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Rally Spain Preview - 22 Oct 19

Hyundai wants to extend WRC lead in Rally España

Hyundai Motorsport aims to extend its lead in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) as the season moves to the penultimate round, Rally de España, this weekend.

The manufacturers’ title chase has heated up in recent events, as the 2019 season approaches its thrilling end. A second place at Wales Rally GB presented Hyundai Motorsport with its 11th podium spot of the season and allowed the team to retain an 8-point advantage over its nearest rivals with 2 rounds of the championship remaining.

Three Hyundai crews will contest the 17-stage mixed surface rally in Spain, which begins with predominantly gravel roads on Friday before turning into a pure tarmac event on the final two days. Teams will have a unique 75-minute flexi service at the end of Friday’s six stages to transform the set-up of the cars to cope with the change of terrain.

Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul will be joined by Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio and Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena in the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC cars for the 13th round of the season. All crews tested in the Tarragona region last week. Loeb and Sordo each completed half a day on gravel with all three crews completing a full day each on tarmac in preparation for the rally.

Hyundai Motorsport has taken three podium results from Spain in previous seasons ­– twice for Sordo, once in 2016 and again as part of a double top-three alongside Neuville in 2017. Loeb, meanwhile, will begin this year’s rally, his first WRC event since Portugal in June, as defending Rally de España winner.

Team director Andrea Adamo said: “We have one objective at Rally de España, and that is to extend our lead in the manufacturers’ championship. We know it is far from straightforward with the level of competition that we have seen in the WRC this season, but we will give it everything we have.

“There are just two events remaining and there can be no missed opportunities. I am confident in our crew line up, with Thierry determined to keep his drivers’ title hopes alive, alongside Dani and Sébastien, who are both strong contenders on the mixed surfaces in Spain. We want to be in control of our own destiny.”

Crew notes: Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul

Neuville, who lies third in the drivers’ championship after six podiums finishes in 2019 so far, including two victories, said: “We are approaching a critical part of the season, where the championship really intensifies. Our aim is clear: to fight for victory and to outscore our rivals. We know that Rally de España is a unique event due to the fact that we are running one day on gravel and two days on tarmac. We have shown that we are strong contenders on both surfaces this year and we will push as hard as we can for the championship.”

Crew notes: Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio

Sordo said: “I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC in Spain, my home rally. This is always a very special event as we compete on both gravel and tarmac in the same weekend. It’s nice to start on gravel. With our advantageous position, starting later on the road, we can hopefully gain some time.

“Then there’s a big fight on tarmac as there are fast crews in every team, so it promises to be an exciting event. As it is in Spain, it is also double motivation for me. The spectators come to see everybody, but I think they support the Spanish drivers a little bit more than the others normally!”

Crew notes: Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena

Loeb, nine-time world champion with Elana, his co-driver, returns to Spain as last year’s winner of Rally España. “For me, Rally de España is a rally I’ve always enjoyed. I have won it a lot of times, but what I like the most is the location: it’s a nice place close to the sea. The mixed surface is something I always enjoyed in the past and it’s the only event we completely change the set-up of the car in the middle of the rally. We are confident we can be on the pace and support the team to extend the lead in the manufacturers’ battle.”

Weekend at a glance

Rally España comprises 17 stages run over a competitive distance of 325,56 km. The ceremonial start takes place in Salou on Thursday before the six gravel special stages and a mixed gravel-tarmac timed test on Friday.

A 75-minute service on Friday evening allows mechanics to transform the cars’ setup from gravel to tarmac ahead of Saturday’s seven stages. The rally ends after four stages on Sunday.

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