The 12th event of this season’s 13-round Championship will see the team revert back to a three-car entry with Thierry Neuville and local hero Dani Sordo representing the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team and Hayden Paddon driving for the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team.
The team was forced to relinquish its hold on second place in the Manufacturers’ Championship despite a competitive performance at Tour de Corse. However, just one point separates the team from its target position, so the focus for Spain will be on outscoring its closest rivals.
Rally de España has an extensive history, first run in 1957 and joining the WRC in 1991. It is unique as the only mixed surface rally of the season, featuring both tarmac and gravel stages. Friday will be primarily run on gravel but with some asphalt sections before moving onto entirely tarmac stages on Saturday and Sunday.
This year’s rally includes seven new stages, raising the total stage count to 23, and incorporating a much-revised route in the hills of Tarragona. There will also be a new Power Stage on Sunday with Duesaigües, the familiar Riudecanyes run in opposite direction.
Drivers will need to adapt quickly to the surface changes and mechanics will need to convert the cars from gravel to tarmac specification during Friday evening service. The tarmac will be especially tough on tyres in hot conditions so tyre management could play an important part of the strategy.
Hyundai Motorsport enjoyed a three-car finish in last year’s Rally de España and will be looking to use the experience of that event, as well as its improved performances from this season, to register year-on-year improvements.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “Rally de España is a very specific event with its unique mix of gravel and asphalt stages. The event starts with a Super Special Stage in Barcelona, which will attract thousands of local spectators and excited rally fans. On Friday, we have a mainly gravel itinerary, interspersed with some asphalt sections on the Terra Alta stages. The evening service is special because we have just 75 minutes to change the cars to a tarmac specification ahead of the final two days of tarmac running. We find ourselves in a close fight for second in the Championship, so we know we have to be on top form over the entire weekend in our efforts to reclaim second place.”
Neuville (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC) and his co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul showed their potential in Spain last year, leading the rally briefly and securing a stage win. They will be hoping to put the frustration of Tour de Corse behind them as they chase Championship points.
Neuville said: “Rally de España is a very special event because it is the only one where we switch from gravel to tarmac, so it is quite a challenge. First of all, our team has to use evening service to make sure the car is ready by changing the suspension, gearbox and other components. From our point of view, we have to make the switch in our driving and ensure we have a good feeling, not losing any time. It is a very complex rally. The stages are very nice but we know that there are lots of new parts this year. I expect it will be a big challenge but I’m sure it will be a good weekend. We will be pushing for as many points as possible.”
Spaniard Sordo (#8 Hyundai i20 WRC) has had several competitive top-five performances in his home rally. Along with compatriot co-driver Marc Martí, he was on impressive pace in Corsica and will use the Spanish home crowd as inspiration for a strong result next weekend.
Sordo commented: “It is always a good feeling when I drive in Spain because it is my home rally – I like to drive here in front of a lot of passionate spectators. I have good memories here and will use the local support to good effect. You always get an extra boost from the home crowd! I know the stages quite well but it is still a new challenge, especially as there some new stages this year. I like driving on both gravel and tarmac stages, but I enjoy tarmac a little bit more. It will be a fun event and I am looking forward to pushing for the best times that we can possibly get. We are hoping to gather as many points as possible in our fight for second place.”
Paddon (#20 Hyundai i20 WRC) secured his first WRC stage win at last year’s Rally de España. The Kiwi and his co-driver John Kennard have come along way since then, having taken their fifth top-five result of 2015 at Tour de Corse following another fine run.
Paddon said: “I am really excited to be going to Spain again. I like the challenge of the event’s mixed surfaces and we had some really good times there last year. Obviously the gravel stages on the Friday are what I am looking forward to most, but the tarmac stages are also a real pleasure to drive on. This is especially true when conditions are dry and it feels like a big racetrack! Hopefully we can put some of the lessons that we have learned recently to good use there. We want to have a good push on the Friday on the gravel, try to get a good road position for the rest of the rally and try to finish near the front.”
The 51st edition of Rally de España features a revamped route of 331.25km, kicking off with a super special in Barcelona. The competition proper starts the next day with eight Friday stages. There will be repeats of the 9.62km Móra d’Ebre-Ascó, 12.50km Caseres and 6.5km Bot gravel stages, as well as a repeat of the 35.68km Terra Alta mixed gravel and tarmac stage. Crucially for the teams, there will be no lunchtime service on Friday this year.
Saturday’s itinerary sees a full tarmac line-up, starting in Porrera (7.43km) and continuing with repeats of the 26.26km La Figuera, 10.63km Poboleda and 19.80km Capafonts stages before the day finishes in Salou (2.24km). Sunday is unusually busy with six stages – repeats of Els Guiamets (6.80km), Pratdip (19.30km) and Duesaigües (12.10km), with the second run of Duesaigües being the rally’s Power Stage.