Hyundai Motorsport has taken a dramatic victory in Rally Italia Sardegna, the seventh round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), as Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul stole a last gasp win with a sublime performance on the final morning.

The Belgian crew started the day with a 3.9-second deficit to leader M-Sport Ford’s Sébastien Ogier, but a perfect Sunday morning with four stage wins, including the Power Stage, allowed them to steadily catch and pass the Frenchman.

They took a memorable result by a mere 0.7-seconds after 313.46km of competitive Sardinian stages. In one of the closest finishes in WRC history, it actually matches the same minuscule gap by which Neuville beat Elfyn Evans in the 2017 edition of Rally Argentina.

The result is Hyundai Motorsport’s third win of the 2018 season and tenth in its WRC history. It marks the team’s second victory in Rally Italia Sardegna following Neuville’s triumph in 2016, and the fourth Sardinia event in succession where it has finished on the podium.

Sunday celebrations
Four stages were contested on Sunday morning with two runs through the 14.06km Cala Flumini and 6.96km coastal Sassari-Argentiera tests. There was no respite for any of the crews with tense battles throughout the field. While Neuville and Ogier battled it out at the front, Hayden Paddon was able to defend his fourth place from Mads Østberg with a solid Sunday, securing his best result of the season so far.

One-time rally leader Andreas Mikkelsen wrestled two consolatory driver points for finishing fourth in the nerve-wracking and competitive Power Stage.

With this victory, Hyundai Motorsport has extended its grip on the manufacturers’ championship with 212 points, an increased gap of 28 points to M-Sport Ford in second. Neuville’s five additional points for Power Stage success saw him take the maximum available for the weekend and increase his lead in the drivers’ classification to 27 points over Ogier.

Since its WRC debut in 2014, Hyundai Motorsport has now taken ten victories and a total of 40 individual podiums. As the 2018 season passes its halfway mark, the team now heads into the summer break with an opportunity to reflect on a hugely successful season-to-date.

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

  • Third win of 2018 season with six consecutive stage wins from SS15 to the SS20 Power stage
  • Increases drivers’ championship lead taking maximum 30 points on offer

Neuville said: “I can’t believe it! We knew we had to give it everything we had this morning, and it was a truly fantastic fight with Sébastien. The gap at the end was so small and we left absolutely nothing behind. We kept pushing as hard as we could without doing anything stupid. Battling against Séb is one of the most difficult things to do, so this is a precious victory. Nicolas and I send massive thanks to the whole Hyundai Motorsport team for giving us a great car this weekend. Without them we couldn’t have done this today. Starting first on the road on Friday put us at a disadvantage. The rain helped a bit but we never gave up and we can share in one of the finest wins of our career. Leading both championships heading into the break gives us all the motivation we need for the second half of the season.”

Crew Notes: Paddon/Marshall (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

  • Fourth place represents crew’s best result of 2018 season so far
  • Highest finish in Sardinia since second place in 2015

Paddon said: “A difficult weekend for us, but a positive end to the rally for the team. We wanted more from this rally, but to take fourth place gives us important confidence for the coming events. Things didn’t really click from the first stages, and we weren’t able to replicate the positive feeling we had from shakedown. Still, it’s nice to finish this event for the first time in three years, and to score important points for the team in the manufacturers’ championship. We will look to build from here, and to try and take a few more risks. Congratulations to Thierry, Nicolas and the whole team for a fantastic victory.”

Crew Notes: Mikkelsen/Jæger (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

  • Led rally on Friday morning before transmission trouble
  • Two consolation points for fourth place in the Power Stage

Mikkelsen said: “We gave it all we could in the Power Stage to try and salvage something from what has been a frustrating weekend. Since the last rally, we have found a much better feeling from inside the car but we haven’t had the results to match. On Friday morning, we could show the potential we have with some strong times and leading the rally. Unfortunately, the transmission problem ended our rally and we’ve spent the remaining stages just refining things and picking up useful information about the car on these tough gravel stages. It is all valuable learning but we leave Sardinia with a feeling of missed opportunity. We will regroup over the summer break and be ready for Finland. Finally, congratulations to Thierry and Nicolas on an outstanding win this weekend.”  

