The fight for 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles will be settled at the season finale in Australia in mid-November after an exhilarating Rally de España caused another shift in the championship battles.
Hyundai Motorsport completed a challenging Spanish rally in fourth and fifth positions after late drama prevented the team from scoring a podium result. Thierry Neuville finished just 0.5-seconds from third-placed Elfyn Evans as the Belgian picked up a broken rear-right rim in the Power Stage.
Dani Sordo finished fifth helping the team to close the gap in the thrilling manufacturers’ title fight. Hyundai Motorsport is now just 12 points behind leaders Toyota Gazoo Racing, but only 13 ahead of a resurgent M-Sport Ford, meaning the championship chase will go right down to the wire in Australia.
Neuville has been forced to relinquish the lead of the drivers’ table to Sébastien Ogier with just three points separating the duo heading to the season finale. With Ott Tanak 23 points adrift, it remains a three-way fight for this season’s title honours.
Fight to the finish
Sunday’s itinerary resulted in an exciting final day of action with four stages contested over 61.70km. A repeated loop of the 16.35km Riudecanyes and 14.50km Santa Marina routes separated by a mid-morning service offered plenty of opportunity and drama.
Hyundai Motorsport’s crews showed their fighting spirit by setting competitive stage times throughout the morning with home hero Sordo determined to remain in the podium battle, and Neuville doing all he could to defend his championship lead.
Overnight rain offered a critical tyre selection on the first pass with Hyundai Motorsport opting for the safer soft compound options. In increasingly dry stages, however, the repeat loop afforded a more straightforward choice. The victory chase went right down to the wire, the rally concluding Santa Marina Power Stage, with an intense duel between the two Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier.
Scoring four stages wins over the weekend across each of its three crews, Hyundai Motorsport was able to demonstrate competitive performances with its Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on both gravel and tarmac. All eyes now move onto the final round of the season, Rally Australia, which was won last year by Thierry Neuville, heading a Hyundai Motorsport 1-3.
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
- Broken rim in Power Stage ended Belgian crew’s podium chances
- Drops to second in drivers’ championship, three points behind Ogier
Neuville said: “This has been a crazy and intense rally, which summarises the highly competitive nature of this entire championship. I am obviously disappointed not to have had the chance to finish on the podium today and to score valuable extra points in the Power Stage. We were unlucky; there was a stone in the road that I couldn’t avoid and it damaged the right rear wheel rim. Yesterday, we caught back up with the front-runners by taking some risks. Today we had hoped to compete with the Fords but we just weren’t able to manage it. The title fight is wide-open heading to Australia – both drivers and manufacturers – which is a great advert for WRC! We won the rally from second on the road last season so everything is possible.”
Crew Notes: Sordo / Del Barrio (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
- Stage win on Friday and led the rally on Saturday
- Power Stage point for the Spanish crew on home soil
Sordo said: “I am not entirely happy with the weekend or the result but at the same time I’m not too disappointed. We have lost some time over the rally due to difficult tyre choices but it’s not been an easy event to read from a strategy point of view. I have done my best and also set some competitive stage times too, so it’s not all bad. We were in the fight right until the end and it was definitely an exciting rally for all of the fans. As always, it’s a pleasure to compete in my home rally and I hope we have given the spectators the entertainment they have become used to watching.”
Crew Notes: Mikkelsen/Jæger (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
- Stage win on Friday highlight of their Spanish weekend
- Duo will aim to come back strongly in Australia to support title chase
Mikkelsen said: “Once again, we have not come away with the result we were expecting or know we are able to achieve, but we’ve tried our hardest. I can’t quite explain why the feeling or the pace is not there. Today’s final stages allowed me to get some drier running and to try out a set-up that worked well in testing. It still wasn’t perfect so we just have to keep working to unlock whatever is missing. It’s been a tough rally with changing weather conditions, as well as gravel and tarmac stages, so not at all straightforward. We have to keep our heads up and put our full effort into the final round of the season in Australia, and to support the team and Thierry as best we can.”
Still in the game
- Championship battles will be settled only after the Power Stage in Australia
- Stage wins across all three crews shows potential of i20 Coupe WRC in Spain
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “That was a very intense and highly competitive rally for all manufacturers and most crews. The level was incredible and the final results were only settled in the Power Stage, offering an exciting finale for the fans. Naturally we are disappointed that Thierry picked up a broken rim that stopped him from taking home a podium. It would have capped off a remarkable comeback weekend after his struggles on Friday but these things happen. We have seen a change in the drivers’ lead with Sébastien now in front, but at least that means Thierry won’t be opening the road in Australia. With Dani finishing fifth, we have also managed to reduce the gap to Toyota in the manufacturers’ championship. That means, as always seemed to be the case, the fight will be settled at the final round of the season. Rest assured, we will give it all we’ve got!”
The final showdown
- The 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) will conclude with Rally Australia from November 15-18
- One final gravel event will decide both drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles in what has been one of the most hotly contested WRC seasons for many years.
Final Overall Classification – Rally de España
|1||S. Loeb||D. Elena||Citroën C3 R5||3:12:08.0|
|2||S. Ogier||J. Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||+2.9|
|3||E. Evans||D. Barritt||Ford Fiesta WRC||+16.5|
|4||T. Neuville||N. Gilsoul||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+17.0|
|5||D. Sordo||C. del Barrio||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+18.6|
|6||O. Tänak||M. Järveoja||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1:03.9|
|7||E. Lappi||J. Ferm||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1:16.6|
|8||J.M Latvala||M. Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1:26.4|
|9||C. Breen||S. Martin||Citroën C3 R5||+2:07.0|
|10||A. Mikkelsen||A. Jæger||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+2:48.2|