Hyundai Motorsport will make a return to full-gravel as it heads to the 12th round of the 2016 WRC. The team claimed a double podium in Spain. This weekend it will be aiming to extend its recent run of consecutive top-three results.
Three New Generation i20 WRCs have been entered into the Wales GB. Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo, who starred for the team in Spain, will return for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team in the #3 and #4 cars respectively. Hayden Paddon will compete in the #20 Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team entry.
The 22-stage rally has hosted the season finale in recent years but has moved slightly earlier on the 2016 schedule. Run over a total of 330.21 kilometres, the race will offer teams another stern test. Friday’s itinerary comprises over half of the total distance with a staggering 178 km of punishing gravel stages.
Although names like Hafren and Sweet Lamb are familiar to rally aficionados, they will be run in reverse direction this year. Saturday features stages that have not appeared on the rally since 1997. Adding to the complexity of the event, there will be no lunchtime service on any of the three days. That means drivers will have to look after their cars with the unpredictable British weather almost certain to play a part.
All three drivers had a one-day gravel test ahead of Wales Rally GB to prepare their cars. The real work starts with shakedown on Thursday, which acts as a precursor to the Ceremonial Start at Colwyn Bay.
For Hyundai Motorsport, the rally will also be an opportunity to put the New Generation i20 R5 through its paces in a second event. The car debuted in Corsica last month, with Kevin Abbring and Seb Marshall back at the wheel.
Sordo and co-driver Marc Marti head to Wales buoyed by their recent second places in Germany and Spain
The duo finished fourth in GB last season, so will be hoping to go one better in this year’s event.
Sordo said: “Wales Rally GB is a special event for everyone. It’s a ‘big name’ event on the calendar and one where we all want to achieve success. Typically, the terrain is quite challenging. If it rains a lot, the conditions can get very muddy and slippery. I feel that we are well prepared with our car for this event. It offers good grip, so often it can be very enjoyable to drive in the wetter conditions. As always, I’ll try my best to compete near the front. We had an incredible rally in Spain – and it was fantastic to be in a fight for the victory. I will carry those feelings onto Wales and see what we can achieve.”
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul have been one of the most consistent crews since their win in Sardinia
A trio of consecutive podiums up to Spain have moved Neuville up to joint second in the Championship.
Neuville said: “Wales Rally GB is a very fast and exciting rally, especially with the narrow roads that go through the forest. It can, of course, be quite slippery as well. This is particularly an issue on the second pass when driving on wet gravel. It can make it very interesting, I can tell you! It’s a nice event and one we all enjoy a lot. To be competitive, you need to find a good rhythm early on, so that will be our first objective. We want to be challenging again for the podium – and to keep up our positive run of results.”
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard enjoyed their most competitive showing on tarmac in Spain
Despite that the Kiwi crew will be relishing a return to gravel. Paddon is fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, embroiled in a close battle for second. Just 16 points separate a quartet of drivers vying for the position with two rounds remaining.
Paddon said: “Rally Spain was a valuable event for us. We really made some good progress on the tarmac stages, and that was rewarded with our best result on the surface. I am now ready for a return to the loose stuff, so I’m looking forward to Wales Rally GB. It’s an event I enjoy a lot. It reminds me a bit of being back in New Zealand with the Welsh forest, and of course being an English-speaking venue. Despite it being an enjoyable rally, I’ve never really been able to put together a good result. That is definitely something we want to rectify this year. Bring it on!”
The stage action for Wales Rally GB gets underway on Friday 28 October, starting with the 32km Myherin, and runs right up until Sunday 30 October with the Brenig Power Stage bringing the event to a conclusion.