Hyundai Motorsport has endured a tough opening day for Rally Argentina, the fifth round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), with all three crews experiencing difficulties. Tour de Corse winner Thierry Neuville holds a provisional podium position despite losing time with damage to the rear of his car on the opening loop. Hayden Paddon rolled on the first stage but fought back with two stage wins, one equal with rally leader Elfyn Evans in SS7 and an outright in SS8, while Dani Sordo lost time in the morning with a broken steering arm.
The rough and unforgiving stages of Rally Argentina made their presence felt on the opening day of action for this weekend’s rally, the fifth of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), as all of Hyundai Motorsport’s crews experienced trouble.
Friday’s itinerary took in a repeated loop of four separate stages over a total distance of 140.56km. The gruelling schedule offered a brand new challenge for crews as WRC embarks on a run of five consecutive gravel events.
Friday fight back
Tour de Corse winners Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul muscled their way back up to third place overall by the end of the day after picking up rear suspension damage on Friday’s second stage (SS3 Amboy/Santa Monica). The Belgians added a stage win to their 2017 tally in the final run of the day, the 6.04km Super Special, to reduce the gap to second-placed Mads Østberg to just five seconds.
Last year’s Rally Argentina winners Hayden Paddon and John Kennard had a torrid start to their 2017 assault with a slow-speed roll on Friday’s opening stage (SS2 San Agustin / Villa General Belgrano).
The Kiwi pair showed encouraging pace in the afternoon loop, setting a joint fastest time with rally leader Elfyn Evans in SS7 (Amboy / Santa Monica) before claiming a second stage win of the season in SS8 (Santa Rosa / San Agustin). They hold seventh overall.
It was a day to forget for Spaniards Dani Sordo and Marc Martí as they suffered a broken steering arm in SS3, requiring 11 minutes of repair mid-stage and ending their podium charge.
Argentina is renowned for its harsh stages, so today has offered the team the first opportunity to really put its Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC through its paces on such punishing terrain.
It is likely to continue as a rally of attrition for the remaining nine stages, so the fact that all three cars have made it to the conclusion of a challenging Friday itinerary can be considered a solid start.
Fresh from their Tour de Corse win, Belgians Neuville and Gilsoul are keen to build up some momentum. Unfortunately, hitting a stone in SS3 caused a broken rear damper that affected their performance in the morning loop. They fought back to third and are now involved in a close battle for second overall with well over half the rally remaining.
Neuville commented: “We are pretty happy to end today in third place overall considering just how difficult it has been for everyone. Argentina has always been a demanding event but that is the case even more so this weekend. We had a hard morning loop. A lot of things happened in the stages so we were pleased to make it to service. We picked up some damage to the rear damper, which meant we couldn’t push and didn’t feel as comfortable. The mechanics did an exceptional job over lunchtime to get all our team’s cars ready for the afternoon. Although it was still tricky, I felt better and we could make up some positions to keep firmly in the podium fight. There’s a long way to go!”
The Kiwi crew of Paddon and Kennard scored their first stage wins of 2017 in SS7 and SS8. It was some consolation for the pair after rolling their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in the day’s opening stage.
Paddon said: “Things definitely went better in the afternoon! Conditions have been very rough out there today. It’s a lot tougher this year, especially with the extra speed for the new cars. In the first stage of the day, we were caught out at a hairpin and the car rolled. It was very slow and thankfully we could get out and get it back over. The car wasn’t quite as competitive as it was before but we were still in the rally. The team worked fantastically at service to get us ready for the afternoon. It is good to take our first stage win of the season, but we know this will be a rally of attrition so we have plenty still to fight for.”
Spaniards Sordo and Martí opened their podium account in Corsica with a fine third place. Unfortunately, their chances of a repeat visit to the top-three in Argentina were hampered in SS3 when they picked up damage. They had to stop mid-stage to fix a broken steering arm, which lost them over 11 minutes of time, and dropped them down the classification.
Sordo said: “It was really bad luck! There were lots of loose rocks and I knew it would be hard on the cars. We reached a fast right-hand corner in the second stage this morning and touched something on the inside. The result was a broken steering arm, which we had to stop and fix. We just lost so much time. It’s hugely disappointing because I really enjoy this rally and the car felt quick. Thanks to the team, we could continue into the afternoon. My aim now is to try and make the most of the weekend and see what we can pick up.”
For Hyundai Motorsport, the issues of the morning loop made for a frantic lunchtime service. The team’s mechanics had to make setting adjustments to all three Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars while fixing the various damaged parts that had been picked up by the crews. That’s an impressive feat in just thirty minutes!
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “We expected it to be rough today but that was far more than we’d anticipated. We started the first loop with the set-up of our cars too soft for the conditions; we would have benefitted from better settings to absorb more of the impact from the stages. This was a case of adjusting springs and dampers, which we planned to do at service. With the various issues faced by our crews in addition to these changes, though, it was a busy and difficult service. The mechanics and engineers worked incredibly professionally and quickly to get all three cars prepared for the afternoon loop. The resulting performance was more in line with our aims for this weekend. Lots of things can still happen in this rally. We have Thierry in a provisional podium position and all three cars still in the rally, so it could be worse. Let’s see what Saturday brings.”
Saturday at a glance
Six stages will be contested on Saturday, the penultimate day of the rally, over a total distance of 160km.
Two loops of three tests will include the 20.80km Tanti – Villa Bustos, 38.68km Los Gigantes – Cantera el Condor and 20.52km Boca del Arroyo – Bajo del Pungo stages.
A 30-minute lunchtime service will separate the two loops.
Overall Classification after Day One
1 E. Evans D. Barritt Ford Fiesta WRC 1:24:55.4
2 M. Østberg O. Floene Ford Fiesta WRC +55.7
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:00.7
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC +1:06.7
5 O. Tanak M. Jarveoja Ford Fiesta WRC +1:11.3
6 J. M. Latvala M. Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +1:29.9
7 H. Paddon J. Kennard Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:41.8
8 L. Bertelli S. Scattolin Ford Fiesta WRC +4:13.9
9 J. Hänninen K. Lindstrom Toyota Yaris WRC +4:48.6
10 P. Tidemand J. Andersson Škoda Fabia R5 +6:32.3
11 P. Heller P. Olmos Ford Fiesta R5 +11:03.0
12 J. C. Alonso M. Mercadal Škoda Fabia R5 +11:54.6
13 D. Sordo M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +12:08.3