The number one reason for this celebration is not the fact that we have a guy not belonging to Volkswagen’s camp in the lead, no. To me, main reason to feel quite ecstatic is the fact that Thierry Neuville and Hyundai clinched that lead after a fair fight. Details made the difference, but they always do in this sport, it’s never just about the raw speed of the car or the size of driver’s balls. There are tyres and road positions and no mistakes that lead to good result and to what we call a winning pace. In rallying, winning pace is a very broad term.
Despite all this, Hyundai still isn’t quite there yet when it comes to raw car pace. There are things to iron out and further optimizations to make. We’ve heard Neuville saying “more power in the engine and maybe a steering wheel gear shifter would help” on several occassions this weekend, and that surely means that these areas are being worked on for the next generation i20 WRC, scheduled to debut later this year. If anything, a more powerful car should enable Neuville and other Hyundai drivers a more controlled and effective driving, because I think Thierry had to push over the limit at some point today to bring the fight so directly to Sebastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen.
Finally, the current classification in Sweden is also a direct consequence of no splits in cars, at least partially. Which is, of course, fantastic.
Neuville said: “It has been another great day for us and it is a fantastic feeling to be leading the rally. I have pushed hard today and have really enjoyed the stages. I don’t think I have ever felt this good with the Hyundai i20 WRC. We made a good tyre choice today and I have been happy with our performance level. We have scored some stage wins and, in the final stage of the day, the repeat of Vargåsen, I had a fantastic jump over Colin’s Crest of 44 metres. It felt like a good jump and I am proud to pick up the award. We’ve had a close battle throughout the whole event so my target for tomorrow is, of course, to keep my position, but it’s close so we have to see what tomorrow brings. I’m ready for it.”