10 J. Kopecky P. Dresler Škoda Fabia R5 +11:21.4
11 O.C Veiby S. Skjaemoen Škoda Fabia R5 +13:37.8
12 D. Sordo M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +17:02.8

In one of the most electrifying WRC finales in memory, Hyundai Motorsport has claimed a stunning victory in Rally Argentina, the fifth round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), with Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul.

The result marks the team’s second win in a row after Tour de Corse, and its fifth WRC victory in total. Not only is it the first time that Hyundai Motorsport has secured back-to-back successes, the Belgian crew also become the first repeat winners of the 2017 season.

It was a less positive final day for the two other Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team crews. Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard took sixth place overall, despite experiencing power steering issues for most of the final stage. Meanwhile, the troubles continued for Dani Sordo and Marc Martí as they picked up a front-right puncture in the Power Stage. They were able to bring their car home to take eighth overall.

Epic showdown

After a torrid start to the rally on Friday, the #5 crew of Neuville and Gilsoul began an epic fight-back on Saturday to reduce the gap to rally leader Elfyn Evans. From one minute down at the start of the second day, they started Sunday’s three stages with just an 11.5-second deficit. With an incredible stage win in SS17 (Mina Clavero – Giulio Cesare), the duo reduced the gap to just 0.6-seconds.

The stage was set for the ultimate showdown with two crews vying head-to-head for victory in the El Condor Power Stage. A quick and clean run by Neuville was enough, as he triumphed by a mere 0.7-seconds. The result enters the history books as the third closest ever finish in WRC after Rally Jordan in 2011 (0.2s) and Rally NZ in 2007 (0.3s).

Taking Power stage spoils as well, Neuville picked up the maximum 30 points on offer in Argentina to advance to third in the increasingly close-fought Drivers’ standings.

Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

Neuville and Gilsoul took a total of five stage wins over the Rally Argentina weekend as they put in an impressive comeback. Today’s win represents their fourth WRC win as a Hyundai Motorsport crew and the first time they have won twice in a single season. Victory in the final El Condor stage also continued Neuville’s unbroken run of Power Stage points this year, which now totals 19.

Neuville commented: “I cannot believe it. I have never had such a nerve-wracking final few minutes of a rally in my career. It’s an amazing result and I have to say thanks first of all to the team for everything they’ve done. Congratulations also to Elfyn, who put up an incredible fight this weekend. I gave it absolutely everything I had in today’s final stages.

After the difficult start to the rally, I would have been happy to take second but it’s a special feeling to win again. It has been an exciting but crazy rally from the start, so to come away with the victory is fantastic. We wanted to build up our momentum after Corsica and this was the perfect way to do just that. To have the Power Stage win is just the icing on the cake and gives us a very important boost in the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championship. We could not have asked for more.”

Crew Notes: Paddon/Kennard (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

Paddon and Kennard had little in the way of good fortune this weekend, in an event that they impressively won twelve months ago. Today’s Power Stage may have been reminiscent of their experiences from 2016, but their own result was a stark contrast. Two stage wins on Friday were a highlight of a tough weekend.

Paddon said: “You could not have written a script more opposite to what we had here last season. We’ve gone from a career high to a result that is much lower on the scale. I just can’t believe our luck. Our issue on Friday was long behind us as we started to show some improved performance. There was not much we could do about our position but we wanted to build a rhythm. I didn’t have the feeling with the car in this morning’s stages, and that culminated with a power steering problem in the Power Stage. We struggled to the finish but sixth place is not where we want to be.”

Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí were unable to recover from their huge 11-minute deficit on Friday after breaking a steering arm on SS3 (Amboy / Anta Monica). Starting first on the road on Saturday and the opening stages of Sunday meant the Spanish crew could only focus on bringing the car home. A puncture on the Power Stage only compounded their frustrations.

Sordo said: “It has been a horrible weekend for us. The rally was over almost as soon as it had begun, really. When you lose so much time early on in the event, as we did, it is impossible to regain that. We just had to concentrate on bringing the car to the end but even that was difficult. The puncture on El Condor came at the beginning of the stage, and it typified our luck this weekend. Incredibly unfortunate and it’s a shame because I feel that we had the car to do better. I just want to put this behind us and look ahead to Portugal.”

One to remember

Hyundai Motorsport is proud to have played a part in one of the WRC’s closest finishes of all-time. Argentina becomes the first rally where it has taken repeat victories with a Power Stage finale just as nail-biting as it was in 2016. With this result, the team has strengthened its grip on second place in the Manufacturers’ Championship.

Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “What an incredible finale for a thrilling rally. Our congratulations to Thierry and Nicolas for a victory that we’ll all remember for a long time, and to Elfyn and M-Sport for putting up such an incredible battle. To win by such a small margin after 360km is remarkable, and it’s no surprise that it’s one of the closest finishes ever. Argentina is a tough place to come rallying and we knew it would be hard on these new cars in their first event here. We had our fair share of issues and misfortune across all three cars, but it’s sometimes a question of fighting through to the finish.

