Neuville: Hyundai should win 2017 WRC
Belgian factory driver Thierry Neuville predicts Hyundai will step into the breach left by Volkswagen and become the leading manufacturer in the World Rally Championship.
With the departure of the big budget VW outfit which has wiped the floor in four straight seasons of the driver’s and manufacturer’s championships, Neuville feels Hyundai will take full advantage of the new regulations for next season.
While admitting that the re-emergence of a full-blown factory Citroen and Ford will prove competitive packages, Neuville says that Hyundai will benefit most from VW’s exit.
“As a driver it is good that VW are gone. We will have a competitive car next year. The most competitive team have gone. It is good for us clearly,” Neuville told Speedcafe.com.
“I would say if it is good for someone, it is good for Hyundai because we have three strong drivers (Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo), a competitive car.
“We finished second in the manufacturer’s championship this year and VW is not there.
“We should win the championship next year.”
Neuville sits second in the points standings at the final round at Coffs Harbour.
The Belgian has continued his strong second half of the 2016 season and currently sits third outright, 22.5s behind VW pair Andreas Mikkelsen and Sebastien Ogier going into the second leg of Rally Australia.
Both Neuville and Kiwi team-mate Paddon won rallies in Italy and Argentina respectively however the #20 entered under Hyundai’s satellite N team and thus did not count toward manufacturer points.
VW wrapped up the manufacturer’s title at the previous round, Rally Great Britain, as early season reliability problems also conspired against the Korean manufacturer.
Neuville says he has made the right decision in belatedly re-signing a multi-year term with Hyundai, whom he feels are in a strong position to strike once the new regulations come into effect at the opening 2017 round in Monte Carlo.
“For me staying with Hyundai was the best solution because we have worked hard in the last three years,” Neuville said.
“I’m 100 percent convinced it will be even better in the next few years.
“The gaps between the cars will reduce a lot so why change a team for another one when things are going well.”
Neuville will soon test the 2017 Hyundai i20 for the first time on tarmac, a surface he feels the car will be instantly more competitive with the centre differential certain to help iron out chronic understeer.
“I haven’t tested (the 2017-spec car) on tarmac yet, just on gravel, so next week I expect to be testing the car for the first time on tarmac,” Neuville said.
“We don’t know what the others have done during their development time but I think we have made another step forward and I hope to be closer or even better than them.”
Neuville finds himself still threatened by Mikkelsen and Paddon who are third and fourth respectively in the 2016 standings for the runner-up place.
“It won’t change my life if I don’t finished second in the championship,” Neuville said.
Providing he can hold his position, it will be Neuville’s best season since he finished second behind Ogier in 2013 when he was in his final season with M-Sport ahead of joining Hyundai.