Thierry Neuville has claimed a first-ever victory for Hyundai Motorsport on the snowy stages of Rally Sweden on the weekend as he led a double podium result for the team in the second round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Belgian, along with co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, has been on imperious form all weekend, taking five of the team’s eight stage wins. Edging into the lead after Friday’s Svullrya special stage (SS3), Neuville and Gilsoul never relinquished their advantage over their rivals.
Ultimately it was Citroën’s Craig Breen who finished in the runner-up spot on Sunday 18 Februrary, ahead of the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team crew of Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Anders Jaeger. Third place for Mikkelsen ensured a double podium success for the team in Sweden, as well as the Norwegian’s first top-three finish as a Hyundai Motorsport driver in his fifth WRC event with the team.
Hyundai’s success continued with its third crew entered in Rally Sweden – Hayden Padden and co-driver Seb Marshall – finishing in 5th place behind the Finnish pair of Esapekka Lappi and J Ferm (Toyota Gazoo Yaris)
Sunday’s final stages were full of tension and drama. Two attempts at the 21,19 km Likenäs stage acted as a suspenseful forerunner to the rally’s Power Stage, a comparatively short 9,56 km run at Torsby.
One of the closest battles on the final morning was between Paddon and Toyota Gazoo’s Racing Lappi, with just 2,9 seconds dividing the two crews as they headed into the final stage. Unfortunately a small off and an engine stall saw Paddon losing his place, dropping him to fifth overall.
Mikkelsen secured third in the Power Stage to score three additional driver points, while Neuville added two extra points to his victory tally. The Belgian now sits at the top of the drivers’ championship, with Hyundai Motorsport leading as well in the manufacturers’ standings.
Crew notes – Neuville/Gilsoul (no. 5 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC):
Neuville, celebrating his seventh WRC victory, said: “An incredible result! We had a disappointing start to the season in Rallye Monte-Carlo, but we didn’t let that get us down. We kept focused and targeted a strong result here in Sweden. We knew the competition would be tough for the win but we came here with the objective to bounce back, and we did that perfectly.
“We didn’t expect to take the lead so early in the weekend, so we have had to be clever to defend the gap at times, and then increase it when we could. I felt we deserved the win last year, but perhaps even more so this weekend. I was never going to push in the Power Stage because the victory meant too much to risk, so to come away with two extra points is great. We’re now leading the championship, so our 2018 campaign is back on track.”
Crew notes – Mikkelsen/Jaeger (no. 4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC):
“It is a fantastic feeling to be standing on the podium for the first time with Hyundai Motorsport,” said Mikkelsen. “We have had a pretty solid weekend and enjoyed a clean final morning. I wanted to give a push in the Power Stage, but it’s always a fine line as we definitely didn’t want to risk our podium. In the end, we took three points and third place overall, which is very encouraging. More than that, it has been an excellent weekend for the team as a whole, and our congratulations go to Thierry and Nicolas on a tremendous result.”
Crew notes – Paddon/Marshall(no. 6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC):
Paddon said: “An annoying end to what had been a generally positive weekend for us. It was just a small mistake in the Power Stage which stalled the car and lost us too much time to defend our fourth place. It is what it is. We’re not in the championship hunt this season, so whether it’s fourth or fifth doesn’t really matter greatly. We have plenty of positives to take away from the event and I am looking forward to continuing this trend in my next WRC event in Portugal.”
A delighted team principal, Michel Nandan, commented: “This has been a fantastic rally for our team and it’s a great feeling to score our maiden win of the 2018 season. After the disappointment of Monte we really needed to fight back and to score a good haul of manufacturer points.
“Thierry and Nicolas have been on top form all weekend, and they thoroughly deserve this result. As a team, we have performed strongly, which is reflected in the 1-3-5 result. Congratulations to Andreas and Anders on their debut podium with our team, the first of many we hope! Hayden and Seb also had a strong weekend to finish in a fighting fifth, despite their late drama in the Power Stage.”
The next event in the 2018 WRC season takes place in Mexico from 8-11 March, presenting the first gravel round of the championship and one where Hyundai Motorsport has twice finished on the podium (in 2014 and 2017).
Final results in Rally Sweden:
1. T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:52:13.1
2. C. Breen/S. Martin Citroën C3 WRC +19.8
3. A. Mikkelsen/A. Jaeger Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +28.3
4. E. Lappi/J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +45.8
5. H. Paddon/S. Marshall Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +54.4
6. M. Østberg/T. Eriksen Citroën C3 WRC +1:15.3
7. J. M. Latvala/M. Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +2:04.9
8. T. Suninen/M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +2:52.2
9. O. Tänak/M. Järveoja Toyota Yaris WRC +3:44.4
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings:
1. T. Neuville (41 points); 2. S. Ogier (31); 3. J.M Latvala (23); 4. E. Lappi (23); 5. O. Tanak (21); 6. A. Mikkelsen (21); 7. C. Breen (20); 8. K. Meeke (17); 9. H. Paddon (10); 10. E. Evans (8).
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings:
1. Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team (54); 2. Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team (53); 3. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team (46); 4. M-Sport Ford World Rally Team (43).