Hyundai extends Monte-Carlo lead as rally nears halfway point
The Belgian scored a trio of stage wins on Friday
Hyundai Motorsport continues to lead Rallye Monte-Carlo at the conclusion of Friday’s six special stages with Thierry Neuville extending his advantage to 45 seconds as the rally approaches its midway point.
The Belgian added a further three stage wins to his tally on Friday, as he continued to acclimatise to the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC alongside co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul. The Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team’s second competing crew, Dani Sordo and Marc Martí, had a more challenging day, despite moving up to fifth overall.
A trio of stages was run twice on Friday with a lunchtime service splitting the morning and afternoon loops. Monte-Carlo’s challenging terrain requires utmost confidence in the cockpit, so even the smallest discrepancy in pace notes or misjudgement in tyre choice can quickly alter the overall classification.
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Neuville was the man to beat for much of Friday, setting the second best time in SS3 and scoring three wins in succession from SS4-SS6. The Belgian encountered some difficulties on the final two stages but was still able to increase his lead from 7.8s to an impressive 45s. He will be mindful of a chasing Sébastien Ogier, who reclaimed his second position in SS8.
Neuville said: “I felt really comfortable with the car in this morning’s loop, even if there were a few settings we wanted to change at lunchtime service. We experienced some understeer in the tight corners, and it was a bit more slippery than we thought it would be. We started the afternoon well but in SS7 we found our pace notes to be set up more for ice and snow, when the terrain was, in fact, more slushy. We lost too much time there. Then, in the final stage, we were going well until an engine stall at a hairpin that cost us around ten seconds during the restart procedure. It was not the best end to the day but we have to be happy to lead this rally by such a margin. It’s never enough around Monte-Carlo, though, and we know that Seb and Ott will push us tomorrow. There’s a long way to go, so we’re not getting carried away.”
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Sordo couldn’t match the pace of his teammate on Friday but persevered in the tricky conditions to move up into the top-five overall. The Spanish crew didn’t encounter any issues with their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC during the day but were unable to find a rhythm with the variable grip levels, particularly on the afternoon loop.
Sordo said: “It’s very difficult for everyone out there, but we’ve lacked pace today. The stages are nice but it has been hard to know where the grip is, and where we can push. It seems to be a moving target, so we’ve not been able to build our confidence in the car on any of the stages. We have tried to be careful and to make sure we get through the day, which we have achieved. Our aim is to find some improvements on Saturday and to target a solid points finish on Sunday. We hope to catch Jari-Matti (Latvala) but the first goal is to not make any mistakes.”
Day of contrasts
In the first event for the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, Hyundai Motorsport has already scored double the number of stage wins than it did twelve months ago en route to a third-place podium finish. With nine more gruelling stages to run this weekend, the team is mindful of the many challenges that this season-opening rally is yet to present.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “It’s been a contrasting day. Thierry and Nicolas had a very competitive morning, scoring three stage wins and building their advantage. But they ran into some difficulties in the afternoon, firstly with their pace notes, and then with an engine stall. Those separate issues cost them a lot of time relative to Ogier, but at the same time they have actually increased their lead to 45 seconds. Dani and Marc have struggled to find any confidence in the conditions, but we will work together to see what we can do to support them in the final two days of this event. We can’t take our positions for granted. We have seen issues for some of our rivals today, which serves as a useful reminder of the challenges faced in Monte-Carlo.”
Saturday at a Glance
A total of 121.39km of special stages will be contested on Saturday. The morning action will begin at 8am local time with the 31.17km Lardier et Valenca test, followed by the 16.78km La Batie Montsaleon – Faye test. The opening two stages will be followed by a mid-morning service in Gap before crews embark on the repeat loop. Teams will have a second thirty-minute service before the day’s final stage, a repeat of Thursday’s Bayons-Brezier route, this time in daylight.
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