Sardinian success story

  • 11 stage wins for Hyundai Motorsport crews in Sardinia
  • Third victory of 2018 and tenth in team’s WRC history

Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “I am completely delighted, as are all members of the team, with this incredible victory. It was truly a perfect win for Thierry and Nicolas. The battle with Ogier started on Saturday and the intensity of that only increased. I was on the edge of my seat all Sunday morning, and the Power Stage was a superb piece of entertainment for all fans. To take our third win of the season in such exhilarating style is the ideal way to head into the summer break. We have had a faultless operation all weekend, thanks to the hard work of our team on site and in Alzenau. Hayden and Seb have taken their best result of the season in fourth, while Andreas also picked up some points in the Power Stage. It was a memorable battle with Sébastien and M-Sport Ford which will undoubtedly go down in the WRC history books. We came here hoping to defend our lead of both championships but instead we have extended it – the perfect weekend!” 

Next rally

  • The FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) heads into its summer break with the next round, Rally Finland, taking place from 26-29 July
  • Round 8 of the 2018 season will be the last of four consecutive gravel events before moving back onto tarmac

Final Overall Classification – Rally Italia Sardegna

1

T. Neuville

N. Gilsoul

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

3:29:18.7

2

S. Ogier

J. Ingrassia

Ford Fiesta WRC

+0.7

3

E. Lappi

J. Ferm

Toyota Yaris WRC

+1:56.3

4

H. Paddon

S. Marshall

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

+2:55.2

5

M. Østberg

T. Eriksen

Citroën C3 WRC

+3:10.9

6

C. Breen

S. Martin

Citroën C3 WRC

+4:31.7

7

J.M. Latvala

M. Anttila

Toyota Yaris WRC

+11:22.1

8

O. Tänak

M. Järveoja

Toyota Yaris WRC

+12:38.2

9

J. Kopecky

P. Dresler

Škoda Fabia R5

+13:14.6

10

T. Suninen

M. Markkula

Ford Fiesta WRC

+15:30.4

British driver Kris Meeke’s future in the FIA World Rally Championship is in doubt after the official Citroën team dropped him from the remainder of the 2018 season, citing “an excessively high number of crashes”.

Team principal Pierre Budar said the stunning decision was a preventative measure for the safety of Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle, who were lucky to escape a violent crash on last weekend’s Rally Portugal.

The pair’s Citroën C3 went off the road and into trees at high speed on Saturday afternoon. He and Nagle weren’t injured, but the car was destroyed.

The most dramatic move in the WRC season so far means Meeke won’t contest Rally Italia Sardegna on 7-10 June, where Citroën will be represented by Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen.

The team said it would shortly announce its line-up for the remainder of the season, including Kennards Hire Rally Australia on 15-19 November. Nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb has one more appearance scheduled in his three-event comeback programme with Citroën, in Spain in October.

A team statement from its base near Paris on Thursday afternoon said: “Due to an excessively high number of crashes, some of which were particularly heavy and could have had serious consequences with regard to the crew’s safety, and given that the risks involved were unjustified by the sporting stakes at play, Citroën Racing WRT has decided to terminate the participation of Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle in the 2018 WRC.”

Pierre Budar added: “This wasn’t an easy decision to make because it effects (sic) a driver and a co-driver, but it is largely founded on safety issues which come under my preoccupations as Team Principal. We have consequently chosen to make this decision as a preventive measure.”

Citroën did not say if Meeke would be involved with the team after this year.

Mentored by the late world champion Colin McRae, the Ulsterman, now 38, got his chance with the WRC elite when he joined Citroën late in 2013, just in time for Rally Australia. Blazing speed netted victories in Argentina in 2015, Portugal and Finland in 2016 and Mexico and Spain in 2017; his Finnish win was the first by a British driver.

But his talent seemed too often compromised by crashes. Last year, although he won in Mexico, a disappointing mid-season run of results led to him being benched in Poland.

Meeke contested Rally Australia in 2013 (retired), 2014 (4th), 2015 (3rd) and last year (7th).

BRITISH driver Kris Meeke’s future in the FIA World Rally Championship is in doubt after the official Citroën team dropped him from the remainder of the 2018 season, citing “an excessively high number of crashes”.
 
Team principal Pierre Budar said the stunning decision was a preventative measure for the safety of Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle, who were lucky to escape a violent crash on last weekend’s Rally Portugal.
 
The pair’s Citroën C3 went off the road and into trees at high speed on Saturday afternoon. He and Nagle weren’t injured, but the car was destroyed.
 
The most dramatic move in the WRC season so far means Meeke won’t contest Rally Italia Sardegna on 7-10 June, where Citroën will be represented by Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen.
 
The team said it would shortly announce its line-up for the remainder of the season, including Kennards Hire Rally Australia on 15-19 November. Nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb has one more appearance scheduled in his three-event comeback programme with Citroën, in Spain in October.
 
