Hyundai Motorsport aims to score its first ever Rally de Portugal podium at this weekend’s sixth round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).Having claimed back-to-back rally wins for the first time in its history in Corsica and Argentina, the team is confident that it can challenge at the front again as the Championship prepares for the first European gravel event of the year, which starts on Thursday 18 May and ends on Sunday 21 May.
With the season’s midpoint fast approaching, Hyundai Motorsport has strengthened its position in both Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships thanks to its recent victories. All three drivers – Hayden Paddon, Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo – will look to build upon the team’s recent performances to make further advancements in the classification.
Rally de Portugal, first held in 1967, was one of the founding events in the inaugural 1973 World Rally Championship. Contested across sandy passes as well as hazardous rocky tracks, teams and crews will be challenged with selecting the best tyres while adapting ride heights as stages become increasingly rutted.
There have been some changes made to the event’s itinerary from last year, in which Hyundai Motorsport registered its best Portuguese finish to date with a fourth-place for Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí.
The twice-run street stage in Porto has been moved to Braga for 2017, taking place on Friday evening. In addition, three brand new stages have been added to the schedule, with a double assault through Cabaceiras de Basto on Saturday and single runs through Luihas and Montimon Sunday.
Preparing for Portugal
All three Hyundai Motorsport crews have tested in the region in preparation for this year’s Rally de Portugal. Neuville and Sordo took part in a three-day test at the end of April, during which the team also obtained valuable feedback from Andreas Mikkelsen who joined the test as a one-off. Paddon also enjoyed time behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC in Portugal back in March.
There will be a change to the crew in the no. 4 car for this event, with Seb Marshall stepping in as co-driver for Hayden Paddon. John Kennard has been advised to rest on doctor’s orders after the rough Argentinian stages aggravated an existing hip condition. Kennard will be present in Portugal with the team, and everyone at Hyundai Motorsport sends him best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Team principal Michel Nandan said: “We’ve had a good run of results recently, which has given the whole team a real morale boost, but it would be wrong of us to get complacent. There is still plenty of room for improvement with the performance of our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC across all three of our crews.
“Competition is very close this season, so we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. To this end, we carried out testing in Portugal to prepare for this rally, which will be the first European gravel of the season. We have never scored a podium in Portugal, so that has to be our first target. Of course, having won two rallies in a row, we’d love to continue that streak, but we know that it will be another big fight.”
Crew Notes: Paddon/Marshall (No. 4 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC)
Paddon showed signs of promise in Argentina but was ultimately hampered by bad luck. The Kiwi was still able to pick up his first stage wins of the season in tough circumstances. Alongside his stand-in co-driver Seb Marshall, tackling his first WRC event with the team since Spain last season, Paddon will be aiming to translate that potential into a tangible result in Portugal.
Paddon commented: “It’s not been the season that we expected or wanted to have so far. Argentina was a bit of a low, especially when contrasted with our win there last season, so I hope Portugal will be the place where fortunes change. Unfortunately, John will not be co-driving at this event after aggravating an existing hip condition but it’s good he will still be present in Portugal with the team. Thanks to Seb for stepping in at an event he knows from last season. It’s a rally with a special atmosphere. There are a lot of passionate people there who love rallying.”
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (No. 5 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC)
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul are the men of the moment in WRC having taken two wins in a row. Their victory over Elfyn Evans in Argentina by just 0,7 s represented a distance of 19,1 m after 357 km of stages! The Belgians will be hoping to close the Championship gap even further in Portugal.
Neuville said: “We are still on a high after the results of Corsica and Argentina. At the same time, we know we have to stay focused and concentrated on our job because the Championship is incredibly close. We saw with the margin to Elfyn in Argentina, one of the smallest in WRC history, that we can take nothing for granted. Rally de Portugal in its current format is still a bit of a new one for us, having only been in the north of the country for the last two seasons. It is quite a tricky event, but I am looking forward to it. I am sure that with this new car and with the confidence we have, we can be fast.”
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (No. 6 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC)
Spaniards Sordo and Martí receive huge support from local Portuguese fans and those travelling from their home country to follow the rally. It will give the crew an important lift after a punishing Rally Argentina, as they seek a return to podium form.
Sordo said: “Portugal is always a really special event for me because it takes place so close to Spain. There is a lot of support from the crowds, which gives us a real boost. There are a lot of Portuguese people on the team as well, so it’s a great rally for us all. We really can feel that crowd cheering us on, especially through famous sections like the Fafe jump. After the disappointment of Argentina, I am determined to get back onto podium-challenging pace and to get the full potential out of our Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC on these fun stages.”
Rally de Portugal 2017 at a glance
Taking place across 19 stages that encompass a total distance of 349,17 km, Rally de Portugal serves as the second of five consecutive gravel tests for the crews.
Based out of the service park Matosinhos, the rally’s action will kick off on Thursday with a Super Special Stage at the Lousada rallycross circuit.
The first full day sees crews head north and towards the Spanish border for runs of the reconfigured stages around Vianado Castelo, and culminates with two tests in Braga’s historic streets.
Saturday will be the longest leg of the rally at 154,56 km, as the driver teams journey east to tackle the demanding roads of the Cabreira Mountains.
Sunday is all about Fafe, with its famous large jump and even larger crowds. All four final stages are in the municipality, including a double pass over the legendary jump itself.