Hyundai targets its maiden WRC titles in Australia
Neuville holds a three-point deficit to Ogier
Hyundai Motorsport will set out to claim its first-ever title in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) next weekend as the 2018 season concludes ‘down under’ at Rally Australia.
The finale of one of the most competitive fought WRC seasons for many years sees a three-way fight in both drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships between Hyundai, Toyota, M-Sport Ford and their respective drivers Thierry Neuville, Ott Tanak and Sébastien Ogier.
Following a thrilling encounter at Rally de España, Ogier now leads Neuville in the drivers’ table by three points, while a two-car finish in the top-five in Spain saw the gap to Toyota in the manufacturers’ battle reduced to twelve points. In Australia, there will be a maximum 30 points available for drivers (25 for victory and five bonus Power Stage points), and 43 for manufacturers (one-two result).
Hyundai Motorsport will field three Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars in the final round of the season, an event the team won twelve months ago. Joining last year’s winning crew Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul will be Norwegians Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger and returning duo Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall, who claimed a third-place podium result in Australia last year.
The greatest showdown
The dusty gravel and forest tracks of Rally Australia will offer a suitably tricky battleground for all participating crews with a heavily revised route that features 16 new-look stages. A total of 24 timed tests will cover a distance of 318.64km and offer little opportunity for respite over the three days of competition.
Brand new stages are made up of previously unused roads as well as sections of former stages, such as the monster Nambucca test. The spectacle has also been ramped up with two jumps and a water splash at the Destination New South Wales special on Friday and Saturday evenings, as well as a longer, higher jump at the fan favourite Wedding Bells Power Stage.
Team Principal Michel Nandan: “What a season finale this promises to be! After 12 competitive rounds of gravel and tarmac action carried out in a variety of conditions and countries around the world, we head to Australia with both titles wide open. On the one hand we know we have let our grasp of the titles loose over recent rallies but at the same time we remain as determined as ever to secure a maiden WRC title for Hyundai. It will be far from easy. All four manufacturers will be vying for victory, aiming to finish the season on a high, so it looks set to be a fierce contest – arguably the ideal way to end what has been a truly fascinating season. May the best team and crew win!”
Mikkelsen said: “Australia has always been a good rally for us. We won there in 2016 and were leading after the opening day in 2017 with Hyundai. Unfortunately we had to retire on the second day but we are usually very fast. I hope for another competitive run this time around. We have not had the season that we’d hoped so I want to end the year with a strong result. All eyes will be on the title fight and we will do everything in our power to support the team and Thierry.”
Neuville said: “Recent rallies have not gone our way and we now find ourselves involved in an incredible and intense championship fight. All manufacturers and crews have had ups and downs this season, but we need to put all of this behind us and to focus on a perfect weekend in Australia. The benefit of dropping to second in the drivers’ championship is that we won’t be opening the road on the dusty gravel. It offers only a small advantage but everything counts now. We won from that position twelve months ago and we’ll be targeting the same result next weekend. That will be the best way to take the title.”
Paddon said: “I am looking forward to being back in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for Rally Australia, one of the events to which we most look forward. As always, we will have fantastic support from the travelling Kiwi fans, which gives us a real boost. We finished third in the event last year to finish the season with a podium. I hope we can repeat that sort of result this time around. We’ve been building up our performance level as the season as progressed, so hopefully Australia will be the rally where we can pull the pin and really go for it. I want to end the season on a high.”