Dani Sordo will return to the Hyundai Motorsport line-up to give the team a boost heading into its adopted 'home' WRC event this weekend.
The Spaniard was forced to miss the last round of the championship, in Finland, thanks to a fractured vertebra, but returns as Hyundai looks to revive the form that has seen it secure two wins for the new generation i20 WRC as the series moves onto round nine at Rallye Deutschland, having missed a podium on the challenging high-speed Finnish gravel roads by only 4.6secs.
The event has happy memories for the Alzenau-based squad, which took its first WRC win there in 2014, and will see Hyundai again field three of its latest-spec cars, with 2014 winner Thierry Neuville and Hayden joining Sordo, who chased his team-mate home on the tarmac event two years ago.
Sordo has recovered sufficiently from the fractured vertebra he sustained following a big accident while testing in Finland and, fully rested after his precautionary lay-off, the Spanish tarmac expert will be looking to build on his hitherto consistent form as the championship returns to his preferred surface.
“We are really pleased to be back in the car at one of our favourite events,” Sordo confirmed alongside co-driver Marc Marti, “We have gone well here in the past and we are looking for a strong result, but it's a very challenging rally, very fast with lots of different characteristics. It's exciting to drive in the vineyards, fast but very narrow with lots of hairpins and corners. The military ranges are very tricky, particularly in the wet, so it's important not to make mistakes.”
Often viewed as the toughest of the tarmac events grouped in the second half of the season, Rallye Deutschland will again be based around Trier, with the backdrop of the Roman Porta Nigra. A unique series of technical challenges face the competitors on the twisty roads of the Mosel wine region and Baumholder ranges where the unforgiving hinkelsteine have a justified reputation as car-breakers.
The unpredictable weather always makes tyre choice an important factor, placing a premium on up-to-date information from the gravel crews. To add to the complexity, road characteristics can vary significantly even within the same group of stages, meaning that set-up and tyre choice is often a calculated compromise on the low-grip surfaces. As a result, team principal Michel Nandan is pleased to be able to include the experienced Sordo in his line-up.
“Despite our challenges in Finland, we are ready for the unique test provided by Rallye Deutschland,” he insisted, “We have prepared well and we are all looking forward to continuing the momentum of a positive season as we move onto the tarmac events. It is always exciting to return to Trier, and we are pleased that Dani, who is also a previous winner and runner-up here, is back with us after missing Finland.
“Of course, it is our home event and also close to home for Thierry, who took our first WRC victory here two years ago. Meanwhile, Hayden is also making good progress on tarmac and I'm sure he will show some good potential, so we will certainly be pushing hard to return to the podium and securing strong championship points in front of our home supporters.”
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul have been enjoying a competitive run of form recently and, after their win in Sardinia, have followed up with fourth place in both Poland and Finland, missing podiums at each by just a matter of a few seconds. However, the tarmac of Trier holds special resonance for the crew.
“Rallye Deutschland is the highlight of the season for me,” the Belgian driver confirmed, “It's like my home rally, very close to the Belgian border and a lot of supporters come down with lots of Belgian flags. So it's the rally we are most waiting for in the season, and it's an event we have always been competitive at. We got our first victory there so I am looking forward to it.”
Conversely, Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are the first to admit that tarmac is not their favourite surface but, having a win and two podiums already under their belt in 2016, will be looking to continue their strong season by translating that success to asphalt.
“It's going to be a bit foreign - it seems like a long time since we were doing a tarmac rally,” Paddon noted, “It's not my preferred surface but it's one that I have to learn. I get to use it as an opportunity to improve on where we left off from last year. Germany is sort of three tarmac rallies in one, and we're looking forward to the challenge.”