A team statement from its base near Paris on Thursday afternoon said: “Due to an excessively high number of crashes, some of which were particularly heavy and could have had serious consequences with regard to the crew’s safety, and given that the risks involved were unjustified by the sporting stakes at play, Citroën Racing WRT has decided to terminate the participation of Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle in the 2018 WRC.”
 
Pierre Budar added: “This wasn’t an easy decision to make because it effects (sic) a driver and a co-driver, but it is largely founded on safety issues which come under my preoccupations as Team Principal. We have consequently chosen to make this decision as a preventive measure.”
 
Citroën did not say if Meeke would be involved with the team after this year.
 
Mentored by the late world champion Colin McRae, the Ulsterman, now 38, got his chance with the WRC elite when he joined Citroën late in 2013, just in time for Rally Australia. Blazing speed netted victories in Argentina in 2015, Portugal and Finland in 2016 and Mexico and Spain in 2017; his Finnish win was the first by a British driver.
 
But his talent seemed too often compromised by crashes. Last year, although he won in Mexico, a disappointing mid-season run of results led to him being benched in Poland.
 
Meeke contested Rally Australia in 2013 (retired), 2014 (4th), 2015 (3rd) and last year (7th).

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

Hyundai Motorsport has completed a challenging weekend on the tarmac terrain of Tour de Corse, the fourth round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season, with a podium finish as Thierry Neuville secured third place.

The team saw all three of its Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars inside the top-seven with Dani Sordo in fourth and Andreas Mikkelsen in seventh overall after a demanding event.

Sunday’s itinerary included the monster 55.17km Vero – Sarrola – Carcopino stage, followed by the 16.25km Power Stage around the former prison at Coti-Chiavari. It was another tough day on the Corsican tarmac for the three crews who have struggled for pace and performance on the tight and twisty stages this weekend.

Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were focused on securing third place on the final morning but ran into difficulty on the long opening stage, damaging their rear-left wheel. An undiagnosed engine-related issue prevented them from pushing in the Power Stage, but the Belgians were still able to confirm their third consecutive Corsican podium.

With manufacturer points awarded for the two highest placed crews in a team, Hyundai Motorsport continues to lead the championship with a reduced four-point advantage over the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team.

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

  • Belgians claim second podium finish of 2018
  • Neuville retains second in drivers’ championship with 17-point gap to Ogier

Neuville said: “It’s good to finish on the podium but there has been a bit of frustration over the weekend. We haven’t been able to match the times of the front-runners, even if we tried really hard. We have to be content with the results we have achieved, securing a podium and important points for the manufacturers’ championship. In general, I am pleased with the final result but in terms of outright performance we were just not on the pace this weekend.”

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

  • Fourth place for the Spaniards moves Sordo to eighth in drivers’ table
  • 12 points scored for the manufacturers’ championship

Sordo said: “Our end result is not too bad considering the disappointing weekend we have had in Corsica. We have just not been able to find the speed and performance needed to tackle these roads. It was a similar story on Sunday; we have pushed as hard as we can but the times have not been there. Still, fourth place gives us important points for the championship so that’s something positive we can take away. Now we need to work together as a team to get more speed on tarmac for later in the season.”

WRC Crew Notes: Mikkelsen/Jæger (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

  • Mikkelsen battles to seventh overall and holds fourth in drivers’ championship
  • Norwegians will seek to find more tarmac experience with Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Mikkelsen said: Absolutely not the result we wanted and a very difficult weekend overall. We made some more set-up changes for Sunday morning’s two stages but unfortunately we couldn’t find the breakthrough that we needed. It has been a challenging rally but we know that we have to do to gain more experience with this car on tarmac. We need more mileage to understand where we can find more performance from ourselves and from the car. We have some time before the next asphalt event in Germany, so we have to put in lots of effort to make the improvements we need. That’s the homework we are taking from this weekend.”

Tough at the top
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: Starting with the positives, we have registered our fourth individual podium result of the season with Thierry in third place. With Dani able to finish one place behind, we have added some important championship points, helping us to retain our lead. It’s still incredibly close, as I think it will continue to be all season. We can’t afford to have difficult weekends like this too often, so we will have to regroup and work harder to improve our performance on tarmac. It wasn’t a trouble-free final morning, unfortunately, with Thierry experiencing issues on the Power Stage with only three cylinders. We have to investigate this to understand what caused it. There are lots of lessons for us to learn from this rally.”     

