Thierry Neuville took his first stage win for Hyundai Team in SS6 and ends the day in sixth place.
The Hyundai Shell World Rally Team has concluded an encouraging and positive day of action at Rally de Portugal scoring the young team’s maiden stage wins in just its fourth FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) event. The team won half of all possible stages on Friday with three top times out of six with two different Hyundai i20 WRCs and a total of three cars at the end of day one.
The Alzenau-based squad is running three entries in this rally for the first time and it has been an action-packed day for the team with Thierry Neuville (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC), Juho Hänninen (#8 Hyundai i20 WRC) and Dani Sordo (#20 Hyundai i20 WRC) all in the competition.
Sordo said: “It’s been a generally positive day for me and for the team. The Hyundai i20 WRC has felt good even if the conditions this morning were not too easy. The first two stages were very slippery and in all honesty I wasn’t so happy but it was good to take the stage wins, the first for the team, and to see the car in the fight. We were able to carry on setting a good pace this afternoon but we lost the sump guard on the penultimate stage so we had to take it easy in SS7. We hope to have another good day tomorrow with the focus on completing the stages without any trouble.”
Neuville and his co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, fresh from their podium at Rally Mexico, secured their first stage win for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team in SS6 and showed a mature approach to the opening stages of this complex rally. After a cautious start, the team made some important set-up changes over lunchtime service which helped them to find improvements in the afternoon loop and to end the day in sixth overall.
Neuville said: “It was a mixed day for us and the afternoon was definitely better than the morning loop from my point of view. I had a lot more confidence in the afternoon because we worked on the set-up of the Hyundai i20 WRC over lunchtime and we made a good tyre choice. I decided to run the car stiffer on dampers for the second loop and I could feel the improvement almost immediately. That allowed me to increase the rhythm. It was great to take a stage win in SS6 and to improve our overall position by the end of the day. I hope there is more to come tomorrow.”
Hänninen and his co-driver Tomi Tuominen had the most disrupted day of the Hyundai i20 WRC drivers, suffering a puncture in SS4 and then being held up after an accident in front of him. Tough tyre choices in the afternoon loop made it difficult but the flying Finns set solid times and ended Friday in twelfth.
Hänninen said: “It’s been an interesting day but one from which we have learned a lot. I hit a rock in the final stage of the morning which meant we had to stop and change the wheel. Then we had to stop when another competitor blocked the way. In the afternoon, the tyre choice was not so easy; I only had the hard tyres on the front for the final two stages which was not the ideal choice. I know we can be faster but it was tough to push any more with our pace notes today. We didn’t make any mistakes so we can be reasonably satisfied. We will make some set-up changes for tomorrow in order to try out a few new things.”
The Hyundai Shell World Rally Team is continuing to make a positive impression in WRC, adding more valuable experience in the seven stages so far this rally. Following the positive result in Mexico, the team has reset its objectives to bring three cars to the finish of this rally. Nonetheless, taking three stage wins today will give the team a further boost as they keep focused on the job in hand.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “Today has been another important milestone for our still young team as we secured three stage wins out of six. It is a further reward for the efforts of the entire team and it’s a pleasure to see the Hyundai i20 WRC fighting for stage wins so early in our debut season. We are running three cars here in Portugal which means a lot more work, a lot more effort and a lot more valuable experience. In the morning stages, the conditions were tricky and it favoured those who went last but Dani was most confident with his pace notes on the slippery surface and he was rewarded with two scratch times. Thierry was patient in the morning and built his confidence during the day, making some key set-up changes over lunch. He adapted his settings and showed good pace this afternoon. Juho had a few issues in the morning and as the grip came back in the afternoon it was not easy to choose the right tyre compounds, but he still set some solid times. We have three Hyundai i20 WRCs in the race at the end of Day One and we will remain concentrated on our objectives: to finish the rally with three cars.”
Saturday will see the team contest six more stages, a repeat loop of three special stages – Santa Clara (19.09km), Santana de Serra (31.90km) and Malhão (22.15km).