Rally Sweden was tough for Hyundai Shell World Rally Team, as they like to call themselves, or Hyundai, for friends. Tough but in a good way and it’s not a surprise to hear them talking about the positive aspects instead of weeping over the lack of points or stage wins or other palpable achievements. If we consider the fact that Hyundai really IS using this year as a test and development year, what they managed to do in Sweden is big and useful for further development of the car and the team. When Hyundai first said 2014 will be preparation year, WRC community did not really take them seriously, but for anyone more familiar with Hyundai’s programme it is obvious that team needs a bit more time to put things into full motion. In Monte Carlo they failed to meet their main goals, but in Sweden things looked much better despite the disappointments and retirements. It is obvious that the car and the team do have potential and for me that’s great news. Many teams and drivers slipped in Sweden, but for Hyundai main things were kilometers, data readings and then some more kilometers at competitive speed. No test will ever match proper rallies and Hyundai made the most out of 2014 Rally Sweden, especially when it became obvious that chasing the results and stage times was going to be too risky. Especially if this is the year in which results are always second to development and growth.
I am sure Thierry Neuville is going through a bit of an Ogier 2012 right now. He knows how competitive he is and he is very much aware of the attention and praise he earned by finishing 2013 as a runner up to Sebastien Ogier, but in 2014 things are difficult and he must be ready to accept some frustrations and some sacrifice. Perhaps that’s exactly what Thierry needed to be able to grow and develop further after switching from Citroën to Ford to Hyundai. The latter is a big project and it’s great that they picked a young driver to lead their assault as well as development.
Here is what Hyundai’s drivers and team principal said after finishing Rally Sweden.
Neuville said: “It’s been a long weekend for all of the team but one which I am sure will benefit us in the long term. We have made the absolute most out of every stage possible in order to add more experience and to learn as much as we can. We have discovered many positive things on the Hyundai i20 WRC car and I am becoming more and more confident in the cockpit all the time. It is naturally sad that we were unable to complete the day yesterday but we have to live with that. We used the Rally 2 to continue today, which meant a big time penalty, but never gave up, even when we had a puncture in the penultimate stage. We have been quick on some of the stages, and were close runners-up on two occasions this week, which shows great work from the team and a lot of potential for the future. I think we will look back positively on Sweden as a key rally in our ongoing development.”
Hänninen said: “It has been a very productive event for us and I think we can hold our heads high after our performance in these tricky conditions. I made a mistake yesterday and damaged the car, which forced us to retire, but thanks to Rally 2 we have been able to compete today. We have learned a lot of things and gained lots of experience and that is the reason why we are here. The Hyundai i20 WRC has a very strong base and I am confident that we can go faster with this car in the future. I did a massive jump at Colin’s Crest today, 36m, so that shows that the car is definitely strong. The team has done a great job and it’s been a privilege to be part of Rally Sweden with Hyundai.”
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “Overall we have had a tough but generally positive week here in Sweden. We knew that our approach to compete in WRC and do our learning in a very public manner would be challenging so it was just important for us to finish the rally with both cars. We are pleased to have achieved this, even though we had to use Rally 2. We didn’t have much luck yesterday with both cars hitting solid rocks, and we had further drama this afternoon when Thierry suffered a puncture, but this is part of our learning. We have seen some good times from both crews. Thierry set a couple of second best stage times and Juho won the iconic Colin’s Crest Award. This was not the target of our weekend but we are very pleased to take them away with us. These are definitely good indicators for the future. In just our second rally, I feel we are getting more confident as a team, and the guys should be proud with all they have achieved in Sweden.”