Hayden and Dani’s Power Stage was full of drama, which really summed up their respective rallies. We have plenty of learning lessons from this event, which will use to improve our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for the coming gravel events. For now, though, we can celebrate an important victory. We are very happy to become the first team to win two rallies this season – and we hope we can achieve more.”

Next Rally

The WRC will now return to Europe for Rally de Portugal, which takes place from 18-21 May, the second of five consecutive gravel events.

Final Overall Classification - Rally Argentina

1 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3:38:10.6
2 E. Evans D. Barritt Ford Fiesta WRC +0.7
3 O. Tanak M. Jarveoja Ford Fiesta WRC +29.9
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC +1:24.7
5 J. M. Latvala M. Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +1:48.1
6 H. Paddon J. Kennard Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +7:42.7
7 J. Hänninen K. Lindstrom Toyota Yaris WRC +11:16.9
8 D. Sordo M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +14:44.1
9 M. Østberg O. Floene Ford Fiesta WRC +15:11.3
10 P. Tidemand J. Andersson Škoda Fabia R5 +17:32.1

Hyundai Motorsport has secured its second victory of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season with a dominant performance by Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul in Rally Italia Sardegna. Neuville has been on sublime form all weekend, extending his lead over Volkswagen Motorsport’s Jari-Matti Latvala on the final morning to win the rally by 24.8 seconds. The result marks the second victory for the New Generation i20 WRC this season, and the team’s third win in total after Rallye Deutschland in 2014 and Rally Argentina back in April.

Dani Sordo and Marc Martí had a trouble-free final four stages on Sunday to claim their fourth consecutive fourth position, and earning them 12 Championship points. Kevin Abbring and Seb Marshall, meanwhile, were on top of their game to finish second in the Power Stage, securing their first WRC points.

For Neuville (#20 New Generation i20 WRC), the victory is the result of a concerted team effort and marks his first victory in WRC since Germany 2014. It is the most accomplished performance of his career with nine stage wins over the weekend, and leading the rally continuously since SS7 on Friday.

Neuville commented: “A truly fantastic weekend! Great things come to those who earn them, and it’s definitely a nice feeling to share this victory with an amazing team. We’ve had some tough times, like in Portugal, but we’ve stuck together and our hard work has really paid off. This is a special result. The New Generation i20 WRC has performed very well this weekend. It’s been great fun to drive and we’ve felt comfortable. We didn’t feel too much pressure in this morning’s final stages, but just focused on getting the car safely through to the end. We did everything we needed to and we can now celebrate our second WRC victory. Hopefully we can use this result as a springboard for the rest of the season; it is certainly good for the confidence.”

Sordo (#4 New Generation i20 WRC) has benefitted from a consistent approach in Sardinia to continue his run of fourth places. He moves up into second place in the WRC Drivers’ Championship with 68 points so far this season. His 12 points this weekend also consolidate second place in the Manufacturers’ standings for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team.

Sordo commented: “We knew this rally would be one of those that required a steady approach, so that’s exactly what we did. It was not always easy and some stages were quite tricky, narrow and slippery, which doesn’t really suit my style as much as other rallies. In this morning’s stages, we just wanted to keep out of trouble and avoid any mistakes. I think we got all we could out of the car and ourselves this weekend. It’s another fourth place, but I have moved up to second in the Championship, which is fantastic. Congratulations to Thierry and Nicolas on their win, which is very well deserved and a great morale boost for the entire team.”

There were plenty of positives for Abbring (#10 Hyundai i20 WRC) in Sardinia. He claimed his first WRC stage win on Saturday morning, helped the team to a 1-2 in stage on the afternoon loop, and finished second in today’s Power Stage to claim his maiden WRC points.

Abbring said: “It was a good final day for us, and a nice consolation to pick up my first WRC points in the Power Stage. We wanted to give it a bit of a push because we’ve been building our confidence in the car over the course of the weekend. We have had a few issues along the way but it really is part of the bigger learning curve, and we’ve come out of this weekend stronger as a result. We’ve worked hard to find a rhythm and I really enjoyed the final stage. I think we have a nice set-up for the future. For the team, this weekend has been a positive one and to see Thierry and Nicolas take the win was a special moment. It shows what effort and team work can achieve, and that’s why I’m pleased to be a part of Hyundai Motorsport. I look forward to returning to the WRC stages later this season.”

Hyundai Motorsport has now taken podiums in five out of six rallies this season, with two victories, making it the team’s most successful WRC season even before reaching the halfway point.

Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “Thierry and Nicolas thoroughly deserved this victory. It is a result that will give the whole team a real lift. There have been some tough phases but we’ve persevered and fought hard to overcome any issues together as a team. This result shows what can happen with hard work and determination. We’ve now taken two wins this season with our New Generation i20 WRC and bounced back from Portugal, which is exactly what we set out to achieve.

