After a challenging start on Thursday at the Rallye Monte-Carlo in the World Rally Championship, Hyundai Motorsport bounced back to make positive steps on today’s stages.
It was the optimal time to make improvements, with Friday’s mammoth six stage taking the WRC field across over 100km of challenging terrain.
With such a long distance, variable conditions were expected and both the #7 and #8 Hyundai i20 WRC cars were able to complete the stages untroubled and improved throughout the day.
In the #7 car, Thierry Neuville managed to climb to 7th at the the end of action, despite a challenging SS5 at the Les Costes – St Julien en Champsaur 1 where the Belgian took the 12th best time of the stage and the seventh that saw him take tenth.
Despite the odd blip, the consistency of the i20 driver made sure he wasn’t to finish outside the top ten, and he currently lies 7th in the standings with a gap of 3mins 29.9secs between him and the returning leader Sebastien Loeb.
“It has been another very difficult day but I think I am making progress,” said Neuville. “The hardest part has been correctly predicting the conditions in the stages which can change very quickly. We had a few instances today where the stages were totally different from our pace notes so we have to adapt. Getting the tyre choice right has also been a challenge but one which we have managed pretty well, all things considered.”
It may have been a balancing act for the Hyundai ace, but the Belgian explained the thinking behind the conservative times.
“We have continued to take a safe approach to our driving so we can reach our objective of finishing the rally,” said Neuville. “I don’t have as much experience of these stages as others so I am taking it easy and learning all the time. The final stage of the day was the one I have probably enjoyed the most so far. There are three different stages tomorrow so we will have more experience to add.”
In the sister car, it was a difficult day for Dani Sordo who started the day with a difficult 11th place at SS3, La Salle en Beaumont – Corps 1, then followed by a more challenging 12th at Aspres Les Corps – Chauffayer 1.
There was a brief change of fortunes later on as the Spaniard climbed to eighth at SS5 before his lowest finish of 15th at the following stage, the La Salle en Beaumont – Corps 2.
It didn’t faze the Spaniard, who bounced back at the penultimate run at Aspres Les Corps – Chauffayer 2, with a 4th place finish, just 13.7secs off the time topper Robert Kubica.
Sordo finished the day with a final stage result, Les Costes – St Julien en Champsaur 2, of 8th that pushed the Spaniard into 8th overall, just over 30secs behind his team-mate.
“I am definitely very happy to make it to the finish today without any major dramas,” said Sordo. “This morning’s loop was tough with a mixture of conditions – fog, ice, mud – which made it difficult to get a good rhythm and at times with poor visibility.”
The driver of the #8 i20 was more confident after a more productive afternoon with his 4th place in particular sure to boost the Hyundai man.
This afternoon, we had to carefully choose the correct tyres and I think we did ok,” said Sordo. “The stage times were quite encouraging despite the terrain and that gives us something to work on for tomorrow. We have made an improvement compared to last year by finishing the second day and our focus has to be on maintaining this tomorrow. There is still a long way to go in this rally.”
Hyundai Motorsport is heading into tomorrow with four more stages. The Prunieres–Embrun (19,93km) stage will be repeated, kicking off proceedings in the morning (SS9) and afternoon (SS11). Teams and drivers will also contest the longest stage of the rally tomorrow morning (SS10 – Lardier et Valenca – Faye – 51.70km), while the 36.85km Sisteron–Thoard stage will bring an arduous Saturday to a conclusion.