Next Rally

  • Rally Argentina takes place from April 26-29, returning to the scene of a memorable Hyundai Motorsport win from 2017
  • The 18-stage gravel event will be the fifth rally of the 13-round WRC season


Final Overall Classification - Tour de Corse

1

S. Ogier

J. Ingrassia

Ford Fiesta WRC

3:26:52.7

2

O. Tänak

M. Järveoja

Toyota Yaris WRC

+36.1

3

T. Neuville

N. Gilsoul

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

+1:07.5

4

D. Sordo

C. del Barrio

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

+2:02.6

5

E. Evans

P. Mills

Ford Fiesta WRC

+2:06.1

6

E. Lappi

J. Ferm

Toyota Yaris WRC

+2:33.5

7

A. Mikkelsen

A. Jæger

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

+2:43.4

8

J. Kopecky

P. Dresler

Škoda Fabia R5

+10:34.8

9

K. Meeke

P. Nagle

Citroën C3 WRC

+10:40.5

10

Y. Bonato

B. Boulloud

Citroën C3 R5

+12:26.0

Hyundai Motorsport aims to reassert its FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) credentials when the 2018 season gets underway at the opening event in Monte-Carlo later this month (25-28 January). On the back of its most successful campaign in WRC to date in 2017, the team has raised the bar even further for its fifth season, with its sights set on a renewed challenge for both drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships.

Hyundai Motorsport played an integral part in last year’s WRC, taking four victories and finishing a close second in both titles. The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC proved itself to be a versatile contender, triumphing on gravel and tarmac, but the team was left ruing missed opportunities.

WRC’s sporting and technical regulations will remain largely unchanged for the coming season offering continuity to teams and crews as they prepare for another closely fought battle.

For Hyundai Motorsport, the rally winning Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC has been updated for the coming season in pursuit of a competitive edge. 2017 resulted in an intense and thrilling battle across all participating manufacturers in WRC, with the forthcoming season promising to reignite close rivalries between Hyundai, Ford, Toyota and Citroën.

Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “We head into our fifth season in the WRC in high spirits and with even stronger ambitions to fight for the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships. We came close in 2017 but we also recognise where we fell short in terms of our performance and consistency. We aim to rectify that this season. There are no revolutionary changes to the regulations this year so all teams will be building on last year’s foundations. We are very respectful of our rivals. Their performances only serve to make us try to improve ourselves from one event to the next. This is what drives us forward, as we work towards our ultimate championship goals.”

Competing under the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team banner in 2018, the team will field three of its Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars in each of the 13 rallies on the calendar. Four crews will contribute to the team’s championship efforts: Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger, Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul, Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio and Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall.

Mikkelsen and Neuville will contest all rounds in the #4 and #5 cars respectively, while Sordo and Paddon will share the #6 car, each competing in selected rounds. Neuville was unquestionably one of the stars of last season, taking the most victories and stage wins of any WRC driver. The Belgian finished second only to Sébastien Ogier in the overall standings, for the second year running, and now has his eyes on a bigger prize in 2018.

Neuville said: “We might not have achieved the championship titles last season, but there was plenty to celebrate. We wanted to be in the fight and we definitely achieved that in many rallies. Taking four wins and being competitive in many other events gives us a real motivation to go one better in 2018. As a team, we have kept getting stronger and stronger with each season. Entering our fifth year, I feel that it’s our time to shine but we know our rivals will be tough to beat. If anything, that gives us even more determination. We have a good car in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, and the team has worked hard over the winter to further improve its performance potential. Our team spirit is very high so we have to harness that and perform at our best, consistently.”

Mikkelsen joined Hyundai Motorsport for the final three rounds of 2017, making an immediately positive impression. Leading Rally de España at the end of the opening day, heads turned at the Norwegian’s swift adaptation to the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. A near podium in Wales Rally GB reinforced his potential ahead of a full season campaign in 2018.

Mikkelsen commented: “This is the moment I have been waiting for: the start of full championship campaign with Hyundai Motorsport! The final three rounds of last season were very useful for Anders and myself to get acquainted with the team and with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. It was time well spent because I feel we are now ready to attack with confidence. The car proved to be quick on a variety of surfaces and that will hopefully serve us well this season. That’s not to say we are taking anything for granted! WRC is in great shape with lots of strong manufacturers and crews ready for battle. What happens when the gloves come off is anyone’s guess, so we have to be prepared.”

