Hyundai Motorsport is ready to repeat its rally-leading pace from the opening round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), as the team prepares to tackle round two, Rally Sweden, next week (8-11 February). The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC made an impressive debut in Monte-Carlo, with the team securing seven stage wins – including a dominant performance for Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul in the Power Stage. The Belgian crew had led the rally by one minute before an unfortunate incident on the penultimate day handed over control to eventual winner Sébastien Ogier.
Hyundai Motorsport is taking all the positives from Monte-Carlo forward as it aims for its third consecutive podium finish on the stages of Sweden and Norway next weekend. The team will again field a three-crew entry into the rally with Hayden Paddon returning in the #4 car, Neuville in the #5 and Dani Sordo, who finished fourth in Monte-Carlo, back in the #6.
Setting up for Sweden
On a typical Rally Sweden the set-up of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC has to be transformed to cope with the lower temperatures and snowy terrain – the hallmarks of any classic Swedish rally!
Aerodynamics can be affected with crews using the snow banks to guide the car. Extra spare parts are brought to the event, as the aero parts cannot be reinforced due to homologation restrictions. The front of the car is also susceptible to picking up snow and ice, so air filters need added protection.
Specific studded Michelin tyres will be used, which requires the car’s differential to be set-up accordingly. The added engine power on the 2017-specification cars could cause tyre studs to loosen, which is another consideration. A good suspension is needed to tackle the big jumps, including the famous Colin’s Crest in the Vargåsen stage.
Although Rally Sweden is typically snowy, last year’s edition proved that nothing is guaranteed. Hyundai Motorsport had to abort plans for a pre-event test in December due to conditions but enjoyed near perfect weather in a post-Monte test with Neuville. After a pause due to a lack of snow, testing resumed this week with Paddon and Sordo on driving duties with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for one day each.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “Rally Sweden will offer us a very different test to Monte-Carlo, which is something of a one-off. It’s always been a good rally for us, so I hope we continue this trend. Monte showed us that our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is running competitively and, generally, reliably. We had a small power steering issue in the opening rally but we are on top of that now. We didn’t really get the result we wanted in the first rally, but we saw the potential in our car from Thierry’s performances and our seven stage wins. In fact, all the cars seem very close in terms of outright performance so it promises to be a fierce battle in each round of the Championship. Snow conditions have been changeable recently, which has resulted in as slightly disjointed test schedule. We are all hoping for plenty of the white stuff – and another classic Rally Sweden.”
Hyundai Motorsport’s Kiwi crew of Paddon and Kennard put in an impressive display in Sweden last year. The duo claimed two stage wins on their way to second-place and are hopeful that they can produce a similarly strong performance when they take to this season’s stages.
Paddon said: “Rally Sweden is a bit of a winter wonderland. Along with Finland, it’s one of my favourites. It is very fast and filled with lots of jumps. The sensation of driving on
snow and with the snow banks is like no other. We came second in Sweden last year and we’re hopeful that we can go one better this time out, especially given the speed of the new cars this season, and the potential shown by our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.”
Neuville and Gilsoul put in a Monte-Carlo masterclass in the opening rally of the 2017 until an unfortunate off ended their victory charge. Nonetheless, the Belgians are aiming to put that right in Sweden. Previous podium scorers in the event, having finished second in 2015, they are confident in their chances.
Neuville said: “Rally Sweden is a unique event on the calendar, as it is the only event where the cars are fitted with proper studded tyres on the snow for the duration of the rally. Also it is one of the fastest rallies of the season, with the average speeds through some of the stages higher than anywhere else that we’ll see this season. Obviously with the snow, the tyres and the high speeds, a lot of experience is necessary to mount a challenge, but I’m confident having competed here on many occasions. We have had some good results in previous years. We are looking forward to trying to build upon those with even more success – particularly after the promise and ultimate disappointment of Monte-Carlo.”
Having secured a solid fourth-place finish in Monte Carlo’s curtain raiser, Sordo and Martí are hopeful that they can find a better rhythm from their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in Sweden.
Sordo said: “I think that everyone involved with the team would agree that Rally Sweden is a very special event. If we can get good conditions on the road with the snow and the snowbanks, it becomes a really enjoyable event, because the speed gets quicker and quicker. We had a good finish in Monte-Carlo, so we are looking to push on from there and try our best to get a strong result in Sweden.”
Rally Sweden 2017 at a Glance
Covering 18 stages over a competitive distance of 331.74km, Sweden is WRC’s only true winter rally. Almost 58 per cent of the stage composition is new compared to 2016, including Friday’s Hof-Finnskog test, which has never been used before.
In a bid to enjoy more wintry conditions, the service park moves to a more northerly location in Torsby this season.
The event will get underway on Thursday with a super special stage at the Färjestad Trotting Course in Karlstad, a 1.9km stage popular with spectators, which will be repeated on Saturday evening.
Friday’s itinerary will once again see crews cross over the border into Norway but a mid-leg service will be re-introduced instead of the previous Tyre Fitting Zone.
Saturday’s seven stages will feature two runs through Vargåsen with the Colin’s Crest Award, twice won previously by Hyundai Motorsport (2014/2015) up for grabs for the longest jump.
Sunday’s live TV Power Stage finishes in the Torsby service park.