Thierry Neuville leads the way after the first day at Rallye Monte-Carlo, the opening event of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Hyundai Motorsport registered a debut stage win for the brand new Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in its first competitive outing. Hayden Paddon crashed in SS1 after hitting black ice. The team has withdrawn car #4 from the rally as a mark of respect for the spectator who sadly passed away in the incident.
Hyundai Motorsport has ended the opening day of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season-opener, Rallye Monte-Carlo, at the top of the classification after a strong start for last year’s vice-Champion Thierry Neuville.
The highly anticipated new WRC season got underway on Thursday afternoon with the traditional ceremonial start in Monaco, followed by the rally’s two opening stages. Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were immediately quick in their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC – which has been designed to meet WRC’s new technical regulations. The Belgian duo claimed the maiden stage win for Hyundai Motorsport’s latest challenger with a dominant performance in SS2 (Bayons-Bréziers).
It wasn’t an easy evening for the team, however. Hayden Paddon went off towards the end of the opening stage, after hitting some black ice on the road. The #4 car was sent into the side of the mountain and onto its side. The stage was stopped, and ultimately cancelled, as a result. As a mark of respect for the spectator who sadly passed away during that incident, Hyundai Motorsport has decided to withdraw car #4 from Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Dani Sordo had a trouble-free run through SS2 as he got to grips with the #6 car.
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Neuville was quickly on the pace in his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. He set a commanding lead in the evening’s second stage with a 7.8-second advantage over his nearest challenger, M-Sport’s Sébastien Ogier. It sees the two-time rally-winner head the classification heading into the second day.
Neuville said: “We have used today to really discover the car in competitive rally conditions for the first time. The stages here are tough, but we have had a decent start. We were probably running the car too soft and it was moving around quite a lot, but the times look encouraging nonetheless. We have more to come and areas where we need to improve, so that will be our focus on tomorrow’s stages.”
Crew Notes: Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí enjoyed tackling the Monte night stages despite adopting a cautious start to the weekend. With the two top-scoring crews from each team scoring manufacturer points under revised sporting regulations, the Spaniards will be looking for more pace as the weekend evolves.
Sordo said: “It’s still early days. Today, it was important to have a clean run through the opening stages. The feeling from the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC was actually better than expected; the car felt strong and fast. I enjoyed getting a taste for it now we are in full competitive mode even if the times were not so good. It’s going to be a long weekend, so we have to focus on learning about our new car and improving all the time.”
Crew Notes: Paddon/Kennard (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Hayden Paddon was unable to complete the opening stages of the rally after a crash towards the end of SS1. Both driver and co-driver were unharmed.
Paddon commented: “That wasn’t the start we wanted to this first rally of the season. We got caught out by some black ice near the end of the first stage. The car snapped sideways and, from there, we were just passengers. There wasn’t much damage to the car but I’m sorry for the team, who have all put in so much work to get here. I am incredibly saddened by today’s accident and my thoughts are with the family and friends of the person involved.”
Hyundai Motorsport is aiming to build on a competitive 2016 season in which it finished second in the Manufacturers’ Championship. A positive start for Neuville offers signs of encouragement for the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC – the team’s third brand new car in four seasons.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “It is always special when we see the fruits of months of hard work finally competing on the world rally stage. Our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is the result of an intense collaborative effort from the entire team, so we take great pride starting this new WRC season. Thierry and Nicolas certainly seemed to find their confidence quickly but we cannot get carried away. There are 15 tough stages ahead of us this weekend.”
Nandan continued: “We are all deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the spectator on Thursday evening. As a mark of respect, we have taken the decision to withdraw the #4 car of Hayden and John from this weekend’s rally. Our thoughts and sincerest condolences go out to everyone affected.”
Friday at a Glance
The second of this weekend’s four days of Monte-Carlo action will take in 160.80km of special stages on Friday.
A loop of three stages – Agnières en Dévoluy–Le Motty (24.63km), Aspres-lès Corps–Chaillol (38.94km) and St Léger les Mélèzes–La Bâtie Neuve will be run twice, once in the morning and again in the afternoon.
The two loops will be split by a lunchtime service at Gap, while a 45-minute flexi service will end the day.
Overall Classification after Day One
1 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 15:01.1
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC +7.8
3 J. Hänninen K. Lindstrom Toyota Yaris WRC +15.0
3 K. Meeke P. Nagle Citroën C3 WRC +15.8
4 O. Tanak M. Jarveoja Ford Fiesta WRC +19.4
5 E. Evans D. Barritt Ford Fiesta WRC +21.0
6 C. Breen S. Martin Citroën DS3 WRC +25.4
7 D. Sordo M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +26.6
8 J. M. Latvala M. Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +28.4