Sordo, who has been part of the Hyundai Motorsport team since 2014, scored two podiums last year, in Corsica and Portugal. The Spaniard will continue to be a trusted pair of hands for the team’s championship challenge at selected events in 2018, starting with Rallye Monte-Carlo, alongside new co-driver Carlos del Barrio.

Sordo said: “Although I am not taking part in the complete WRC season, I feel very loyal to my Hyundai Motorsport family and will do everything I can to support our push for the manufacturers’ title. We showed last year that when everything works well together as a unit, we could achieve really positive results. I have seen how much the team has grown since our first season back in 2014; the progress has been incredible. This year, I am 100 per cent committed to giving everything I have in the rallies I join, starting with Monte-Carlo.”

A difficult 2017 season for Paddon ended on a positive note with a podium result at Rally Australia. It was his second top-three finish of the year after finishing second in Rally Poland. The New Zealander will share the #6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC this season, with his first event scheduled for Rally Sweden.

Paddon commented: “I am treating the 2018 season almost like a fresh start after our difficulties from last year. I want to put that behind me and use the positives from our podium results to spur us on to achieve what I know we are capable of. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t prefer to contest the full season but I have to accept things like this and make the most of each opportunity we get throughout the year. Of course we will do everything in our power to help the team towards the manufacturers’ title and we will be out to fight for podiums on each gravel event. 2018 is a reset to get back to our best and I cannot wait to get back in the car for our first event of the season at Sweden.”

The 2018 FIA World Rally Championship will be formally launched on Thursday, 11 January at a special event at the Autosport International show in Birmingham, UK. All WRC teams and crews will be present to show off their 2018 challengers. The season itself will get underway later in January with Rallye Monte-Carlo. The only significant change to the calendar for this season is the addition of Rally Turkey in September, which replaces to outgoing Rally Poland to maintain a 13-event schedule.

Frenchman Sébastien Ogier will contest Kennards Hire Rally Australia next month as the 2017 World Rally Champion after clinching his fifth consecutive title on the penultimate round in Wales on Sunday October 29. Dayinsure Wales Rally GB was won by Ogier’s M-Sport teammate Elfyn Evans, with Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville 37.3 seconds behind.

A further 7.9 sec back, Ogier took third place and enough points to put his championship beyond challenge before the series finale on the NSW Coffs Coast on 16-19 November. With a third M-Sport Ford Fiesta driver Ott Tänak finishing sixth, the British privateer team capped an historic weekend by taking the WRC manufacturers’ championship for the first time in 10 years.

Evans not only took his first WRC victory – and on Welsh home soil – but dominated the four-day rally. He set fastest times on nine of the 21 stages and, despite the challenges of rain, fog and muddy roads, held on to the overall lead from the first speed test on Friday 27 October. He became the seventh different winner and the third first-time winner, alongside Tänak and Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi, in what has been the most competitive WRC season in decades. Co-driven by Daniel Barritt, Evans was the first British driver to win the home round since 2000.

Rally Australia Chairman Ben Rainsford congratulated the winners and said the result guaranteed fans next month would see the world’s best drivers in action.

“Malcolm Wilson and the M-Sport team pulled off an extraordinary achievement at Wales Rally GB. The manufacturers’ championship, drivers’ championship, co-drivers’ championship (for Ogier’s co-driver Julien Ingrassia) and a home-round win in one weekend is amazing,” Rainsford said. “It will be a thrill to see the new world champions in action at Rally Australia, but there will also be unfinished business on the Coffs Coast. There’s still a battle for second in the WRC to be settled between Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak and of course we’ll host the Australian Rally Championship decider between Molly Taylor and Nathan Quinn.

“I predict the gloves will now be off at Rally Australia. With the new faster louder and wilder-looking WRC cars making their first appearance Down Under, we’re going to host a cracking climax to the 2017 season.”

Ogier was emotional after claiming a hard-fought championship, during which he has won only two of the 12 rounds so far but finished on the podium a further seven times.

“I don't know what to say. It’s just incredible. Thank you so much to the whole M-Sport team and Malcolm. It was a hard job. We work all very hard. It’s amazing to be World Champion with this team,” he said through tears. “I had very, very strong emotions on the finish line. I’m very happy for Elfyn. It’s amazing for M-Sport – victory, two guys on the podium, the manufacturers’ championship, drivers’ world championship – everything!”

Evans added: “It's been a good rally. I'm incredibly grateful to everybody that has stood by me through all these years – to get to this point has taken a lot. To all the people who have supported me and backed me – this is for you. And this result only makes us even hungrier for more.”

