Hyundai Motorsport returns to competitive action next week as the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship moves onto the Tour de Corse.
For Hyundai Motorsport, round ten of the season represents a significant milestone, with three 'New Generation' i20 WRC cars entered for the Corsican event, and three 'New Generation' i20 R5 models also participating in the championship for the first time.
The team has enjoyed a competitive 2016 season to date with two victories – in Argentina and Sardinia - and five further podiums – in Monte Carlo, Sweden, Poland and a double in Germany, and it's a trend that the three WRC crews plan to continue in Corsica.
Following the double podium on home soil in Germany last month, Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul will once again line up in the #3 i20 WRC, with Dani Sordo and Marc Martí in the #4, as Kiwi pairing Hayden Paddon and John Kennard return to the #20 machine, representing the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team.
Neuville and Gilsoul have established a competitive rhythm in recent rallies. Since their win in Sardinia back in June, they have finished inside the top four at each event, including a closely-fought third place in Germany. The Belgian currently lies fourth in the drivers' classification on 94 points and is looking forward to one of his favourite events.
“I love Corsica!” Neuville confirmed, “The rally holds special memories for me as I won there a few years ago in IRC. Last year was a different story, but the conditions were rather abnormal for Corsica, which made life tricky.
“We head there this year on the back of some strong results. I have felt very comfortable with the 'New Generation' i20 WRC and I think we can be in the fight this year. Some of the stages are new compared to twelve months ago, so we will have some work to do on our pace notes, however it is a stunning landscape and a very enjoyable rally when everything works well. I'm looking forward to it.”
Sordo and Martí, meanwhile, scored their debut podium of 2016 with a stunning drive to second in Germany. The Spanish duo expects to have a competitive weekend in Corsica, which they will use to prepare themselves for their home event, Rally de España, which will follow just two weeks after Tour de Corse.
“It was very important for Marc and I to finish on the podium in Germany,” Sordo admitted, “We have had many good results this season, but too often just outside the top three, so it was special to get onto the podium in the team's home rally. I like the Tour de Corse a lot. It's a totally different style of tarmac rally to Germany, and we'll have to see what the weather will do.”
Having been absent since 2008, the return of Tour de Corse to the WRC calendar last year was hampered by heavy rain that forced the cancellation of two stages. This year's running has seen a number of location changes with Bastia replacing Corte as the rally's hub, the west coast town of Ajaccio playing host to the ceremonial start and Porto-Vecchio hosting the Power Stage.
The rally itinerary has also seen significant alterations. 70 per cent of the stages are new and the total stage distance is 20 per cent longer. Despite still only having ten special stages - the fewest on the calendar - Tour de Corse is second only to Rally Mexico in terms of its total competitive distance - 390.92km. It is a tight and twisty event with spectacular narrow mountain roads, abrasive tarmac and best summarised by its nickname as the 'rally of 10,000 corners'.
“We have had an extended break in between rallies but we have been kept busy preparing for Corsica, which will be a special occasion for Hyundai Motorsport,” team principal Michel Nandan said, “In addition to our three WRC cars, we will also have the debut of our New Generation i20 R5 car in WRC competition for the first time. It's an important moment for our company and testament to our ambition on the world rally stage.
“Looking at WRC, we have shown that the New Generation i20 WRC has podium potential on a variety of different terrains, so that has to remain our target. We had three cars inside the top five in Germany and two on the podium. Another result like that is definitely within our capability. Corsica is a fantastic, historic and well-respected rally, let's just hope the rain stays away this year!”
Friday's Tour de Corse schedule covers 157km of special stages with the added challenge of teams not having a midday service. Saturday is the longest of the three days and includes two runs through the 53.72km Orezza-La Porta-Valle di Rostino stage. 169km will be covered on the middle day. The final morning comprises just two stages - but includes the longest of the entire rally, 53.78km Antisanti-Poggio di Nazza, which will prove decisive ahead of the 10.42km rally-concluding Power Stage.