Thierry Neuville will be part of the Hyundai Motorsport World Rally Championship team for two more years – this was confirmed only two days after the Belgian scored yet another podium finish for Hyundai with a second spot in the past weekend’s Tour de Corse.
Neuville and fellow Belgian and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul finished in second position after a faultless performance over ten long stages on the island Corsica to secure their fourth podium result of 2016 – and the eighth podium result in total for Hyundai Motorsport this season.
All three New Generation i20 WRCs completed the rally on a positive note with Hayden Paddon and John Kennard finishing in sixth place, just ahead of Dani Sordo and Marc Martí. The result moves Hyundai Motorsport to 227 points in the WRC Manufacturers’ Championship, three more than its 2015 total, and cementing second position.
Recent fears that Neuville might move to another manufacturer were quashed when Hyundai finalised their driver line-up for the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) with the announcement this week that he had signed a two-year extension to his contract with the team.
Neuville will compete with Hyundai Motorsport in the 2017 and 2018 WRC seasons alongside Gilsoul as part of a three-crew team. With Paddon and Sordo also contracted earlier for two further years, it offers the team important consistency as the WRC moves into a new era with revised regulations.
Having first been announced as a Hyundai Motorsport driver back in November 2013, Neuville has been an integral part of the team’s growth on the competitive world rally stage. There were already a number of milestones in its inaugural WRC season in 2014. The Belgian claimed the team’s maiden podium in Mexico and followed that up with a debut victory in Germany.
In his three seasons with the team to date, Neuville has claimed two victories, the most recent of which was scored with the New Generation i20 WRC in Rally Italia Sardegna earlier this year. He has amassed a total of nine podium finishes, including his second place at Tour de Corse last weekend.
Neuville, in the no. 3 New Generation i20 WRC, was the closest challenger to rally winner Sébastien Ogier all weekend on Corsica and fought hard to hold second place. He extended his lead over third placed Andreas Mikkelsen to 23,6 sec on Sunday’s final stages, and has now jumped up to third in the Drivers’ Championship on 112 points.
“It has been a very positive and competitive weekend. We made no mistakes in some tricky but enjoyable stages – it was pretty much the perfect event, really. Everyone in the team has done a good job, and I’m happy with what we have achieved. The New Generation i20 WRC has had great pace, as we have seen from some of the stage times. We were able to build a gap over Andreas on Saturday so we just had to stay focused on our driving in the final stages to bring the car home,” said Neuville.
Paddon, in the no. 20 New Generation i20 WRC, found competitive form on Sunday as he finished the gruelling SS9 in second place. The Kiwi, scoring for the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team in Corsica, closed the gap to fifth-placed Craig Breen from 37,8 sec to 17,5 sec with a measured performance in the final two stages.
“We had a much stronger finish to the rally after a tough two days. It’s been a case of going back to the basics to try and find a way forward. Second place on the long opening stage was much more like where we want to be. That gives us confidence as we prepare for Spain,” said Paddon.
Sordo (no. 4 New Generation i20 WRC) might have fought for the podium, had it not been for losing two minutes through a puncture on Friday afternoon. The Spanish crew showed their potential with second place in SS8 on Saturday afternoon, but had to settle for seventh overall.
“A really frustrating weekend for us after the puncture on Friday afternoon. That ended any chance we had of finishing on the podium. We have shown on occasions what would have been possible without that two-minute time loss. The next rally is my home event in Spain so I’ll come back fighting!” said Sordo.
Hyundai Motorsport has now taken podium finishes in four consecutive WRC events following a win in Sardinia, third in Poland and its double top-three finish in Germany. With three events remaining on the 2016 calendar, there are plenty more opportunities to continue this trend.
Team principal Michel Nandan commented: “It’s fantastic to continue our podium run. Tour de Corse is a very hard event, but we have seen good pace from our New Generation i20 WRCs. The weekend was not without a few dramas for our crews, but particularly for Hayden and Dani. They have both persevered to finish the rally on Sunday’s final two stages.
“Thierry has had a very competitive weekend. He has consistently been the closest challenger to Ogier, which gives us a lot of satisfaction.”
Neuville this week said he was delighted to extend his contract with Hyundai Motorsport for two more years. “Although I had alternative options available, it seemed the most logical decision to keep up the momentum we have within this team. Next year will be a new era for the WRC with the revised regulations.
“We have shared very special moments together since the team’s debut in WRC. Our first win together in Germany was one of my career highlights. With a new car next year, and even more ambitious targets, I am excited by what this next chapter will bring.”
Nandan commented: “Thierry has been a great asset to our team so we are pleased to announce this two-year extension. There has been a lot of talk about Thierry’s future, which is obviously part of the motorsport game, but the fact that we continue together shows the strength of our relationship.
“We have had some great memories, as well as some difficult moments, but overall we’ve been on a positive growth curve together. Now we have finalised our driver line-up with Thierry, Hayden and Dani, we can aim for a competitive finish to our 2016 season, as well as focusing on development of our 2017 challenger.”
- Rally de España, the 11th round of the 2016 Championship, takes place from 13 to 16 October. Hyundai Motorsport will be fielding four cars with Kevin Abbring and Seb Marshall returning to the WRC team after a weekend of R5 action in Corsica.