Hyundai Motorsport is hoping to get its 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) back on track this week as it tackles the second round of the season, Rally Sweden.
Despite showing glimpses of potential in Rallye Monte-Carlo, the team left the Principality with a disappointing fifth place finish, as all three of its Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars ran into trouble over the course of the weekend.
Salvaging six stage wins and seven Power Stage points from the season-opener, the team is aiming for a more representative result as the WRC moves onto the snowy Scandinavian stages.
Three crews will fly the flag for the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team in Sweden. Andreas Mikkelsen and Thierry Neuville will again compete in the #4 and #5 cars, while Hayden Paddon returns to take over the #6 car from Dani Sordo for this event.
Both Neuville and Paddon have registered podium finishes in Sweden, finishing second in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Mikkelsen twice visited the podium with his former team and is aiming to replicate those performances in his first full snow event for Hyundai Motorsport.
The 19-stage rally will be a celebratory occasion for the Norwegian with Friday’s itinerary taking in six stages across the Swedish border in his native Norway.
All three crews prepared for the event with a three-day test in Kall, Sweden from 30 January to 1 February. Fresh snowfall made for ideal conditions with temperatures expected to remain sub-zero for the rally. The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC will be fitted with studded Michelin tyres to tackle the frozen stages, which offer some of the fastest roads of the season.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said the outfit wants to put the disappointment of Monte-Carlo quickly behind it.
“While Monte offered a very particular rally with unpredictable conditions, we now face an entirely different challenge with the fast and frozen stages of Sweden and Norway. One thing was clear from the first rally of the new season – we can take nothing for granted. We are not going to be gifted good results; we will have to work for them. We aim to do just that at Rally Sweden. For Andreas, this is going to be a special event, with several stages on his home terrain. Thierry and Hayden have both scored podiums for us in Sweden in the past, so I think we have a strong crew line-up. We’re as prepared as we can be for whatever Rally Sweden holds in store.”
Mikkelsen said he was looking forward to Rally Sweden as the event crossed the border into his home country of Norway.
“We have a lot of support from fans, family and friends. It’s a beautiful event and the only one we get to tackle completely on snow and ice with proper studded tyres. They give amazing grip and the feeling is unbelievable. We expect a good number of snow banks this year, so we will be able to explore the limits.”
Neuville was quick on the Swedish and Norwegian stages last year but things didn’t end well when he was forced to retire on the penultimate day.
“This year, I am aiming to challenge once again for the win but with a far better outcome,” he said. “Sweden is truly a unique event; the only one where we can compete with fully studded tyres for the complete rally. As one of the fastest rallies of the season, it’s an exhilarating one from inside the cockpit and for the fans lining the stages. We want to put on a good show and, most importantly, deliver a good result.”
Paddon is also looking forward to the event, saying he can’t wait to get his 2018 season underway.
“It feels like a long time since we were competing in Australia. Sweden will be a fresh start for us. I have good memories from finishing on the podium two years ago, and I will be trying to repeat some of that performance. It was great to get re-acquainted with the car in testing recently. We were able to enjoy some outstanding winter driving conditions. More of that in the rally, as well as a decent result, would be the perfect start to my season.”
Rally Sweden will also mark the formal debut of Hyundai Motorsport’s Driver Development Program (HMDP) in WRC2. Finnish driver Jari Huttunen and his co-driver Antti Linnaketo will take the wheel of a Hyundai i20 R5 for the first of selected rounds in this season’s competitive WRC2 category.
Sweden will act as a prelude for the youngster’s first full competitive season as an HMDP driver and will be followed by Rally México in March. The wintry conditions offered by Rally Sweden will be a familiar feeling for the Finn. He will test in Sweden on 11-12 February to prepare for his first WRC2 event of 2018.
“It is an exciting moment for our HMDP as Jari and Antti prepare for the first of their WRC2 events this season,” said Nandan. “We have been working closely with them since last September to build up to this moment. Sweden should be a good first test for them, on snowy conditions with which they are confident, but at the same time knowing that the competition in WRC2 is immensely tough. All we want from them is to have a trouble-free weekend, to bring the car home and to gain valuable experience.”
Huttunen says he can’t wait to get started in Sweden.
“It is an environment where we feel comfortable. We have been working closely with the Hyundai Motorsport team in Alzenau since our appointment as the HMDP crew for 2018, and we have a two-day test before the rally week starts properly. Sweden is where we will have the chance to put into practice all that we have learned so far. 2018 will be a learning curve for us, but we want to have a solid start on the snow and build in each of the events we take part this year. We know we are into the deep end with a lot of very quick rivals in WRC2. All we can do is our best and aim for the finish.”