WRC teams will now have barely a week to return to their bases and prepare their cars before they are air-freighted to Australia. Organisers are planning a big welcome for the international and Australian teams entered, with a free Rally Show and Ceremonial Start expected to attract thousands of fans to the closed main street of Coffs Harbour on Thursday 16 November. The competitors’ service park at C.ex International Stadium will be a hub of rally activity and free entertainment, including driver appearances, music concerts, fireworks, student visits, souvenir sales and a $5000 cash giveaway, throughout the weekend.

Tickets are on sale at www.ticketek.com.au, with a 2-for-1 offer on a $99 all-stages passes available until Tuesday October 31.

RESULTS (provisional)

Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (round 12 of 13):
1) Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2h57m00.6s
2) Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +37.3
3) Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrasia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +45.2
4) Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +49.8
5) Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +50.3
6) Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:02.3
7) Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen C3 WRC) 1:20.5
8) Hayden Paddon/Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe) +2:16.3
9) Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:46.5
10) Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i0 Coupe WRC) +3:50.5

Hyundai Motorsport has seen its hopes of fighting for the FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers’ title completely eradicated after another hugely disappointing result in Rally de España.

Following a double retirement for Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen on Saturday afternoon, it was Thierry Neuville who suffered misfortune on the final morning. The Belgian was forced to stop at the end of SS16 (Santa Marina) after sustaining damage to the front right of his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC after cutting a corner.

It was a bitter blow for the team in both championships, as the non-score drops Neuville to third place in the drivers’ standings behind M-Sport duo Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tanak.

Sordo and Mikkelsen both re-joined under Rally 2 regulations on Sunday morning but were classified down the order. The result means that Hyundai Motorsport has 275 points in the Manufacturers’ Championship, an 83-point deficit to M-Sport with two rounds remaining and 86 points up for grabs.

Sunday morning saw crews tackle six stages – a repeat loop of the 6.28km L’Albiol, 16.35km Riudecanyes and 14.50km Santa Marina tests – with no mid-leg service. The second run through Santa Marina acted as the rally’s Power Stage with drivers vying for extra points. Home hero Sordo showcased what might have been this weekend with a determined Power Stage victory, securing himself five consolatory points.

Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí had enjoyed exceptional pace at times during their home rally, setting several top-two stage times on gravel and tarmac, as well as the Power Stage win. It was just one misjudged corner on Saturday afternoon that derailed their podium challenge this weekend.

Sordo said: “There are plenty of positive things to take away from this weekend, especially the Power Stage win, which was a nice consolation. For me, the car has been handling really nicely. Sure, there are some things we can still improve but I have felt comfortable and the stage times have been generally good. There has been just one negative thing – but unfortunately it was a really big one! I am really sorry for the team, the spectators and of course for myself that such a stupid error has cost us heavily this weekend. We will come back from this more strongly, I am sure. These things can happen in rallying.”

Crew Notes: Mikkelsen / Jæger (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Mikkelsen and co-driver Anders Jæger have certainly turned heads in their first weekend as a Hyundai Motorsport crew. Setting the standard on Friday’s gravel stages, the Norwegian duo experienced a steeper learning curve when they moved onto tarmac. Even a broken windscreen on Sunday morning didn’t prevent them from seeing the positive progress they have made in Spain.

Mikkelsen said: “It has been an eventful weekend for us but one that has generated a lot of positives. Our gravel pace on Friday was good, and it was a nice feeling to lead in our first event with Hyundai Motorsport. We need some more time in the car on tarmac to get the best feeling but we’ve made important progress over the past two days. We couldn’t really find the confidence to push today. We had to drive SS15 with the bonnet open after we didn’t secure it properly after removing the light pods following the dark early morning stage, and that also cracked the windscreen. Even so, we have been able to try some new things and to find a good direction for the future. It is very useful to have these three events to get as prepared as we can for next season.”

Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
For Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, any hopes of a podium charge were hampered on Saturday morning following a hydraulics issue. However, the Belgians were still targeting a top-five finish when disaster struck on SS16. Suffering front-right damage after taking a slow corner too tightly, and with no service, the crew was forced to retire, severely denting their Championship aspirations.

Neuville said: “We are obviously hugely disappointed, but at the same time this sort of bad luck is part of the game in the World Rally Championship. After our problems on Saturday, we were pushing hard this morning to make up time. Unfortunately, I turned a bit too tightly in a slow corner in SS16 and hit something that damaged the wheel, and caused the front suspension to break. That was it, game over. Of course, this result makes things much more difficult in the Drivers’ Championship, but we have to keep both feet on the ground. We have had a fantastic season on the whole. The team has put in a great effort to give me a fast car. This just hasn’t been our weekend. Now we want to finish the season with some good results in GB and Australia.”

