Hyundai Motorsport holds a provisional podium position at the end of a difficult Friday with all three crews experiencing engine misfire problems on the final stages. Thierry Neuville claimed two stage wins during the day and heads into Saturday third on the overall classification, just under a minute from rally leader Kris Meeke. Hayden Paddon fought through to seventh overall while Dani Sordo lost considerable time on the final stages at the Autódromo de León.
Hyundai Motorsport has battled through the first full day of action at Rally México, the third round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), with a shortened itinerary, engine misfire issues and punishing Mexican conditions all contributing to a tough start for the team.
Despite the challenges faced, the team still holds a provisional podium with Thierry Neuville in third overall. Hayden Paddon ended a frustrating day in seventh with Dani Sordo further down the classification* after dramas in the evening’s Super Special Stages.
Delayed gravel debut
In the Championship’s first gravel event of the season, the team was expecting to work hard on its Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC having never competed on Mexican terrain with the new car. Friday’s schedule was delayed after the morning loop was cancelled as a result of force majeure.
The planned first runs through the 54.90km El Chocolate and 19.68km Las Minas stages had to be cancelled after the convoy of WRC cars was held up on their way back from Thursday evening’s Mexico City spectacle.
Despite the shortened itinerary, crews still had to tackle over 80km of special stages on Friday, putting their machines through a baptism of fire. Heat, altitude and tricky gravel conditions made life difficult even with the more powerful and high performing 2017 cars.
Ups and downs
The Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team crews showed initial promise with Paddon setting a top-three time in El Chocolate before Neuville claimed two consecutive stage wins in Las Minas and the Guanajuato Street Stage. Dani Sordo was right behind to make it a team 1-2.
Fortunes were then turned as all three crews experienced engine misfire issues on the two final tests at Autódromo de León. Losing vast amounts of time, the crews persevered as best they could to minimise the time loss. The team will investigate the problem at evening service in an effort to prepare the three Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars for Saturday’s gruelling stages.
Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul have their sights set on a top-three result this weekend. A few difficulties on the long opening El Chocolate stage lost them time early on, but they bounced back quickly to remain within sight of the leader. Unfortunately, the Belgian duo conceded over half a minute on the final stages due to the engine misfire. Despite the issues, they maintain a 30-second advantage over fourth-place.
Neuville said: “It was a frustrating way to end the day but we have to concentrate on the positives – we made it through despite the problems and we are still inside the top-three. This is very important as we look to fight for a podium this weekend. We will work hard with the team to make sure we get everything working at optimum level for Saturday’s stages. This is an unforgiving rally, particularly for a brand new car. We are still learning things; I just hope that’s our bad luck out of the way for this rally. We’ll have a good road position for Saturday so let’s see what happens.”
Paddon/Kennard (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard started the rally positively with a top-three time on El Chocolate. The Kiwi crew was holding third overall until engine-related problems in SS6, through the Guanajuato mining tunnels, cost them over one minute of time. The issues were further compounded in the final Super Special Stages.
Paddon commented: “It’s a very unfortunate situation that we had engine misfire issues across all cars but that’s part of rallying. Mexico is an incredibly tough, hard rally so the most important thing is that we made it through the stages and out the other end. Tomorrow’s another day, as the saying goes. These are extreme conditions with the heat and the altitude that we just can’t replicate fully in Europe. We will get on top of it and fight back on Saturday.”
Sordo/Martí (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí had enjoyed a strong start to their Mexican campaign, a rally where they have been competitive in previous seasons. Top-three stage times put the Spanish crew in contention for the closely fought podium positions but the late drama dropped them down the classification.
Sordo said: “It’s obviously very disappointing to lose so much time on the shorter Super Special Stages. There was some confusion on my first run at the Autódromo, when we weren’t allowed to finish the stage. We need to understand what happened because from my point of view there was no reason to stop us. We were losing time because of the engine issue but we were still going. It had been a pretty good day up to that point. We had shown encouraging pace and weren’t taking any risks. The car felt competitive, so our aim now is to regain this for the rest of the weekend. There’s still a long way to go.”
With testing not permitted outside of Europe, Friday’s stages gave Hyundai Motorsport a chance to evaluate its Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in Mexico’s high-altitude gravel conditions. It has been a harsh but valuable day of learning for the crews and the engineers.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “That was not the way we wanted to start this rally, but Mexico is an extremely tough rally for new specification rally cars. I certainly don’t think we are alone in facing issues but we remain focused on getting the best out of our technical package this weekend. We expected to have some work to do on our cars here. We can never fully replicate Mexico’s unique stages when we are testing in Europe so today has been our first opportunity to put the car through its paces properly in these conditions. Unfortunately, we experienced a misfire on the engine across all three cars in the final stages. It’s an issue that we have to investigate and evaluate thoroughly ahead of tomorrow. This rally is going to be a survival of the fittest and there are plenty more tough tests still to come.”
Saturday at a glance
A total of 157km is scheduled for Saturday across nine stages.
A trio of stages – Media Luna (27.42km), Lajas de Oro (38.31km) and the classic El Brinco (10.09km) – will be run twice, once in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Lunchtime service will split the two loops, which will then be followed by two more runs at the Autódromo de León.
The day’s itinerary will conclude with the Feria de León Street Stage.
Classification after Day One
1 K. Meeke P. Nagle Citroën C3 WRC 1:01:33.8
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC +20.9
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +56.7
4 J. Hänninen K. Lindström Toyota Yaris WRC +1:27.3
5 O. Tanak M. Jarveoja Ford Fiesta WRC +1:32.9
6 S. Lefebvre G. Moreau Citroën C3 WRC +1:52.8
7 H. Paddon J. Kennard Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:02.1
8 J. M. Latvala M. Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +2:30.8
9 P. Tidemand J. Andersson Škoda Fabia R5 +3:24.3
10 E. Camilli B. Veillas Ford Fiesta R5 +3:59.7
*Dani Sordo’s overall time to be confirmed