Hyundai Motorsport seeks second straight Sardinian success
Following a double podium in Portugal
Hyundai Motorsport is looking to continue its recent run of strong performances with another positive result at Rally Italia Sardegna, the seventh round on the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar.
Entering the second half of the 2017 season, the team finds itself in a position to challenge for the Manufacturers’ Championship, with its crews also featuring prominently in the Drivers’ standings.
Having claimed podiums at every gravel event this season, as well as six individual podiums in the last four events, the team is confident that it can once again compete at the front with its Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
Moments in time
Sardinia holds happy memories for Hyundai Motorsport as the scene of the team’s first three-car rally back in 2014, Hayden Paddon’s debut podium as part of a 2-3 result in 2015, and a popular victory for Thierry Neuville twelve months ago.
The fourth gravel event of the season, Sardinia will serve as a real test to the competing crews, who must not only navigate the island’s rugged routes, but also the sweltering summer sun.
The Italian WRC counter has its origins in a mixed surface event based in Sanremo, known as the Rally of the Flowers, which was first held in 1928. It featured in the inaugural WRC schedule in 1973 and only moved to its current gravel format and location on the Mediterranean island in 2004.
Crews must be able to adapt their style for the loose and slippery gravel of initial stage runs, as well as the rutted roads that they will face during second passes. Just like in Rally de Portugal, tyre choice management could well prove crucial.
The heat is on
Temperature will also be one of the main obstacles facing the teams as they take to the stages from Thursday evening. With the mercury soaring past the 30°C barrier, not only will it be uncomfortable in the cars for the drivers, but extra stress will also be put on both the engine and transmission of their vehicles.
The team’s driver line-up will remain unchanged from Portugal; Paddon and Seb Marshall in the #4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul in the #5, Dani Sordo and Marc Martí in the #6. Paddon will contest all remaining rounds of the season with Marshall after a mutual decision with long-term co-driver John Kennard, who has stepped aside earlier than planned as a result of an ongoing hip condition.
Although there has been no testing since Portugal, Hyundai Motorsport’s three crews carried out testing in Sardinia in early May to prepare for next weekend’s 19-stage rally.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: "We head into Rally Italia Sardegna on the back of a very good run of results, including victories in Corsica and Argentina, as well as our most recent double podium in Portugal. We are hopeful that we can compete for a positive result, but at the same time we know our competitors are also pushing hard. We have shown that our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC has the potential to fight for podiums and wins on gravel. We know the cars strengths and weaknesses, and will do all we can to maximise our performance to try and repeat some our past success in Sardinia."
Crew Notes: Paddon/Marshall (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Despite suffering from technical issues at Rally Portugal, Paddon and Marshall were still able to claim four stage wins. The Kiwi driver has fond memories of Sardinia, which was not only the scene of his WRC debut for Hyundai Motorsport, but also where he secured his first podium, a second place finish in 2015, as part of a double podium for the team.
Paddon said: "The decision for John to step down early was not an easy one, but we all felt it was best in the difficult circumstances. He will continue to play an important role in our WRC programme. Seb did a great job in Portugal, so we are looking forward to continuing the partnership in Sardinia, with John’s support and backing. I think Sardinia is one of the toughest European rallies that we do. It’s rough, it’s hot and you have to pay really special attention to the car as well. But those challenges aside, we have some good memories from there and, of course, we would like to try and repeat some of those. Most of all, we are hoping to just have a nice clean rally. We saw some signs of genuine encouragement on the final day in Portugal, so I’d like to pick up from there!"
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul moved up to second place in the Drivers’ Championship after their second place result in Portugal. Returning to the scene of their 2016 victory, the Belgians will be aiming to continue their recent streak of results, which has also seen them claim Power Stage points in every round of the Championship so far.
Neuville commented: "Rally Italia Sardegna is a special event for me, particularly after our win last year. I still have very fond memories of our entire team jumping into the harbour in celebration. We already have a couple of wins this season, but this is a technical event that we cannot take for granted. The roads are very hard and dry which can be tough on the cars, especially the tyres. Therefore, tyre choice can be crucial depending on road position and will be something we watch closely. Overall, we are happy, we are confident, and we are hopeful that we can achieve a positive result."
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Fresh from his second podium of the season at Rally Portugal, Sordo has high hopes that he and his co-driver Marc Martí can continue to sustain their consistency in Sardinia. The Spaniard holds fifth place in the Drivers’ Championship as the season moves into the second half.
Sordo commented: "I was pleased to get back onto the podium in Portugal, and to show we can fight on gravel. Sardinia is not one of my preferred events, but the second passes of the stages are nice as they are a bit cleaner and smoother. The stages themselves are very narrow so it is always difficult to build up confidence. Getting a podium in Portugal shows what we are capable of and the consistency that we have had since the beginning of the season has been encouraging. I just hope we can use this positive momentum to tackle this next challenge to the best of our ability."
Rally at a glance
Rally Italia Sardegna comprises 312.66 competitive kilometres of action run across 19 stages.
The rally base and service park will be situated in the west coast town of Alghero once again. It is near to this location that the rallying begins on Thursday evening, with the running of a Super Special Stage at the Ittiri Arena, before crews overnight in Olbia on the opposite coast.
Friday features four stages run twice across a total of 125.46km, including the return of two classic rough and rocky tests - Terranova and Monte Olia.
Saturday is the longest and toughest leg with 143.16km divided over six stages in the Monte Acuto region, while Sunday’s finale is identical to that of 2016, with two repeated stages covering 42.04km.
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