Small glimmer of hope

Hyundai Motorsport is determined to learn from its frustrating Spanish rally. The team will regroup back at its factory in Alzenau to make improvements for the two remaining rounds of the championship – and for 2018.

Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “This has been a difficult weekend for the whole team, and certainly not an acceptable one. We asked the drivers to give everything this weekend, which they have done. There have been some positives in amongst the disappointment. Dani has been on the pace, as expected in his home event, and has been generally happy with the handling of his car. His performance in the Power Stage really showed his true potential here. However, we have seen we have to improve on tarmac so we will continue to work on this area for the future. There is still a small glimmer of hope for Thierry in the Drivers’ Championship, but we have to accept that the Manufacturers’ title is all but over for us now.” 

Next Rally

The FIA World Rally Championship now moves to the gravel challenges of Wales Rally GB, the penultimate round of the season, which takes place 26-29 October. Hyundai Motorsport will contest the event with a four-car entry. Neuville, Mikkelsen and Hayden Paddon will be joined by Sordo.

Final Overall Classification - Rally de España

1 K. Meeke P. Nagle Citroën C3 WRC 3:01:21.1
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC +28.0
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Ford Fiesta WRC +33.0
4 J. Hänninen K. Lindström Toyota Yaris WRC +54.1
5 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Ford Fiesta WRC +2:26.2

Hyundai Motorsport heads into the six-week break with clear intentions to refocus on its championship campaign after a tough weekend in Rallye Deutschland, the tenth round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Despite being a home rally for the Alzenau-based squad, and a happy hunting ground for results in the past three seasons, none of the team’s three crews have had cause for celebration this weekend.

Hayden Paddon and Seb Marshall were the highest placed Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team pair, down in eighth place. Dani Sordo and Marc Martí were put out of contention early on Friday morning after rolling down a bank, and forced to start again under Rally 2 on Saturday.

Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul also had to make use of Rally 2 to re-join on Sunday morning, after their rally was brought to a sudden halt on Saturday’s opening stage. All in all, It was an unrepresentative weekend for Hyundai Motorsport overall, although it ended on a positive as Sordo claimed Power Stage victory and five extra points towards his drivers’ championship total. That result saw Sordo take a total of five stage wins, equal with rally winner Ott Tanak.

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

Paddon and Marshall suffered two separate punctures over the weekend, which cost them time on Friday and Saturday. In their fifth event together, the crew continued to push and were rewarded with a handful of top-three times later in the rally, including second in Sunday’s SS20 (Losheim am See).

Paddon said: “When conditions were more consistent, we showed some improvement in performance compared to last year, so there are some positives to take away from this tough weekend. I knew this would be one of the hardest rallies of the season, so I am pleased that we made it to the end, and showing better stage times. I am going back home to NZ for a month, during which I will also take part in a few gravel rallies, so I am looking forward to that. Then, it’s back to Europe when we will begin our push for a good result to finish the season.”

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

For Sordo and Martí, their hopes of a third podium of the season were ruined after an off on Friday morning. However, the Spaniards showed improved performance on Saturday, including three stage wins, and ending the rally with Power Stage victory on Sunday.

Sordo said: “This hasn’t been the rally we wanted at all so it was nice to end it with a win in the Power Stage. It shows what we might have been able to achieve without our problems this weekend. I am disappointed in myself for the mistake I made on Friday, which ended our hopes of a good result. I am sorry to the team for what happened, but we have tried to perform better in these past two days. Now, all I can do is look forward to my home event in Spain where I will be trying all I can to get back onto the podium – and plan to finish the season in the best way possible.”

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

Having moved into the podium positions at the end of Friday, it was a stark turnaround in fortunes for Neuville and Gilsoul on Saturday. Forced to restart on Sunday morning under Rally 2, the Belgians struggled for pace and saw their run of Power Stage points broken as well.

Neuville said: “We made too many small mistakes this morning and struggled with the handling of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. We didn’t have enough time in the car on Saturday to prepare ourselves in the best way for these final stages. It’s obviously a massive disappointment to come away with so little from a rally in which we were hoping to be at the front. The championship is not over. I will give everything to turn things around in the final three rounds of the season.”

