After two long-haul events in the Americas, the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) returns to Europe with Rally de Portugal, round five of this year’s 13-event calendar. As the rally moves from the Southern Region of Algarve – where it has been held since 2007 – and returns to its origins in the North, the event will represent a new challenge not only for Hyundai Motorsport but also for most competitors and teams.
After a tough rally in Argentina, the young Alzenau-based team is eager to get back to WRC action and is looking for a positive result on Portuguese soil. The team will once again field three Hyundai i20 WRC cars at Rally de Portugal with Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon driving the
Number 7, 8 and 20 cars, respectively.
Rally de Portugal returns to Northern Portugal to roads that haven’t seen WRC action since 2001 when the event was run for the last time in the region. New stages mean race and pre-event preparation will be especially important for the crews and brand new pace-notes mean a lot of extra work for the co-drivers. Some WRC drivers – including Neuville and Sordo – had a taste of the stages up North as they contested the Fafe Rally Sprint (held from 2012 to 2014) that was held in a portion of six kilometers of the famous Fafe-Lameirinha stage.
The team used a six-day test in the area of the rally in April to prepare for the event with all three drivers sharing duties at the wheel of the Hyundai i20 WRC. The test was held in different areas and on different roads to ensure complete preparation and to allow the drivers to find the best set-up for the upcoming event.
Hyundai Motorsport will try to continue to amass as many Manufacturers’ points as possible to regain the second place in the standings, using all the experience gained from the recent test and from last year’s Fafe Rally Sprint.
“We did some testing in Portugal last month to prepare for the rally and we have tried some different roads in order to cover a wider range of conditions which we will encounter next week. We used some sandy stages but also some more compact gravel – still soft but not as dusty,” said team principal Michel Nandan.
“Each driver had two days in the car and from their feedback they are quite happy with the set-up for their Hyundai i20 WRC cars. We’re expecting the new route to be faster than in the South, while road cleaning will be a factor, which could be good for our drivers who are sixth, seventh and 11th in the championship right now. The late May date means we’re not expecting the rain and mud that caused so many problems when Rally de Portugal last took place in the North of the country in 2001. But what we can be sure about is no one should have a big advantage because it’s a new event for everybody. There will be some surprises but our drivers are quite happy to try something different,” he added.
With four previous participations in the Algarve-based Rally de Portugal, Neuville will use previous testing experience of the new Portuguese roads, hoping to find a good feeling with the Hyundai i20 WRC from the beginning of the event and, ultimately, a positive result.
With the stages running close to his native Spain, for Sordo Rally de Portugal will be a home away from home event with the Spaniard having a lot of support from local fans and from the thousands of supporters who will travel from Spain to watch the rally. Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí – who is one of the few competitors to have contested the rally when it was up North in the past –also participated in the Fafe Rally Sprint last year where they came in third, while Sordo also won the event in 2013.