1 April 2014
Rally Portugal: Neuville and Gilsoul keen for podium return
The celebrations following their first podium barely over, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul head to Portugal with increased confidence.
Setting up a competitive new WRC team is a tall order and many doubted that the new Hyundai Motorsports team would succeed in taking a podium in their first year of competition.
But now that objective has been summarily taken care of just three rallies into the 13-event season, courtesy of Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul clinching third place in Mexico at the start of March, leaving the pair eager to show that it was no one-off fluke but also wary of getting ahead of themselves.
"Scoring a podium at Rally Mexico naturally gives us some extra confidence heading into Rally de Portugal," said Neuville. "However, we know very well that this will be a totally different challenge. We need to be focussed at all times and help the team by getting to the finish on Sunday without any problems.
"We want to push a bit, of course, but the priority is to stay on the road so we can give the team as much information as possible, precisely the same goal we have had since the start of the season."
Neuville's approach was endorsed by Hyundai Motorsports team principal Michel Nandan: "Our podium in Mexico was unexpected and a really good reward for everyone in the team, having worked so hard in recent months. However, we are back with our feet firmly on the ground and ready for the challenge of Rally de Portugal."
Neuville and Gilsoul will be joined at next week's rally by Finnish duo Juho Hänninen and Tomi Tuominen, who return to the wheel of the #8 Hyundai i20 WRC for the first time since Rally Sweden.
"I'm really looking forward to Rally de Portugal, my first rally on gravel with the Hyundai," said Hänninen. "After doing a lot of testing with the team last year and some specific preparation for this event, I have quite a good feeling with the car and I think we have a good set-up for this rally."
Echoing Neuville's sentiments, he added: "Of course the aim for the rally is still to finish without any problems but we would be very happy if we could set some good stage times and maybe even finish in a nice position."
Based in the Algarve region in the south of the country, Rally de Portugal is often considered the first traditional loose surface event of the season thanks to its abrasive stages which combine fast and wide roads with more twisty, narrower sections and a frequent change of grip.
These conditions require accurate preparation to approach the event in the best possible shape, and in order to achieve this, Neuville and Hänninen - along with Dani Sordo, who will compete with co-driver Marc Martí in a third Hyundai entry for the weekend - took part in two separate pre-event test sessions in the region.
"Portugal is not an easy event," admitted Nandan. "But we have prepared diligently with some positive testing in the region and we have seen that the Hyundai i20 WRC is reliable in those conditions. We are ready for this new challenge, although the weather remains an unpredictable but important factor to be considered."
Rally de Portugal will get underway on Thursday 3 April from the Casino Gardens in Estoril. Before returning to the Algarve Stadium Service Park for overnight break, competitors will tackle the traditional Super Special in the country's capital city Lisbon.
The weekend's itinerary also includes the traditional stages held on the gravel roads of Algarve and Alentejo.
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