Nandan: These things shouldn’t happen in a super special stage
More Heartbreak for Hyundai Motorsport in Rally Sweden
For the second rally in a row, Hyundai Motorsport has seen its chances of victory snatched away as long-time rally leader Thierry Neuville went off in Saturday evening’s super special stage.
The Belgian and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul had enjoyed a positive Saturday, extending their overall lead to 43 seconds after a strong stage win in the afternoon’s Vargåsen stage.
Unfortunately, their progress was halted in cruel fashion at the Karlstad trotting track when they hit a concrete block. The damage was too substantial to complete the stage but they will re-join under Rally 2 regulations for the final day.
Up and Over
Eventual winners of SS15, Dani Sordo and Marc Martí have moved into fourth place, where they finished at the previous rally in Monte-Carlo. Hayden Paddon and birthday boy John Kennard recovered from power steering problems in the morning and now hold seventh overall.
Saturday’s itinerary took in a shortened distance of 93.78km after the repeated 31.6km Knon stage was cancelled. Still, there was plenty of action for the WRC crews with six stages, including two attempts at the legendary Colin’s Crest jump.
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Sordo and Martí started Saturday in seventh place with an objective to make up some positions during the course of the day. It was a target they achieved, albeit with help from others’ misfortunes. Securing their second stage win of 2017 in the evening’s super special means they head into the final morning in fourth overall.
Sordo said: “I enjoyed driving the very fast stages today, but obviously we are all sorry to see Thierry lose the lead of the rally this evening. It was hard to take comfort from winning that stage considering what happened to our team mates. Generally, we have tried to get into a rhythm today and to pick up our pace, but it’s not been easy. On the opening stage this morning, it was difficult to keep the speed through the corners. I then made a small mistake in the first Hagfors stage, SS10, which lost some time. Vargåsen is always fun, especially with the Colin’s Crest jump, but overall I could’ve done better on the loop. We couldn’t take it too easy in the afternoon with Breen so close behind, so Sunday will be about managing our gap to him, and securing fourth place.”
Crew Notes: Paddon/Kennard (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
It was another day of struggles for Paddon and Kennard, who was celebrating his 58th birthday on Saturday. The Kiwis experienced power steering problems for most of the morning loop, which required Paddon to wrestle the car around some of the fastest and challenging stages on the calendar. The resultant time loss dropped them down to tenth, but they had moved into seventh by the day’s end.
Paddon said: “Another day of two halves for us. This morning was difficult and physically demanding. Rallying on these stages with no power steering is a just incredibly tough. It felt like an extended gym session, or wrestling a lion – and coming off second best! To make it through the loop was an achievement in itself. With power steering back in the afternoon, it was like having a feather at the fingertips. We hadn’t done the two stages at speed so we were playing catch-up to find a rhythm. We are overdue a change of fortune, but I’m determined to end this rally on a high.”
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Having claimed five stage wins on Friday, Neuville and Gilsoul set about defending a 28-second lead on Saturday morning. The pair focused on keeping the driving clean, making no mistakes but mindful of chasing rivals, who were looking to reduce the gap. They were in control throughout the day. But got caught out in the evening’s super special, which abruptly ended their victory charge.
Neuville said: “There are really no words that convey how I feel right now. It was a very sudden end to what had been a good rally for us. We had spent all Saturday with a deliberate strategy to take things steady and to stay in control of the rally. We didn’t want a repeat of Monte, but that’s exactly what we got. I am so disappointed for the team, for Nicolas, and myself but we have to put it quickly behind us. We can’t dwell on such things, however frustrating. We know we have the pace to win rallies with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. We have the confidence and I am sure the results will come. Tomorrow, we come back under Rally 2 and we’ll go for Power Stage points. We will then fight back again in Mexico.”
Saturday Night Frustration
Hyundai Motorsport has finished on the podium in the past two years at Rally Sweden. With Sordo in fourth place, there is still a chance of continuing that trend. As has been the case on Saturday, in WRC it is not over until it’s over.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “It’s easy to say that this is rallying, however when you have a 43-second lead these things shouldn’t happen in a super special stage. It’s disappointing for everyone in the team, and of course for Thierry and Nicolas after what had been another commanding performance. Until that final stage, they had done everything right - controlling the rally and actually extending their lead. The old saying is true: it’s not over until it’s over. Rally 2 will give them the chance to put this behind them quickly. We have to focus on the potential from our car despite the issues we’ve faced so far this season. Our crews are resilient. We could see that from Hayden and John this morning with their power steering problems. It was a gutsy effort, and epitomises our team’s never-give-up attitude. Tomorrow is another day.”
What’s in store on Sunday?
Sunday will see two separate stages run over a total distance of just 58.81km. The 21.19km Likenäs route will be run twice with just a remote refuel in between.
Rally Sweden will conclude with a repeat of the Torsby stage. Run initially on Friday evening in darkness, it will act as the rally-concluding Power Stage with five extra points up for grabs for the top-five fastest drivers.
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