The team put in a strong performance at the previous round of the Championship, Rally Australia, with five stage wins and a competitive top-five finish. As WRC returns to Europe for the final rallies of the year, Hyundai Motorsport will face a fresh challenge on unfamiliar territory but will nonetheless seek to strengthen its hold on second place in the Manufacturers’ Championship.
Tour de Corse will be the third time this season that the team enters four cars into a rally, and the team’s second four-car outing on tarmac. The team line-up returns to normal after a slight reshuffle in Australia, with Thierry Neuville (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC) and Dani Sordo (#8 Hyundai i20 WRC) again representing the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team. Hayden Paddon (#20 Hyundai i20 WRC) will be joined in the Hyundai Mobis World Rally team line-up by Kevin Abbring (#10 Hyundai i20 WRC), in what will be the Dutchman’s fourth WRC event this season.
Rallye de France was held on Corsica from 1973 to 2008 before its move to Strasbourg, but this year leaves the Alsace region and returns to its original location. The western coast town of Ajaccio will host Thursday’s evening start and Sunday’s afternoon finish. The service park will be located in the central island town of Corte.
In a throwback to classic endurance rallies, Rallye de France features only nine stages and seven of these exceed 35km. The tarmac stages are abrasive and will make tyre choice an important factor. Stages and pace notes will be new to most drivers while the narrow roads will demand respect. There will be many challenges, with the island’s twisting mountain roads and cliffside passes earning the event its “Rally of 10,000 Corners” nickname.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “With a move to Corsica, an historic rally with a big reputation, Rallye de France is going to be a challenging event because the format is quite different from what we are used to. We have a central service park in Corte but the drivers will sleep every night in another base, so from a logistics point it requires an extra effort. The weather will play an important role, so it is going to be a difficult job to get the right forecast and make the right tyre choices and car settings. We are participating again with four cars, with our test driver Kevin Abbring joining Thierry, Dani and Hayden. He has experience here, coming third in the European Rally Championship (ERC) round here last year. Both Thierry and Dani have won rallies there before – they know the character of the roads so it should be easy for them to adapt to the new stages and it will be good to see them challenging in the Hyundai i20 WRCs. We will push for as many points as possible with the objective to retain our second place in the Manufacturers’ Championship.”
Neuville has been building his confidence as the 2015 WRC season has progressed and is settling into his rhythm, with a goal to pick up as many championship points as possible. Corsica has been a happy hunting ground for the Belgian in previous years.
Neuville said: “The Tour de Corse is a really nice event and I have some great memories there as I won my first international rally in Corsica in 2011. I have really been looking forward to going back, even if this year the routes have changed quite a lot so everything will be new for me. I know it is going to be a tough one with the stages mostly in the mountains. The roads are tricky and can be very narrow, bumpy and broken so we will have to be careful to avoid punctures as well. Weather conditions can be changing – when you are on top of the mountains it is much colder, and the rain comes fast. The itinerary is quite unusual, with only a couple of very long stages each day – so we will have to find the right rhythm from the very beginning. I will be aiming for as many points as possible in every rally and will not stop pushing until the very end of the season.”
Sordo has driven well recently, claiming a trio of Friday morning stage wins in Australia and finishing the Coffs Harbour rally in eighth position overall. The Spaniard has previous experience on the Tour de Corse’s cliffside roads, coming third in the 2006 and 2007 when the rally was part of the WRC and winning the IRC’s 2011 debut event on the island.
Sordo said: “I have a lot of good memories of Corsica – I have had some good results there and have learned many skills there. This year it will be completely new, so it will be important to recce the stages carefully and make sure we produce accurate pace notes so that we can push with full determination. It is a classic rally and very technical – you have to be precise in your positioning of the car. I like the rally a lot in general – it is not so fast, as the roads are narrow and very twisty. It is steep and there is an element of danger, the roads have sharp cliff-drops on one side so it is very important that you drive with accuracy. The team has been great in preparing my car so I am very excited to get out there and see the island again. It is a great rally for sure.”
Paddon has flourished as the 2015 WRC season has progressed. Fresh off his fourth top-five finish this season at Rally Australia, where he gained two more stage wins with huge support from Kiwi fans, Paddon will be competing in Corsica for the first time and is excited for the new challenge.
Paddon commented: “The Corsica event has a lot of history – I used to follow the rally when growing up and it is one of those legendary events, so it’s going to be nice to go and experience the Island of 10,000 Corners. It will be a big challenge to be back on tarmac so we will try and use what we learned from the time spent in Germany and the experience we had there. We’ve done a lot of training in different situations so hopefully we can improve and get closer to Thierry and Dani. I am feeling good after Australia and feel comfortable with the car so let’s give it everything and see what happens!”
Abbring, test driver for Hyundai Motorsport, will join the team for the fourth time this season, having driven earlier this year in Sweden, Poland and Germany. The young Dutchman has used each event to familiarise himself with the Hyundai i20 WRC and looks forward to Corsica, which he contested in 2014’s ERC, finishing third overall as the top R5 car.
Abbring said: “In Germany we had the opportunity to drive a lot of kilometres on the tarmac so that should be good training for Corsica. OK, it is a bit different to Rallye Deutschland – it is very technical with a lot of corners. I think that it will be all about managing the tyres, especially because the stages will be very long. It will be an exciting rally and the long stages will be a great opportunity for me to get some prolonged driving under pressure in the car. It’s the third event of my four-rally programme, so I am definitely keen to put everything I’ve learned so far into practice.”
Tour de Corse takes a different approach to stage layout with just nine stages throughout the weekend and seven of these exceeding 35km in length. Friday sees drivers pass through Plage du Liamone to Sarrola-Carcopino then take on the 43.69km Casamozza – Ponte Leccia (SS2) and mountainous 36.43km Francardo – Sermando (SS3) stages. Both SS2 and SS3 will be rerun as stages four and five to initiate Saturday’s 128.58km leg, before a massive 48.46km stretch from Muracciole to Col de Sorba ends the longest day of racing. Drivers will start the Sunday by tackling the Sotta – Chialza (36.71km) and Zérubia – Martini (41.46km) stages before the rally concludes with a sizeable 16.74km Power Stage at Ajaccio’s Agosta beach.