Hyundai Motorsport Driver development Program (HMDP) crew Jari Huttunen and Antti Linnaketo finished their debut Rally México sixth in WRC 2. The Finns set several top-three stage times during the weekend, hot on the pace of the official Skoda entrants, despite battling illness and some technical issues. Re-joining under Rally 2 for both Saturday’s and Sunday’s stages, the HMDP crew gained priceless experience in unfamiliar rally conditions, adding to their learning curve.
The Hyundai Motorsport Driver development Program (HMDP) crew of Jari Huttunen and Antti Linnaketo completed their first-ever Rally México in sixth place in the competitive WRC 2 category after a highly commendable performance.
The crew, in only their second round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), endured a character-building weekend in their Hyundai i20 R5. Hotter Mexican temperatures and higher altitude gravel stages contrasted starkly to the cold, snow and icy conditions with which the Finns are more accustomed.
Contested over a competitive distance of 344.49km and 22 special stages, the itinerary included street stages, mountainous gravel tests and high-flying leaps over the famous El Brinco jump.
The duo embarked on their Mexico debut with an encouraging third place in shakedown. However, their fortunes turned in the opening Monster Street Stage at Guanajuato on Thursday evening, as they spun twice and lost 16 seconds of time.
Linnaketo fell ill on Friday morning, losing his voice ahead of the opening loop. Huttunen had the unenviable task of negotiating the opening stages with minimal input from his co-driver. Setting top-three WRC 2 stage times in spite of the inconvenience showed the Finn’s maturity in the face of adversity.
Unfortunately, in SS6 (Duarte-Derramadero 2) the crew damaged the radiator – due to an impact – and was forced to retire. Re-starting under Rally 2 on Saturday morning, with Linnaketo back up to full health, the HMDP pair was back on form. The morning loop of Guanajuatito (30.97km), Otates (26.37km) and El Brinco (9.98km) was thwarted by a few issues before a leak in the fuel system on the road section after lunchtime service saw them unable to complete the day’s running.
Again re-joining under Rally 2 on Sunday morning, with three final tests building up to the Las Minas Power Stage, the HMDP crew gave it a final push. Third in WRC 2 in the Las Minas Power Stage, within striking distance of the WRC 2 winner Pontus Tidemand, was a fitting end to their second event of 2018.
Crew Notes: Huttunen/Linnaketo (#32 Hyundai i20 R5)
Multiple top-three stage times against tough WRC 2 competition
Showed impressive maturity to battle through technical issues and co-driver illness
Huttunen said: “It has been a long and difficult rally, an event like no other I have ever done before. The heat, altitude and gravel stages presented a very different challenge to what we are used to. It’s been a mixed weekend. We have had some bad moments, from Antti falling ill early in the event, to a couple of technical issues that caused us to stop on Friday and Saturday, but we have not given up. I have been pleased to set times inside the top-three again, and to get close to the likes of Tidemand and Rovanperä. This is very encouraging, and shows the pace of the i20 R5 in all conditions. I am now planning to use this experience as we look ahead to our next gravel event in Portugal in May.”
Hyundai Motorsport Team Manager Alain Penasse said: “It has been a complicated weekend for Jari and Antti but with some positives to take away from their first gravel event with Hyundai Motorsport. Mexico is a totally different rally to what they are used to, so it was always going to be an important learning weekend. They worked hard on their pace notes in recce and shakedown, but didn’t have the ideal start in Thursday’s Guanajuato street stage, losing 16 seconds with two spins. Things went better on Friday morning, despite Antti’s sickness. Unfortunately, a radiator issue brought their day to an early end. Saturday was a similar story with some good split times in the long stage, comparable to the official Skodas. A small fuel leak caused them to stop on the road after midday service, forcing another day of Rally 2 on Sunday. Jari and Antti didn’t really have much opportunity to get into a rhythm this weekend, but overall it has been an encouraging event. They have shown that they can be close to the pace of the leading, more experienced WRC 2 competitors in really difficult conditions – and that is a very good step in the right direction.”
The HMDP crew will return to the Hyundai i20 R5 at Rally de Portugal from 17-20 May.
Final Overall Classification WRC 2 – Rally México
1 P. Tidemand Škoda Fabia R5 4:04:32.7
2 G. Greensmith Ford Fiesta R5 +6:44.6
3 P. Heller Ford Fiesta R5 +13:53.4
4 M. Bulacia Ford Fiesta R5 +22:45.9
5 K. Rovanperä Škoda Fabia R5 +1:02:54.1
6 J. Huttunen Hyundai i20 R5 +1:20:13.8
7 N. Solans Ford Fiesta R5 +1:48:00.1
2018 FIA WRC 2 Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 3
1 P. Tidemand 43
2 J. Kopecky 25
3 T. Katsuta 25
4 E. Sciessere 18
5 G. Greensmith 18
6 J. Huttunen 16
7 O. Veiby 15
2018 FIA WRC 2 Championship for Teams’ Standings
After round 3
1 Škoda Motorsport 43
2 Hyundai Motorsport 30
3 Škoda Motorsport II 25
4 Tommi Mäkinen Racing 25
5 M-Sport World Rally Team 18
6 Toksport WRT 15
7 PRINTSPORT 10
8 S.A. Motorsport Italia SRL 8
All results remain subject to official FIA confirmation.