Hyundai holds provisional podium after dramatic start in Portugal
Sordo ends the first day chasing a podium in third position
Hyundai Motorsport has endured a dramatic start to the fifth round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Rally de Portugal - although the team has two New Generation i20 WRCs battling competitively inside the top-five at the end of the first day.
Dani Sordo is the leading Hyundai Motorsport driver, as the Spaniard holds a provisional third place, just 5.4-seconds from Sébastien Ogier. Thierry Neuville has rebounded to fifth overall after a cautious opening stage on Friday morning. The Belgian ended the day with two stage wins on the streets of Porto.
Neither Hayden Paddon nor Kevin Abbring were able to complete the day’s scheduled running. Abbring, competing in his first WRC event of the 2016 season, suffered a broken steering arm in SS3 (Caminha 1 - 18.03km) after misjudging a left-hand corner.
Paddon rolled on SS5 (Ponte de Lima 2 - 27.44km). He and co-driver John Kennard were unharmed in the incident but the heat from the car’s exhaust set the trees alight and the resultant fire destroyed the #3 New Generation i20 WRC. The Kiwi crew will take no further part in this rally.
Sordo (#4 New Generation i20 WRC) and co-driver Marc Martí were on fine form throughout Friday, setting strong stage times and establishing themselves as podium contenders. A puncture in SS7 (Viana do Castelo 2 - 18.70km) dropped the crew to third but they will use the support from the enthusiastic local and travelling Spanish fans to fight back on Saturday.
Sordo said: “It has been a pretty good day in general, and I am pleased we have been able to show good pace in the New Generation i20 WRC. We had a competitive morning loop; we saved the tyres in the opening stage but then had a good run up to lunchtime service. The car felt great. We had an equally strong start to the afternoon loop. My stage times were quick and we were looking OK. We picked up a front-left puncture during SS7, which lost us some time. We don’t know exactly where it happened but the tyre started to deflate by the end of the stage. That moved us back to third overall but it’s been a positive start to the rally. The car has been behaving very well and when you have a good car, you have the confidence to push. The support from the fans is incredible as always and that is motivating us to fight more tomorrow. It’s a tough rally and the stage times are close, which makes it even better!”
Neuville (#20 New Generation i20 WRC) and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, competing in Portugal for Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team, picked up a puncture on SS7 (Viana do Castelo 2 - 18.70km) but otherwise had a trouble-free day and ended it with two wins on the Porto Street Stage.
Neuville commented: “We can be relatively satisfied with our performance and position today. It was definitely a nice way to end Friday with two fastest times on the Porto Street Stage in front of so many fans. We got off an overly cautious start this morning. I wanted to take it easy in the opening stage but I had no idea we were losing so much time with that approach. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it was 30 seconds. From there, we picked up the pace and built some confidence. There was room for improvement but we were able to claw back some positions. It was a disrupted afternoon and we had an issue in SS7 with the front-left tyre. It was leaking air at the start of the stage and it fully deflated in the final five kilometres. That lost us some time but we made it through and can rebuild tomorrow from fifth - and who knows what could happen. We’ll keep pushing.”
Abbring (#10 Hyundai i20 WRC) and co-driver Seb Marshall had an early finish to their first full day of WRC action since last November. Driving a 2015-specification i20 WRC, the Dutch-British crew were acclimatising to the Portuguese gravel stages but suffered a broken steering arm in SS3. Unfortunately they weren’t able to fix it and were forced to retire for the day. They will re-join under Rally 2 on Saturday morning.
Abbring said: “It’s obviously a disappointing way to end our first day of World Rally action since we took part in Wales Rally GB last November. I am not so familiar with these stages and the purpose of me taking part in these next two rallies is to build my confidence on gravel. The conditions were OK and we were taking it carefully to ease ourselves into the rally. On SS3, in a left-hand corner, the surface was a bit sandy and we thought we would slide but there was more grip than expected. The car turned in more than planned and we touched a wall, which broke the steering arm. It took time to repair but we couldn’t continue. We can return under Rally 2 tomorrow thankfully!”
Paddon (#3 New Generation i20 WRC) and co-driver John Kennard were fortunate to escape unharmed from an ‘off’ in the afternoon loop. The Rally Argentina winners were making steady progress today but lost the car in SS5, rolling into the surrounding trees. The heat from the car’s exhaust caused a fire to break out, which engulfed the #3 car, destroying it completely.
Paddon commented: “I don’t know where to begin! That was definitely not part of our plan for this rally and I am very disappointed to have to retire in this way. We started the morning quite well despite some small technical niggles. We didn’t lose too much time and were definitely keeping in touch. We were hoping to close the gap in the afternoon loop but it wasn’t to be. Unfortunately, we were caught out by a big hole in the road on SS5 that sent the car into a roll off the road. The heat from the exhaust then set the surrounding bushes on fire, and totally destroyed the car. The consequences for a small mistake are very cruel. I’m sorry for the team and vow to come back stronger in Sardinia, a rally where we scored a podium last year.”
Hyundai Motorsport is hoping to continue its strongest ever start to a World Rally Championship campaign, following podiums in Monte-Carlo and Sweden, and the memorable victory in Argentina. Two New Generations i20 WRCs inside the top-five is an encouraging start to Rally de Portugal, a rally in which the team has a previous best of sixth place.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “It has been a day of ups and downs. In our first rally of the season with four cars, we weren’t expecting a straightforward rally; it’s certainly been a challenge. Firstly, we are all glad that Hayden and John are OK after their incident this afternoon. Unfortunately, the car was burnt completely by the fire, putting an end to their rally. Kevin too experienced trouble in his first event of the season. It was a small rally incident that resulted in a retirement from the morning loop. They will continue learning under Rally 2 tomorrow. It’s not all been bad news today, though. Dani is in a highly commendable third place, not far from Ogier, with Thierry in fifth. They have shown encouraging performances today and I look forward to seeing what they have to show on Saturday. I’m sure we’re in for another thrilling day of WRC action.”
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