Short trip home

Hyundai Motorsport will return to its factory in Alzenau to reflect and learn from a difficult home rally weekend.

Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “Not so much a weekend to forget, as a rally from which we must learn and bounce back. We thought we would be able to mount a stronger challenge in our home event, but for a number of different reasons we were just not able to do it. We know from other rallies this season that our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is competitive, so this result is hard to accept. As I said after our disappointing Saturday, it is not in our nature to give up without a fight, and that’s the mentality with which we will tackle the three remaining rallies. Dani’s victory in the Power Stage gives us a bit of lift as we head into the long break.”

Next Rally

The WRC takes a six-week break before returning for Rally de España, which takes place from 5-8 October. It will act as the 11th round of the 13-event 2017 season. The Spanish round of the championship is the only mixed surface rally of the season, tackling gravel and tarmac terrain.

Final Overall Classification - Rallye Deutschland

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Ford Fiesta WRC 2:57:31.7
2 A. Mikkelsen A. Jaeger Citroën C3 WRC +16.4
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC +30.4
4 J. Hänninen K. Lindström Toyota Yaris WRC +1:49.2
5 C. Breen S. Martin Citroën C3 WRC +2:01.5
6 E. Evans D. Barritt Ford Fiesta WRC +2:03.4
7 J.M. Latvala M. Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +3:58.2
8 H. Paddon S. Marshall Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +4:32.4

Toyota Australia has marked the brand's return season to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) by signing on as a leading sponsor of this year's final round, Rally Australia in November. The local deal positions Toyota as the exclusive provider of official vehicles for the "lucky" 13th round of this year's championship to be based around Coffs Harbour from November 16-19.

Signing of the agreement comes at the mid-point of a season that has been marked by the successful development of the new Toyota Yaris WRC in tough rally conditions that have included snow and ice as well as rocky gravel surfaces.

Toyota Australia's executive director sales and marketing Tony Cramb said the company is keen to support Rally Australia, which will feature the Toyota Gazoo Racing world rally team and well-known local Toyota drivers.

"Toyota's commitment to rallying comes from the very top with our global president Akio Toyoda firmly believing that overcoming the extreme challenges of motorsport is vital in our quest to build ever-better cars," Cramb said.

"There is a strong bond between Toyota and rallying going back to the 1970s with four WRC drivers' and three WRC manufacturers' titles at the global level," he said. "We are also proud of our relationship with four-time Australian rally champions Neal Bates and Coral Taylor - a 25-year relationship during which time Toyota has also won two local manufacturers' titles. We expect to see the Bates clan - including Neal's sons Harry and Lewis - competing at their usual high standard during this year's event."

Rally Australia chairman Ben Rainsford welcomed Toyota Australia as a major event partner.

"As Rally Australia in 2017 celebrates its 25th year as a WRC event, it's wonderful to welcome a partner with its own great rally history. Toyota's name is synonymous with the sport, especially here in Australia," Rainsford said. "And while the Toyota Gazoo Racing world rally team will be drawing fans to spectate on the special stages in November, Toyota's range of road vehicles also will be in action, serving our event in many demanding official roles."

Kennards Hire Rally Australia will mark the completion of the first year of Toyota's return to the premier category of world rallying after a 17-year break. Led by four-time WRC champion Tommi Mäkinen, the Toyota Gazoo Racing world rally team has developed the Yaris WRC in tandem with Toyota Motorsport GmbH in Cologne, Germany.

The car features a 1.6-litre turbo-charged, direct-injection engine that produces more than 279kW, while advanced simulation, testing and production techniques have shaped the Yaris chassis. In this year's title race, Toyota's Jari-Matti Latvala has driven the Yaris WRC to victory in the snow and ice of Sweden while adding second place in the season-opening Monte Carlo rally and last month in Sardinia.

Latvala is third in the driver's championship with five rounds remaining, including Rally Australia. The team's other drivers are Juho Hänninen and Esapekka Lappi, who has burst onto the scene by scoring points in his first two rallies.

Toyota's WRC heritage includes famous cars like the Celica Twin-Cam Turbo and GT-Four variants and the Corolla WRC with legendary drivers such as Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol.

Bates and Taylor - in addition to their ARC victories in 1993-95 and 2008 - have won three Australian Classic Rally Championships and Targa Tasmania. They have also competed in WRC events for Toyota Team Europe.

Australia hosted the WRC from Perth in 1989 to 2006 and from NSW since 2009 with this year's event being the sixth Rally Australia on gravel shire and forestry roads around Coffs Harbour.

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