NE UV ILL E PUSH ES FOR HYUNDAI DEVELOPMENTS
Belgian wants his team to make quicker progress in 2019
World Rally Championship runner-up Thierry Neuville has warned his Hyundai team it has no chance against Ott Tanak and Toyota next season unless it speeds up development of the i20 Coupe WRC.
Neuville edged the Estonian star in this year’s title race, finishing second to M-sport Ford World Rally Team driver Sebastien Ogier, but he says its Tanak’s Yaris WRC that he fears next season.
“For sure, if we don’t grow in speed and performance, we have no chance [against Tanak] next year,” Neuville told Motorsport News. “We need development and now we’re going to see; it’s a general improvement we need, it’s not just one place where we need to make the car faster.”
Neuville’s i20 ran a 2019-specification engine at Rally Australia earlier this month. Despite that, he still struggled to find an edge over the Finnish-built Toyotas.
Team principal Michel Nandan admitted there was work to do, but he also pointed out that current regulatory constraints prohibited any one team from taking a major step forward.
“I don’t know what they [Toyota] have planned for their development,” said Nandan. “But everybody is working on next season and we have to hurry up and catch-up. That’s all I can say. We have things in work. We had the new engine [in Neuville’s car] in Australia – this had a new specification of cylinder head – and we just have to continue and do the same with more work. Anyway, when you reach a certain level, when you go up in the engine, it’s bit by bit. It’s not a big step, not with these regulations – you cannot get 20 or 30 more horsepower. You get two, three or four or something like that, it’s hard to get any more really.
“Through the winter, we will be working more on the engine, the transmission and the suspension is something where we are working regularly. This will not stop.”
While Neuville’s primary concern for next year is Tanak, he added he would be interested to see how this year’s champion Ogier’s move to Citroen would play out.
“I don’t know about Ogier to Citroen,” he said. “The Fiesta was very strong and very reliable this year – in every rally they had the same speed [as us]. In Mexico maybe they were a bit faster, but the Fiesta was constant, they were always there with three cars. The Citroen will improve I’m sure, but I don’t know was he better where he was? I don’t know.”
MN understands pressure is increasing from South Korea, with Nandan flying directly from Rally Australia to Seoul to review this year with manufacturer bosses.
There’s disquiet about the way Toyota returned to the WRC and won the manufacturers’ title in its second season with the Yaris WRC. Hyundai has been competing at rallying’s highest level for the last five years and, while it’s finished second in the makes’ race for the last three, there’s frustration at the lack of season-long silverware.
Neuville understands that frustration and points to a lack of support from his team-mates.
The Belgian is the only Hyundai driver to have won since Hayden Paddon’s Rally Argentina victory early in 2016.“I am on my own a lot of the time,” said Neuville. “I think you can see this year that the other teams had good support for their drivers, but I didn’t really have this. For the [manufacturers’] championship, of course this is going to make it difficult.”
Hyundai is expected to finalise its driver line-up next week, with Nandan indicating an announcement could come at or around the time of the Monza Rally.
There remains speculation that this year’s driver market could have one final sting in the tail, with Andreas Mikkelsen’s position in the Alzenau-based team coming under increasing scrutiny. Mikkelsen has a confirmed agreement with Hyundai for next season, but MN understands it’s possible the out-ofsorts Norwegian could be shifted to a part-programme next season.
Rumours in Spain that Dani Sordo could be back for a full season are wide of the mark according to team insiders, but the one-time world rally winner’s seat is reckoned to be safe. Paddon and Craig Breen are the drivers also linked with the team.