Hyundai Motorsport has underlined the bold approach it is taking to its World Rally Championship return by confirming rising star Thierry Neuville as its lead driver for the 2014 season and beyond.
The 25-year old Belgian, who is playing an increasingly key role in this year's championship, has signed a multi-year agreement with Hyundai, representing a serious commitment by both parties to build towards long-term success in the series.
“I am thrilled to announce Thierry Neuville as the lead driver to our new WRC team,” Hyundai Motorsport team principal Michel Nandan admitted, “Thierry is having a fantastic 2013 season and is proving himself to be one of the most exciting young drivers in WRC. His raw speed, driving skill and dynamic approach to rallying make him the ideal lead driver for Hyundai.
“By signing a driver of Thierry's talent, we can show that Hyundai's WRC engagement is serious and focused on long-term success. It is also great recognition for the work that the entire team has carried out in such a short time. We both share similar values and objectives to win the championship in the long-term so we are proud to have Thierry in the team and as an ambassador for the Hyundai Motorsport brand.”
Neuville, along with his co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, will drive the new i20 WRC rally car in all 13 WRC events in 2014, beginning with the team's debut at the Monte Carlo Rally in January.
Although the blue riband event will signal the start of only the Belgian driver's third full WRC season, Neuville's experience will be invaluable to Hyundai as the manufacturer begins its first fully-fledged championship WRC campaign with a team and car that have been developed from scratch in under a year.
“I am pleased to be joining Hyundai Motorsport for the 2014 World Rally Championship,” the youngster commented, “I believe [the team] is the perfect fit for me because it is a young, emerging and ambitious manufacturer team with long-term objectives for championship success.
“I have long-held aspirations of driving for a manufacturer team, and was impressed with [Hyundai]'s facility, their approach to the rally programme and their clear potential. I hope my two years of experience in WRC will be beneficial to the team as we build a harmonious working partnership. We know we have a steep learning curve ahead of us in our first season, but I am convinced we will have a successful future together.”
In his two seasons in the World Rally Championship, Neuville has contested a total of 32 rallies and, after finishing seventh in the 2012 championship, has so far claimed four consecutive runner-up results - Italy, Finland, Germany and Australia - in addition to two third-place finishes in Mexico and Greece to leave him second in the WRC standings with one rally left to run.