Dani has moved into second place in the Drivers’ Championship with another sensible drive this weekend; well done to him. And Kevin, too, has shown again why he is such an exciting young talent with a strong push in the Power Stage – and his first WRC points. We still have work to do, but we’re keener than ever before to continue our strongest ever season in WRC. Poland will offer a new set of challenges, but we’ll be prepared. For now, though, we’ll enjoy this victory as a team.”

Round 7 of the FIA WRC, Rally Poland, takes place from 30 June - 3 July, and will mark the halfway point of the 2016 Championship.

Overall Final Classification

  1. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) 3:35:25.8
  2. J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +24.8
  3. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:37.8
  4. D. Sordo / M. Marti (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +2:54.0
  5. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:26.4
  6. E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:59.8
  7. H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:22.2
  8. T. Suninen / M. Markkula (Škoda Fabia R5) +8:57.4
  9. J. Kopecky / P. Dresler (Škoda Fabia R5) +9:47.0
  10. K. Kruuda / M. Jarveoja (For Fiesta R5) +13:28.5

Belgium’s Thierry Neuville emerged from a career slump to claim his career-second FIA World Rally Championship victory at Rally Italia Sardegna. After a difficult end to 2015 and troubled start to this season, all came good for the Hyundai team driver on the Mediterranean island as he won the rough four-day event by 24.8 seconds.

But after accepting the trophy and taking a traditional winners’ swim with his teammates in Alghero Harbour, Neuville had an agonising wait while officials investigated the technical eligibility of his car. Eventually his Hyundai team was found to have fitted non-approved rear door windows and fined 50,000 Euros (A$76,295), but allowed to keep the win.

He became the fifth different winner in the last five FIA World Rally Championship rounds, adding to his maiden victory in Germany in 2014. Neuville won nine of the 19 stages in his Hyundai i20, moving to the front and repelling a determined challenge from Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn closed to within three seconds on before Neuville pulled clear and eased through the final leg.

“We had a great weekend and great things come to those who go and earn it,” Neuville said. “The feeling was good in the car; hopefully it’ll be like this for the rest of the season. It wasn’t easy but we keep working and it’s good for the confidence.”

Despite an ill-handling Volkswagen Polo R, Latvala led three times on as he exchanged blows with Neuville and three-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier. A new gearbox fixed the handling issues but Latvala conceded defeat on morning when the gap rose increased to 20sec.

Ogier extended his championship lead by finishing third in another Polo R. As road-opener, he lost time sweeping the dry gravel and gambled with soft tyres on to achieve his target of a podium finish. Dani Sordo claimed his fourth consecutive fourth place in an i20 to climb to second in the points standings. Ott Tänak and Eric Camilli, who claimed his maiden stage victory for the M-Sport team, completed the top six in Ford Fiesta RS cars.

Camilli’s senior teammate Mads Østberg failed to restart on the last day after his team diagnosed a damaged engine. Other major retirements earlier in the rally included Kiwi Hayden Paddon, who spectacularly crashed his Hyundai for the second straight event and Lorenzo Bertelli, who also crashed.

After winning last month’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal, Britain’s Kris Meeke and his part-time Citroen team did not compete in Sardinia. The FIA World Rally Championship continues at PZM Rally Poland on 30 June to 3 July – th half-way point in the season - when the Australian crew of Scott Pedder and Dale Moscatt resume their challenge in the WRC2 category.

Results for Rally Italia Sardegna (WRC round 6 of 14):

  1. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) 3:35:25.8
  2. J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +24.8
  3. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:37.8
  4. D. Sordo / M. Marti (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +2:54.0
  5. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:26.4
  6. E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:59.8
  7. H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:22.2
  8. T. Suninen / M. Markkula (Škoda Fabia R5) +8:57.4
  9. J. Kopecky / P. Dresler (Škoda Fabia R5) +9:47.0
  10. K. Kruuda / M. Jarveoja (For Fiesta R5) +13:28.5

Sebastien Ogier increases lead in the World Rally Championship by winning Rally Sardinia in his Volkswagen Polo by over three minutes. Ogier overcame Hayden Paddon when he spun out and hit a rock, damaging his Hyundai i20 in a shocking display. Paddon still managed to secure his career-best result in second, ahead of his teammate Thierry Neuville.

The Belgian was 4m22s behind Ogier after inheriting third from Citroen’s Mads Ostberg on the final morning. Ostberg crashed while fiddling with his helmet’s intercom. The damage wasn't substantial but it cost him his brakes and meant he had to stutter through the following stage. This cost him the fourth place to Elfyn Evans of Ford and managed to hold onto fifth from Jari-Matti Latvala from Volkswagen.

Ogier also took the three points for the fastest time on the powerstage, ahead of VW teammates Latvala and Mikkelsen.

Position Driver Time
1 Sebastien Ogier (VW Polo) 4h25m54.3
2 Hayden Paddon (Hyundai i20) 4h28m59.7
3 Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20) 4h30m16.8
4 Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta) 4h31m29.1
5 Mads Ostberg (Citroen DS3) 4h33m44.4
6 Jari-Matti Latvala (VW Polo) 4h34m01.0

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