‘Gods of Speed’ decided against team, says Hyundai boss

Hyundai’s Abiteboul enacted team orders, but the plan backfired on the new team boss.

The man recently appointed to head up Hyundai Motorsport’s World Rally Championship effort admits he made life “more difficult” by enforcing team orders on the final day of Rally Sweden.

Cyril Abiteboul was left red faced when attempts to have Thierry Neuville finish the winter event in second place to boost the Belgian’s early title prospects back-fired on the closing Power Stage.

Prior to ‘Umea’ Craig Breen, who is contesting only a partial programme on his return to the South Korean manufacturer this season, was the person giving chase to Ott Tanak – the eventual winner.

The Irishman was instructed to check in to the final time control a minute late which, as a result, meant he incurred a 10 second penalty and traded places with Neuville.

However, a brush with a snowbank – and a fifth fastest time by Breen who was coming under increasing pressure from Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Kalle Rovanpera – saw the team-mates change positions right at the death, the gap a mere 1.3 seconds.

Had Neuville produced a clean run and held station, then the gap to him and reigning World Rally champion Rovanpera would only be three points instead of the current seven, and six to M-Sport Ford’s Tanak rather than nine as the action moves to Mexico next month.

“The target was to have two cars on the podium and we did that, so it is a big achievement,” said Abiteboul.

“But on top of that we made like a bit more difficult by trying to give an opportunity for Thierry to finish a bit higher up in the standings and, well, that didn’t work, but I think that we did the right thing from a team perspective. When you are fighting for the drivers’ championship you want to give the drivers maximum opportunity and chances which is what we did for Thierry.

“We supported that strategy by electing to take a penalty for Craig. It didn’t work out as planned; the Gods of Speed decided otherwise – and we completely respect that. We are all still smiling.”

Despite Abiteboul’s best laid plans failing to materialise at the second round of the World Rally Championship, the former Alpine F1 boss turned rally supremo was full of admiration for Breen.

“Craig has just been mega all weekend, in terms of his speed and performance, but also his attitude in understanding the team situation,” he said. “Overall, it is a tremendous team result.”

He added: “This is a great way for us to finish Rally Sweden, which has been eventful to say the least. We had a tricky start on Thursday, but then built great momentum from Friday onwards. We have scored 10 stage wins out of 18 that shows our team, car and crews have been very competitive.”

The next round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship is the Guanajuato Rally Mexico from March 13-16, 2023.

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