Hyundai returns to Europe with a four-car entry into Rally de Portugal
Paddon returns to the line-up
Hyundai Motorsport will field a four-car entry into next weekend’s Rally de Portugal, the sixth round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), and second in a run of four consecutive gravel rallies.
Currently leading the manufacturers’ championship with a 15-point advantage over M-Sport Ford, the team will be aiming to continue its competitive start to the season with another fight for the podium positions.
Hayden Paddon returns for his first WRC event since finishing fifth in Rally Sweden back in February, joining Andreas Mikkelsen, Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. All four crews have had the opportunity to test prior to the rally, which promises to be another closely fought battle among the WRC manufacturer teams.
In accordance with WRC regulations, only three crews will be eligible for championship points for the Hyundai Motorsport team, with the two highest finishers per team scoring. The team has already named Mikkelsen, Neuville and Paddon, with Sordo taking control of the fourth car.
Rally de Portugal consists of 20 special stages over four days of action, a total distance of 358km, following an itinerary almost identical to last year, when Hyundai Motorsport secured a double podium finish. The schedule builds towards an exhilarating Power Stage on Sunday morning, the famous Fafe test that offers an electric atmosphere and a thrilling finale to a tricky rally.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “Portugal is set to be our busiest rally of the season in terms of car and team operations. Running four Hyundai i20 Coupe WRCs will require us to be extra focused and diligent. There is no room for error, as we target another strong all-round team performance. We welcome Hayden and Seb back into the team, and are confident that they will make their presence felt on the standings from the outset. All four crews have tested ahead of the event in order to be as prepared as we can for another close battle.”
In addition to its four WRC cars, Hyundai Motorsport will also have WRC2 representation from its HMDP crew Jari Huttunen and Antti Linnaketo. The Finnish duo will be taking part in their third event of the season after Rally Sweden and Rally Mexico, in which they showed encouraging pace and performance. They have carried out testing in Portugal to acclimatise to the conditions and the car, so they can hit the ground running next week.
Michel Nandan added: “We have been satisfied with how Jari and Antti approached their first two rallies of the year in Sweden and Mexico. They were two very contrasting events and Portugal will offer a new learning experience for the pair. The first objective is for them to finish the rally, and to gain a full experience of the Portuguese round of the Championship in their Hyundai i20 R5, but then to show some speed against the more established names in WRC2. They are well used to gravel rallies, so we have high hopes for them.”
Mikkelsen said: “We head back to Europe following a pretty positive weekend for the team in Argentina. I have good experience at Rally de Portugal with a best result of second place a couple of years ago. I didn’t take part last season so I am looking forward to putting my i20 Coupe WRC through its paces on the gravel stages. It can be quite rough with high grip in places. It’s an event I enjoy and we’ll be looking to put our recent gravel experiences to good use."
Neuville said: “This rally will be a big weekend for all of us at Hyundai Motorsport. Not only are we entering four cars, but we are also determined to continue the form we showed in Argentina. Portugal is a great event with a lot of supportive fans and some nice stages. It offers us some unique challenges with varying grip levels on the stages. We saw at the last rally that our rivals are very strong but this gives us added motivation to improve ourselves and do all we can to fight at the front.”
Paddon said: “I have spent the time since our last WRC event doing some rallies in New Zealand and training hard. It will be challenging having not driven the WRC car for three months but Seb and myself are ready to give it our best shot. The Portuguese stages require a lot of commitment and the grip levels can be quite changeable, depending on the weather. As everyone knows the rally quite well, only with perfect preparation and pace notes will we be competitive.”
Sordo said: “Rally de Portugal is a special event for me, being situated so close to Spain. Many supporters make the short trip to show their support, and it makes for a fantastic atmosphere. Of course, the Fafe jump is a highlight of the weekend but there are many other enjoyable stages to tackle over the weekend. We have four cars for this event, which will make our service area very busy, but it will be fun to drive alongside the other crews.”
More on WRC