Hyundai Motorsport aims to score its first ever Rally de Portugal podium at this weekend’s sixth round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
Having claimed back-to-back rally wins for the first time in its history in Corsica and Argentina, the team is confident that it can challenge at the front again as the Championship prepares for the first European gravel event of the year, which starts on Thursday 18 May and ends on Sunday 21 May.
With the season’s midpoint fast approaching, Hyundai Motorsport has strengthened its position in both Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships thanks to its recent victories. All three drivers – Hayden Paddon, Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo – will look to build upon the team’s recent performances to make further advancements in the classification.
Rally de Portugal, first held in 1967, was one of the founding events in the inaugural 1973 World Rally Championship. Contested across sandy passes as well as hazardous rocky tracks, teams and crews will be challenged with selecting the best tyres while adapting ride heights as stages become increasingly rutted.
There have been some changes made to the event’s itinerary from last year, in which Hyundai Motorsport registered its best Portuguese finish to date with a fourth-place for Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí.
The twice-run street stage in Porto has been moved to Braga for 2017, taking place on Friday evening. In addition, three brand new stages have been added to the schedule, with a double assault through Cabaceiras de Basto on Saturday and single runs through Luihas and Montimon Sunday.
All three Hyundai Motorsport crews have tested in the region in preparation for this year’s Rally de Portugal. Neuville and Sordo took part in a three-day test at the end of April, during which the team also obtained valuable feedback from Andreas Mikkelsen who joined the test as a one-off. Paddon also enjoyed time behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC in Portugal back in March.
There will be a change to the crew in the no. 4 car for this event, with Seb Marshall stepping in as co-driver for Hayden Paddon. John Kennard has been advised to rest on doctor’s orders after the rough Argentinian stages aggravated an existing hip condition. Kennard will be present in Portugal with the team, and everyone at Hyundai Motorsport sends him best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Team principal Michel Nandan said: “We’ve had a good run of results recently, which has given the whole team a real morale boost, but it would be wrong of us to get complacent. There is still plenty of room for improvement with the performance of our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC across all three of our crews.
“Competition is very close this season, so we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. To this end, we carried out testing in Portugal to prepare for this rally, which will be the first European gravel of the season. We have never scored a podium in Portugal, so that has to be our first target. Of course, having won two rallies in a row, we’d love to continue that streak, but we know that it will be another big fight.”
Rally de Portugal 2017 at a glance
Taking place across 19 stages that encompass a total distance of 349,17 km, Rally de Portugal serves as the second of five consecutive gravel tests for the crews.
Based out of the service park Matosinhos, the rally’s action will kick off on Thursday with a Super Special Stage at the Lousada rallycross circuit.
The first full day sees crews head north and towards the Spanish border for runs of the reconfigured stages around Vianado Castelo, and culminates with two tests in Braga’s historic streets.
Saturday will be the longest leg of the rally at 154,56 km, as the driver teams journey east to tackle the demanding roads of the Cabreira Mountains.
Sunday is all about Fafe, with its famous large jump and even larger crowds. All four final stages are in the municipality, including a double pass over the legendary jump itself.