Neuville: All in all, it’s been a good day’s work for us
Hyundai Motorsport sets Sweden pace as Neuville dominates Friday
Hyundai Motorsport has taken five stage wins on the first complete day of this weekend’s Rally Sweden with Thierry Neuville heading the classification by an encouraging 28.1s.
Like at the season-opening round in Monte-Carlo, the Belgian put himself in strong contention at the front of the field from the outset of the rally, building confidence alongside co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul as the day progressed.
In the second round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Hyundai Motorsport is aiming to fulfil the clear performance promise shown by its Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC so far.
The #4 crew of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard ended the opening day in sixth place, just ahead of Spaniards Dani Sordo and Marc Martí in seventh.
Across the Border
Friday’s schedule saw crews tackle snowy stages in Sweden and across the border into Norway. A repeat loop, including the classic Röjden, the brand new Hof-Finnskog and the 24.88km Svullrya - the longest stage of the day – was supplemented by the 16.43km Torsby stage which was held in the dark.
The rally’s Torsby base afforded snowier conditions for the event than twelve months ago. Crews had to adapt to changing grip conditions between the morning and afternoon loop, while also considering the best quantity of Michelin X-Ice North studded tyres for each pass.
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Neuville and Gilsoul were determined to bounce back from the disappointment of missing out on a fight for victory in Monte-Carlo. They set the standard in five out of Friday’s seven stages. After fending off an initial challenge from Jari-Matti Latvala’s Toyota, the Belgians extended their lead to 28.1s. However, with a long and precarious rally still to run, the pair is rightly cautious.
Neuville said: “All in all, it’s been a good day’s work for us. To lead the rally by such a margin is obviously very encouraging, but we are not getting carried away because we know how unpredictable this rally can be. There’s a long way to go! We had a decent first loop today, although it wasn’t perfect. In SS4, there were a lot of deep cuts and I hit something very hard with the front. I took it carefully after that in case it was a puncture. Our pace notes were good for the afternoon loop and we looked after the studs so our tyres had performance right to the end. My door kept opening slightly on the final stage, which was a distraction but overall the car has been working very well here and I’m optimistic for the rest of the weekend.”
Crew Notes: Paddon/Kennard (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Paddon and Kennard had a cautious start to the rally, in which they finished second twelve months ago. Lacking confidence in the morning loop, the Kiwi crew sat down with their engineers over lunchtime service to set a better direction for the afternoon stages. Second place in SS5 (Röjden II) and third in SS6 (Hof-Finnskog II) offered cause for encouragement.
Paddon said: “I’m not going to lie, it’s not been the start to the rally that we wanted. Things just weren’t coming very naturally on the morning stages, so we had to be patient. It was really a case of battling myself, rather than the stages. I sat with my engineer at lunchtime service and he suggested some changes that really helped us for the afternoon. I had more confidence from the start and felt that I was driving the car, not the car driving me! We lost time as the loop continued because we’d only taken five studded tyres, as opposed to six. But we’re in the top-six and I hope to have a more positive Saturday.”
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
The Spanish crew of Sordo and Martí are looking to build on their solid fourth place finish from Monte-Carlo. Despite a small mistake in morning loop, which cost them 20 seconds, they have taken a measured approach in difficult conditions. They find themselves seventh overall at the end of Friday.
Sordo said: “We had a good morning loop, generally speaking. The car was working well and I was enjoying the stages. The only real issue we had was in SS4 (Svullrya) where I got distracted and missed a hairpin. We lost a lot of time and I couldn’t get back into the rhythm. As expected, the conditions were not easy in the afternoon, so we took no risks. It was difficult to keep the car in the lines, so I was lacking a bit of confidence. In the final stage, in the dark conditions, this was especially hard, so we just played it safely. These stages are fast and fun to drive, so I am looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of our i20 Coupe WRC tomorrow.”
High Five for Hyundai Motorsport
Neuville’s five stage wins today take Hyundai Motorsport’s total stage victories in WRC to 95, with twelve of those scored by the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in Monte-Carlo and in Sweden. It’s been a competitive start to 2017 for the team, but with plenty of challenges yet to come this weekend, the team will stay focused on maintaining its lead.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “We’ve been quite successful in Sweden in recent years, so after the performance we showed in Monte-Carlo, we had hopes of fighting at the front here. Thierry and Nicolas have once again demonstrated the potential from our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC with some confident stage wins and being constantly inside the top-two. Things were not as smooth for our other two crews, Hayden/John and Dani/Marc, but there are signs of improvement, which we must put into practice tomorrow. With ten stages still to run, we’ve got a long way to go and lots more work to do.”
What’s in store on Saturday?
A total special stage distance of 125.38km will be run on the penultimate day of Rally Sweden.
A repeat loop of three stages will make up the bulk of Saturday’s itinerary, which culminates in a Super Special Stage at the fan-friendly Karlstad Trotting track.
Saturday gets underway with the longest stage of the day – the 31.6km Knon test – before moving onto familiar territory at Hagfors. The 14.27km Vårgasen challenge completes the trio of stages, which includes the famous Colin’s Crest jump. The crew who registers the longest jump here will win the coveted Colin’s Crest Award.
Hyundai Motorsport has seen its crews take this accolade twice previously – Juho Hänninen in 2014 and Thierry Neuville in 2015.
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