Bel­gian wants his team to make quicker progress in 2019

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By David Evans Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­

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.

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