Hyundai Motorsport aims to keep hold of its advantage in the manufacturers’ standing as the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) heads across the Atlantic for Rally Mexico this weekend in round three of the 13-event season.
As the first full gravel event of the season, Rally Mexico will offer a stark contrast to the two opening rounds of the 2018 championship. With the rally’s geographical position at high altitude and typically hot climate, the event is often punishing for cars, with engine power at a premium in thinner air.
Hyundai Motorsport will once again field three crews with Andreas Mikkelsen in the no. 4 car, drivers’ championship leader Neuville in the no. 5 i20 Coupé WRC, and Spaniard Dani Sordo returning for his second event of the season in the no. 6 car.
All three Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team crews spent time putting the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC through its paces near to Girona in Spain, replicating some of the conditions expected in Mexico this weekend.
Rally Mexico has been a happy hunting ground for Hyundai Motorsport in the past four years. The team scored its debut WRC podium in Mexico in 2014, while scoring its first top-three result of last season on the Mexican gravel.
Team principal Michel Nandan commented: “We were pleased to show a much-improved performance in Sweden, with results more representative of what we know we can achieve. Just looking at the overall positions of the manufacturers’ championship, it’s clear to see how close the competition is.
“Mexico will be a different prospect, so we have to tackle the event with realistic expectations. Thierry will be first on the road, as a result of his drivers’ championship position, so we have to accept the job he will have of cleaning the stages. That’s part of the game. Overall, we are hoping to defend our lead in the championship in this early phase of the season by scoring another strong team result.”
WRC Crew Notes: Mikkelsen/Jaeger:
The pair had their first podium finish for Hyundai with third place in Sweden, and Mikkelsen’s best Rally Mexico result was a third place in 2015.
Mikkelsen said: “Rally Mexico is an event I’ve done three times in the past. It’s a beautiful rally with stages that are similar from one season to the next, so we know them well. It is always a warm event, so we have to take extra care of the brakes. It is also quite a rough rally, which means it very easy to make a mistake.
“There is typically a lot of road cleaning, and with stages being held at altitude the engine is down on power, so it requires a slight change of driving style. After finishing on the podium in Sweden, our first one with Hyundai Motorsport, I’m ready to fight for another strong result.”
WRC Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul:
Neuville scored his first win of 2018 in Sweden, and his seventh in total with Hyundai Motorsport, which put him at the top of the drivers’ championship. That also means he will be first out on the dusty Mexican stages.
Neuville said: “We head to Mexico on the back of our fantastic win in Sweden, so our motivation and morale could not be higher. Mexico is a nice event and one that brings back good memories. I got my first podium there in 2013, and then scored Hyundai Motorsport’s first ever podium just one year later.
“The rally has a more relaxed atmosphere, and it’s generally a lot calmer for the drivers. We arrive a bit earlier than normal in order to acclimatise and adjust to the time difference. It is the first event of the year with higher temperatures – and altitude – making it a unique and enjoyable challenge.”
WRC Crew Notes: Sordo/Del Barrio:
Sordo, who has had two top-five finishes in Mexico with Hyundai Motorsport, takes part in his second WRC event of the 2018 season in Mexico.
Sordo said: “I was pleased to see the team score its first win of the season in Sweden, and I am happy to be returning to the line-up for Rally Mexico. I have always enjoyed driving on the Mexican stages, which are lined with many passionate rally fans, who cheer and support us throughout the weekend. Road cleaning in Mexico can create a big difference between those first on the road and those behind. I hope we can benefit a bit from our position and compete near the front to help the team defend our manufacturers’ championship lead.”
Short facts about Rally Mexico
Rally Guanajuato México covers 22 special stages run over a total distance of 344,49 km. It begins with a short street stage run through the colourful former mining tunnels in Guanajuato before moving onto an eclectic mix of stages for the rest of the weekend
Friday’s highlight will be the El Chocolate stage, a shorter 31,44 km test compared to last year, but running to the highest altitude of the season, putting crews and cars under pressure
Two passes around the Autodromo de León will end the day, a spectacular combination of tarmac and gravel with a big jump and water splash, which will be repeated on Saturday evening
Saturday’s schedule features the impressive El Brinco jump, with plenty of festive atmosphere from the fervent fans. The warm conditions will heat up even more on the final morning with the 24,32 km Alfaro test and two runs through the 11,07 km Las Minas stage.