Hyundai Motorsport is aiming to score its first ever Rally de Portugal podium at the 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.
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.
In preparation for this year’s Rally de Portugal, all three Hyundai Motorsport crews have tested in the region
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 was behind the wheel of the i20 Coupe WRC in Portugal back in March.
There will be a change to the crew in the #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.
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 car across all three of our crews. Competition is immensely 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. The recent wins have allowed us to reduce the gap to M-Sport in the Championship but there’s a long way to go – and lots more we need to achieve.”
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. For us to be able to go out there and compete in front of those crowds is an incredible sensation. We’ll work hard to get a good result and kick-start my season.”
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 0.7s represented a distance of 19.1 metres after 357km 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 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.”
Spaniards Sordo and Martí receive huge support from local Portuguese fans and those travelling from their home country to follow the rally
It will definitely 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 really great rally for us all. We really can feel that crowd cheering us on, especially through famous sections like the Fafe jump. Hopefully we will be able to give them something extra special to cheer about by Sunday. 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 Coupe WRC on these fun stages.”
Empezamos el primer día de reconocimientos en Portugal. Hoy los tramos de la primera y segunda etapa #RallydePortugal #WRC ?? pic.twitter.com/mZwYQpNwYY
— Dani Sordo (@DaniSordo) 16 May 2017