Neuville takes Drivers’ Championship lead after Rally Finland
Neuville finished in sixth place
Hyundai Motorsport has completed Rally Finland, the ninth round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), with Thierry Neuville finishing highest of the team’s three crews in sixth position in the #5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
Dani Sordo claimed ninth position, with Hayden Paddon resuming a frustrating event under Rally 2 conditions on Sunday morning with a handful of top-six stage times.
Sunday’s itinerary covered a repeat loop of the short 6.80km Lempää and 10.12km Oittila stages over a total distance of just 33.84km. Despite the brevity of the stages, there was no holding back with close battles at the front and important Power Stage points up for grabs.
Top of the table
Taking eight points for his sixth-placed finish, Neuville added three extra points for finishing third in the Power Stage. They were vital points for the Belgian, as he has moved to the lead of the Drivers’ Championship on 160 points, the same as Sébastien Ogier. However, Neuville’s three wins this year put him ahead of the Frenchman on the leaderboard.
There are 34 points separating Hyundai Motorsport from Manufacturers’ Championship leaders M-Sport, with four rounds of the season left to contest.
It has been an uncharacteristically low-key weekend for the Hyundai Motorsport team, who just three weeks ago, in Poland, registered its best-combined performance in the WRC.
With just a solitary stage win in Friday’s closing Harju test, the three Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team crews have struggled to find pace, rhythm or confidence on Finland’s notoriously high-speed, jump-filled gravel roads.
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Although a challenging weekend brings their run of six consecutive podium results to an end, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul continued their unbroken streak of Power Stage points this season. A strong run in the second Oittila stage saw Neuville achieve his pre-event aim of outscoring Ogier, and moving onto equal points with the reigning Champion.
Neuville said: “We set out to score more than Ogier this weekend, and we were able to achieve that. We had a very difficult weekend so to salvage some points is crucial. The Power Stage was a key moment, as we scored three vital extra points to move to the top of the Championship. This levels the playing field with four events left of the season, so it has been an important result. We know everyone is pushing hard to keep us in contention, so we have to put this complicated rally behind us and look forward to Germany, the team’s home event, where we know from the past that we can perform well.”
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
There are few positives for Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí to take away from Finland, as the Spanish crew struggled to ninth overall. They will look forward to a return to tarmac at Rallye Deutschland, where they have historically performed well.
Sordo said: “I am relieved that this rally is over. I have never had the right feeling all weekend, and on these fast roads you need to be fully committed to perform at the highest level. It has been complicated, not only for me but also for the team, so we have to put this behind us and look forward to the next event. We cannot let this weekend affect us; we need to stay concentrated and push flat out for victory in Germany!”
Crew Notes: Paddon/Marshall (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
After two retirements on successive days in Finland, Paddon and co-driver Seb Marshall re-joined under Rally 2 on Sunday morning. The pair picked up from where they were cruelly forced to leave on Saturday, registering top-six stage times. It was a case of what might have been for the crew, who could have built on their Polish podium were it not for their misfortune.
Paddon said: “It has been one of those weekends for us. After our retirements on Friday and Saturday, we wanted to approach these final stages in a positive manner and to get some time behind the wheel. This rally has perfectly illustrated our season, where anything that can go wrong does go wrong. The Power Stage was another example, when the car unexpectedly went straight on at a third gear corner. Still, we got to the end of the rally and I am sure, one day in the future, we will look back and laugh at our bad luck this year. I am sure we could have fought for the podium this weekend, and that is the positive that we will take away.”
Falling short in Finland
Rally Finland has never been a strong event for Hyundai Motorsport, and 2017 has continued that trend. Despite showing the versatile performance of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in a variety of conditions this season, the team has not matched its rivals on the Finnish stages, which require utmost precision and commitment from the crews.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “We expected this rally to be more difficult than others but we never thought we would be missing so much pace compared to our competitors. All in all, we are disappointed, as we could not reach our pre-rally objective to step on the podium. We have some work to do on this specific terrain and we can now focus on the next two events, which should be better suited to the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. On a positive note, Thierry has managed to pick some very important points, and he has now taken the lead of the Championship. This sets things up for a very exciting final four events. Finally, we send our congratulations to Esapekka Lappi for his debut WRC victory, and to everyone at Toyota Gazoo Racing for a great home result.”
Home sweet home
Hyundai Motorsport will aim to learn lessons from Finland, but look to put the disappointment quickly behind them with its home event next on the calendar. Rallye Deutschland, the first tarmac event since Tour de Corse, will take place from 17-20 August.
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