Hyundai ‘knows how to win’ in Sardinia

Cyril Abiteboul

The FIA World Rally Championship heads to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia this week – a place renowned for its serene and natural beauty, scorching temperatures, and sun-baked gravel tracks.

It is also a place Hyundai Motorsport has enjoyed considerable success at since it entered the competition back in 2014. In total, it has chalked up five wins – two for Thierry Neuville and a brace for series veteran Dani Sordo – on top of twelve podiums.

With such a strong track record, there is the expectation within the Alzenau-based squad that it should feature prominently in the post-event celebrations – preferably at the top of the Rally1 pile, which would be a first this season.

A triumph for Sordo or Esapekka Lappi would be welcome and work wonders for their confidence, but neither is considered serious title contenders and therefore a maximum score for Neuville would boost his challenge considerably whilst adding a new dimension to an already open title scrap.

Success would be extra special for Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul, as 2023 marks the 20th running of an event that has established itself as one of the most iconic on the World Rally Championship calendar.

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“Sardinia is a very tough event, but it is also one where the team has a lot of good memories from the past ten years,” said Abiteboul who, last week, presided over the announcement that former Williams F1 and Volkswagen Motorsport supremo, Francois-Xavier Demaison, will join as Technical Director, effective June 1.

“Thierry and Dani both know how to win there and Esapekka’s demonstrated good speed on similar surfaces in Mexico and Portugal this season.”

The fly in the ointment could prove to be reliability, however. It has been something of a sore point for Hyundai Motorsport so far this season, with the latest chapter written at Rally de Portugal.

Neuville and Lappi both experienced turbo-related problems with their respective i20 N Rally1 cars which ultimately denied the former a top-three result.

In the intervening period, the team’s engineers have been working hard in an attempt to iron out weak points, well aware that these will be quickly exposed on Sardinia’s tree- and rock-lined gravel roads.

“We have been pushing to ensure the reliability issues we faced in Portugal are not repeated in the future, and also to enhance our performance as we know the i20 N Rally1 Hybrid has performed well – but we are also aware that we are a bit behind compared to our competitors,” admitted Abiteboul.

“We hope that these efforts will increase our competitiveness and allow us to finish the weekend in Sardinia with a good result.”

Round six of the World Rally Championship begins on Thursday morning (June 1), with a short shakedown stage before the Olbia-Cabu Abbas stage later that evening. At 138km, Friday is the longest day of the weekend thanks to two passes of the 49.9km Monte Lerno – Sa Conchedda speed test.

Saturday, meanwhile, consists of four stages repeated twice, and Sunday two passes each of Arzachena – Braniatogghiu and Sardegna.

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