Hyundai Motorsport will be aiming to keep hold of its advantage in the manufacturers’ standings, as the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) heads across the Atlantic for Rally Mexico, round three of the 13-event season.
As the first full gravel event of the season, Rally Mexico will offer a stark contrast to the two opening rounds of the 2018 championship. With the rally’s geographical position at high altitude and typically hot climate, the event is often punishing for cars with engine power at a premium in thinner air.
Reaching new heights
Hyundai Motorsport will once again field three crews with Andreas Mikkelsen in the #4 car, drivers’ championship leader Neuville in the #5, and Spaniard Dani Sordo returning for his second event of the season in the #6 car.
All three Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team crews spent time putting the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC through its paces near to Girona in Spain, replicating some of the conditions expected in Mexico next week.
Rally Mexico has been a happy hunting ground for Hyundai Motorsport in the past four years. The team memorably scored its debut WRC podium in the event in 2014, while scoring its first top-three result of last season on the Mexican gravel.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “We were pleased to show a much improved performance in Sweden, with results more representative of what we know we can achieve. Just looking at the overall positions of the manufacturers’ championship, it’s clear to see how close the competition is. Mexico will be a different prospect, so we have to tackle the event with realistic expectations. Thierry will be first on the road, as a result of his drivers’ championship position, so we have to accept the job he will have of cleaning the stages. That’s part of the game. Overall, we are hoping to defend our lead in the championship in this early phase of the season by scoring another strong team result.”
Fresh focus for HMDP Finns
The Hyundai Motorsport Driver development Program (HMDP) crew of Jari Huttunen and Antti Linnaketo will contest their second WRC2 round of the season in Mexico, following a strong season debut in Sweden. The Finns scored two stage wins on the tricky Norwegian and Swedish stages, outpacing far more experienced crews, ultimately finishing sixth. Without losing over four minutes in a snow bank on Saturday, the crew would almost certainly have been in the hunt for a podium finish.
Nandan added: “We were all impressed with how Jari and Antti approached Rally Sweden, and with their performance. It was intended to be a learning experience for the crew, in their first full WRC 2 campaign. They were able to show some good speed and consistency, regularly battling for top-three stage times. Mexico will offer them another valuable weekend of learning on gravel, and we look forward to seeing what they can do in their first participation at this event.”
WRC Crew Notes: Mikkelsen/Jæger (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
- Opened podium account for team with third place in Sweden
- Best Rally Mexico result of third in 2015
Mikkelsen said: “Rally Mexico is an event I’ve done three times in the past. It’s a beautiful rally with stages that are similar from one season to the next, so we know them well. It is always a warm event, so we have to take extra care of the brakes. It is also quite a rough rally, which means it very easy to make a mistake. There is typically a lot of road cleaning, and with stages being held at altitude the engine is down on power, so it requires a slight change of driving style. After finishing on the podium in Sweden, our first one with Hyundai Motorsport, I’m ready to fight for another strong result.”
WRC Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
- First win of 2018 in Sweden; his seventh in total with Hyundai Motorsport
- Top of drivers’ championship means first on the dusty Mexican stages
Neuville said: “We head to Mexico on the back of our fantastic win in Sweden, so our motivation and morale could not be higher. Mexico is a nice event and one that brings back good memories. I got my first podium there in 2013, and then scored Hyundai Motorsport’s first ever podium just one year later. The rally has a more relaxed atmosphere, and it’s generally a lot calmer for the drivers. We arrive a bit earlier than normal in order to acclimatise and adjust to the time difference. It is the first event of the year with higher temperatures – and altitude – making it a unique and enjoyable challenge.”
WRC Crew Notes: Sordo/Del Barrio (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
- Second WRC event of the 2018 season
- Two top-five finishes in Mexico with Hyundai Motorsport, including near podium in 2016
Sordo said: “I was pleased to see the team score its first win of the season in Sweden, and I am happy to be returning to the line-up for Rally Mexico. I have always enjoyed driving on the Mexican stages, which are lined with many passionate rally fans, who cheer and support us throughout the weekend. Road cleaning in Mexico can create a big difference between those first on the road and those behind. I hope we can benefit a bit from our position and compete near the front to help the team defend our manufacturers’ championship lead.”
HMDP Crew Notes: Huttunen/Linnaketo (#32 Hyundai i20 R5)
- Sixth in WRC2 in Rally Sweden with two stage wins
- Demonstrated impressive pace against more experienced crews
Huttunen commented: “In general I was satisfied with our rally in Sweden and happy with the performance of the Hyundai i20 R5. There were areas where we could have made some improvements, but there were lots of positive points we could take away as well. Mexico will be a brand new experience, as I have never competed there before, so it won’t be as easy. Our focus is on having a clean rally, and using the event as another valuable learning experience. Of course, we would like to show some good pace as well, but we know the WRC 2 contest is tough. We had a few days of testing in Europe to prepare ourselves and the car for the conditions we expect in Mexico, so I think we’re as ready as we can be.”