Tough opening day for Hyundai drivers at punishing Rally Finland
— Thierry Neuville has ended the first full day of this weekend’s Rally Finland as the highest placed Hyundai i20 WRC in fifth place after a day of improvements for the Belgian
— Dani Sordo, in his first Rally Finland as a Hyundai Motorsport driver, is right behind his team-mate on the overall classification in sixth
— After a strong morning, in which he fought solidly in the top five, Hayden Paddon crashed his car in SS6. The damage proved too significant and the Kiwi has been forced to retire completely from the rally.
The opening day of the ultra-fast, super demanding Rally Finland, round eight of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) has proved to be a challenging one for the Hyundai Motorsport team.
All three of the Hyundai i20 WRC cars had made a trouble-free start to the event, running inside the top eight by the end of Friday morning’s loop. The high speeds and famous jumps through the Finnish stages started to take their toll on drivers and cars as the day progressed, making it a fight to the finish.
With no lunchtime service, instead just a tyre fitting zone after the Himos stage (SS5 5.40km), it was important for drivers to take a cautious approach in the morning’s four stages. However, the afternoon loop - including a repeat of the legendary Ouninpohja stage - saw a change of fortunes for some.
For Thierry Neuville (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC), the rally got off to a rocky start when he crashed his car in Thursday morning’s shakedown. The Belgian used Friday to regain his confidence and picked up the pace in the afternoon to finish fifth overall.
Neuville said: “It has been a hard day but I think we have made some important improvements stage by stage. Our weekend got off to a bad start when we had a crash in Shakedown on Thursday morning. The team did a great job to fix the car but we had some work to do in the opening stages this morning. The pace notes were not really quick enough and we had to rebuild our confidence in the car. We found conditions to be better after lunch and we could go faster. We tried to push but we had a big moment in SS9 (Himos 2) and nearly rolled so we were lucky to make the end of the day. Our target is to get more confidence tomorrow and improve the performance level.”
Dani Sordo (#8 Hyundai i20 WRC) is taking part in his first Rally Finland as a Hyundai Shell World Rally Team driver this season and made the most of today’s stages to reacquaint himself with the tough stages. An exhaust problem in the afternoon was the only issue on an otherwise positive day for the Spaniard.
Sordo said: “I didn’t do this rally last year, so I have had to use today’s stages to reacclimatise to the fast Finnish stages and to get a feeling from my Hyundai i20 WRC. We did as much as we could but it was a difficult start. We felt the rear of the car move quite a lot at the beginning of Ouninpohja but once we were in the narrow sections it was a lot faster and more fun. We made some changes to the car and found some gains for the afternoon loop. In the repeat Päïjälä stage, we felt the car become very hot and it turned out we had an issue with the exhaust. We tried to fix it and could continue to set some decent times so to finish the day in sixth place is not so bad. There’s room for improvement tomorrow.”
Hayden Paddon, fresh from a third and fourth place finish in Sardinia and Poland respectively, showed strong pace this morning, but a crash in the repeat of the Pihlakakoski stage (SS6) halted his progress. Fortunately, he and co-driver John Kennard escaped unharmed but the damage to the #20 car proved irreparable and the Kiwi crew was forced to retire.
Paddon commented: “Obviously, I’m really disappointed that we have had to retire from the rally. We had a decent morning and although it was difficult to find grip and confidence, we were continually making changes that we hoped would have benefited us in the afternoon loop. Unfortunately, just 1km before the end of the first afternoon stage, we lost the car after. Thankfully, John and I were ok but the car was too badly damaged and the team has been unable to fix it. We’ve therefore been forced to retire from the event. We’ve built up a lot of momentum in these recent rallies so I’m determined to put this behind us quickly and move onto the next one. In the meantime, we’ll support the team for the rest of this weekend.”
Rally Finland is one of the most exhilarating and demanding rallies of the season, putting the onus on drivers to attack the fast stages with utmost confidence in their car. Although the results have not been what the team had hoped for on this first day, the Hyundai i20 WRC has shown itself to have potential to fight for top three stage times.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “Finland hasn’t reached legendary rally status because it is easy, and we’ve seen today that it remains one of the WRC’s biggest challenges. On the plus side, we have Thierry and Dani both holding strong top six positions at the end of the first day and with plenty of room for improvement tomorrow. Regrettably, on the other side, Hayden has been forced out of the rally after crashing on the first stage of the afternoon loop. The damage to his car was unfortunately just too much for us to repair. We know there is more to come and we will sit down this evening to discuss what we can do to improve the cars for tomorrow, and also to make sure the drivers continue to build their own confidence levels because that is absolutely crucial on these Finnish stages.”
Saturday’s itinerary will take in a repeat of four stages totalling over 130km. Mökkiperä (13.84km), Jukojärvi (21.14km), Surkee (14.95km) and Horkka (15.30km) will all present new challenges to the drivers lining up for more Finnish action tomorrow morning.
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