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):
- Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 2h52.13.1s
- Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +19.8s
- Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +28.3s
- Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +45.8s
- Hayden Paddon/Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +54.4s
- Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 WRC) +1m15.3s
- Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2m04.9s
- Teeu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m52.2s
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3m44.4s
- Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +5m27.4s
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
- T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) 3:35:25.8
- J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +24.8
- S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:37.8
- D. Sordo / M. Marti (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +2:54.0
- O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:26.4
- E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:59.8
- H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:22.2
- T. Suninen / M. Markkula (Škoda Fabia R5) +8:57.4
- J. Kopecky / P. Dresler (Škoda Fabia R5) +9:47.0
- K. Kruuda / M. Jarveoja (For Fiesta R5) +13:28.5
An incident filled race weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium saw McLaren GT factory driver Alvaro Parente and teammate Miguel Ramos extend the lead of the International GT Open championship with a double podium finish for customer team Teo Martin Motorsport. Changeable conditions midway through the first race caught out the team’s sister car, driven by fellow McLaren GT factory driver Rob Bell and McLaren GT Young Driver Andrew Watson, but the pairing showed strong pace throughout the weekend, securing pole position and a solid top five finish in the second race.
Qualifying for the first race of the weekend saw Rob Bell qualify the #59 650S GT3 on the front row of the grid, closely followed by championship regulars Parente and Ramos in P3. From the start, Bell took control of the race, maintaining the lead until he pitted to hand over to Young Driver Andrew Watson. On rejoining the circuit with slick tyres, the young Ulsterman was caught out by a sudden downpour through the notorious Eau Rouge. Despite his best efforts, Watson was unable to prevent the car sliding off the track into the barriers, bringing his charge to an early end. A well-managed stint by Parente’s teammate Ramos, saw the Portuguese factory driver take over for the second stint and he wasted no time in chasing down the leaders.
With time running down, Parente showed his class in the tricky conditions, closing the gap on each lap, and was quickly up into a podium position. At the end of the 27 lap race, Parente brought the #2 650S GT3 home in P2, just 1.421s behind the race winner. This result crucially maintained the championship lead for Parente and Ramos by a single point.
The grid for race 2 of the weekend was set during a damp session on Saturday, ahead of the first race, and it was a closely-fought battle over the front row positions by Watson and Parente. The two McLaren drivers traded fastest times during the session as a dry line started to appear around the 7.004km circuit. In the dying seconds, Watson returned to the track taking a gamble on slick tyres, and moved himself back up to top the timesheets on his championship debut.
The race itself saw Bell and Ramos take the start for Teo Martin Motorsport, with the pair holding position. As the pit-window opened, the McLaren duo pitted for routine driver changes with both cars running strongly. Parente returned to the track and moved into the lead with Watson close behind in P2. As the chequered flag fell, Parente took the race win and was followed over the line by Watson in the #59 650S GT3. However, a post-race investigation penalised the young driver with 40 seconds added to the youngster’s race time, dropping to P5.
Alvaro Parente, Factory Driver, McLaren GT
“Another strong weekend for the 650S GT3 and Teo Martin Motorsport, and great to come away with an extended lead in the championship. The car ran faultlessly in both races, and we showed strong pace in the challenging conditions to secure two strong results. Spa is such a fantastic circuit to race on, and the 650S GT3 really comes into its own around here. It feels so stable and composed, and the team continues to do a great job to ensure we are in a strong position in the championship with two rounds to go.”
Andrew Watson, Young Driver, McLaren GT
“Overall, it was a great weekend, but it definitely had its challenges, and its highs and lows. However, the main thing I will take away is just how much I learnt – working closely with Rob [Bell] and pulling on his experiences of a race weekend, and seeing how a different team operates in a championship of this level. The retirement from Race 1 was a real disappointment, but to put the car on pole position on my championship debut, and then bring the car home in the top five was a great end to the weekend. I would like to thank Teo Martin and the whole team for the opportunity, and now looking forward to the next round of the Avon Tyres British GT championship.”
Andrew Kirkaldy, Managing Director, McLaren GT
“Congratulations to Teo Martin Motorsport on a strong weekend overall. A front row and three podium finishes, including the race win for Alvaro [Parente] to extend his lead with Miguel Ramos in championship, and pole position and a top five for Rob [Bell} and Andrew [Watson] is a great result. Especially when you think this is still the debut season for the car. Andrew was unlucky with how his race ended, being caught out by the sudden rain storm – but then that unpredictability is why we love Spa!”