Never mind how the Rallye Monte Carlo ended for Hyundai Motorsport, they had a pretty solid start to a learning & development season I would say. Things could have been better for Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville in Monte Carlo, of course, but there is no point in looking back, is there. Instead it’s much better to switch focus to Sweden as the WRC moves to the traditionally snowy, icy and fantastic Rally Sweden. There, in the dark forests of the North, beyond the Wall and among the… white walkers, Hyundai will venture out to collect as many kilometers as possible. That, I believe, is their main goal for Sweden. And that includes you, Thierry. Speaking of Thierry, he will be joined by a different team mate in Sweden, and one who shares remarkably similar statistics when it comes to WRC and Sweden in particular. Former IRC and ERC champion Juho Hanninen and co-driver Tomi Tuominen will take over from Dani and Marc. With four previous starts on Rally Sweden, Juho and Tomi are just the right combination of experience and speed for this challenging event.
On the other hand, all this talk about mileage, learning and development is not very… motor sport-y. Deep down I’m sure Hyundai feels the same. And I am sure they will not settle for mileage alone in Sweden. It wouldn’t make any sense to go up there, cruise along on the stages, collect your precious kilometers of below-the-pace data and then dismantle that huge hospitality skyscraper and go home. If you’re not flying, you’re not trying. We’ll see some solid times set by both Hyundais in Sweden, I am positive. If the team is so determined to, well, collect data, they can split days into “data day” and “flat out day”. There is even Rally 2 in Sweden!
But among all that, what if Hyundai can find the right mix of speed and consistency and start scoring points, even though they are so focused on development and not on the title race. It’s a nice little mix of priorities and it will take some experience in selecting the best options for the team in the season ahead. After what happened in Monte Carlo, Hyundai will want to, first and foremost, reach the finish intact and with both cars. Unless they decide to drive the stages in reverse, they should be in the points. And that will put smiles on many faces in Sweden, in Alzenau and in their Korean base.
Keep your wits about you, girls and boys of Hyundai Motorsport!
Official preview follows below.
Hyundai Shell World Rally Team aims to accelerate development at Rally Sweden
The Hyundai Shell World Rally Team is looking to continue its ambitious learning curve at the next round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Rally Sweden, which takes place next week.
Heading into only its second competitive rally outing, the Alzenau-based team will be determined to complete the challenging 24 special stages with both cars in the tough snowy conditions that participants will face in the popular Swedish event.
For the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team, still in its infancy, accumulating mileage and experience in the competitive WRC environment is of paramount importance as it seeks to further develop the promising Hyundai i20 WRC cars.
The team will see a slight change to its driver line-up for Sweden as lead driver Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 WRC #7, co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul) will be joined by Finnish ace – and Hyundai test driver in 2013 – Juho Hänninen, who will be behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 WRC #8, flanked by his compatriot Tomi Tuominen.
The team started to prepare for Rally Sweden in early December with a five-day test in Rovaniemi, Finland, close to the Arctic Polar Circle, where both Neuville and Hänninen had a first taste of driving the Hyundai i20 WRC on snow. The test was used to identify the correct set-up for the rally and to give the drivers the right level of confidence to drive the Hyundai i20 WRC on snow at high speed. Both drivers will have an additional day of testing ahead of next week’s rally.
Team Principal of the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team Michel Nandan commented: “Rally Sweden next week represents our next opportunity to develop the Hyundai i20 WRC and to collect valuable feedback and data. Sweden is a specialised event where we will face several challenges: we have to ensure the car works in the extreme low temperatures, especially on road sections where the engine is not revving as high and make sure we have a good set-up for our cars to have as much traction and stability as possible. The third main challenge is the presence of snow banks on the side of the roads; it is very easy for the engines to digest snow even in the smallest collision. At Rallye Monte-Carlo, we didn’t cover the mileage we were hoping for but we still learned some important lessons for the future. The objective for Rally Sweden will be once again to bring both cars to the finish and to accumulate as many kilometres and as much experience as possible,” Nandan concluded.
Determined as ever after an unlucky Rallye Monte-Carlo, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul have only one objective for Rally Sweden: to bring their Hyundai i20 WRC to the finish: “I don’t have much experience on Rally Sweden – having only competed there twice before – and snow is probably my least favourite surface but it’s a rally where I enjoy a lot driving and where we got a good result last year (fifth place). It’s a unique rally – very fast, with narrow roads and big snow banks alongside the roads. We tested for a couple of days for Sweden back in December where we got the first feeling of driving the Hyundai i20 WRC in full winter conditions. We also started to work on set-up solutions for this specific event. We will have another day of testing at the weekend which will allow us to do some final adjustments and cover some more kilometres ahead of the rally. After retiring at Rallye Monte-Carlo so early in the competition, Nicolas and I are really looking forward to get a fresh start and we want to finish Rally Sweden for ourselves and for the entire team,” he said.
Hänninen – who clinched his best WRC result to date at Rally Sweden last year – has four previous starts to his credit on this event which will mark his competitive debut within the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team: “I’m very proud to have the chance to drive for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team at Rally Sweden. I was already privileged to be the first behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 WRC back in May 2013 but being in Sweden with the team will feel even more special. It will be my first event within a WRC factory team and, for sure, it will be a special moment that I will remember for a long time. Rally Sweden is one of my favourite events. For a Finn, to drive on snow is almost a natural thing so of course we would like to get a good result but the main target for Tomi and I will be to finish the event and get as much experience as possible for the team – which will be helpful for the rest of the year and for 2015 when we will put into practice what we learned during our first season in competition.”
Traditionally, the only true winter event on the WRC calendar, Rally Sweden will take the competitors to the forests of the Värmland region, crossing the border for two stages in Norway. To best cope with the extreme conditions, Hyundai Shell WRT’s partner Michelin will supply winter tyres fitted with over 380 tungsten-tipped studs which ensure perfect grip on the hard frozen surface underneath the soft snow. Meanwhile, drivers handle the cold with anti-glare glasses and heated boots. This year’s edition of Rally Sweden includes 24 special stages (12 repeated twice), covering a total of 323.54 competitive kilometres.