2023.10.16 Hyundai Motorsport Team

[2023 WRC 11R] Neuville from Hyundai Stands on the Podium, Back in Chile After 4 years

Hyundai Motorsport Team
The final season of the WRC in South America began in Bío-Bío Province, central Chile. Courses with a mix of soft and hard surfaces made tire strategy paramount, and Thierry Neuville from Hyundai came in second place.

After completing three consecutive races in Europe, the World Rally Championship (WRC) embarked on a long journey to South America, on the other side of the world. Chile, where the 11th round of the 2023 season was held, first hosted the WRC in 2019. However, Chile was unable to host the race due to nationwide protests in 2020 and Covid-19 in 2021; They were not able to host the second WRC until 2023, four years later.

Bío-Bío Province, where the game is held, is located in the middle of Chile’s long, stick-like territory. Just as four years ago, a service park was set up in an empty lot near Carriel Sur Airport in Concepción, the capital and the country’s third largest city. However, the courses were very different from the past, making it difficult to predict the results. This year’s course was relatively compact, with sixteen SSs spanning 320.98km.

Courses that go around mountains have many corners and the road surface is generally smooth, but cars accelerate in steep corners. It is early spring in South America, so the temperature drops early in the morning when the race begins, and it is even colder up the mountain. Pirelli has prepared soft compound Scorpion SA tires as standard, with hard compound tires as an option.

The Chile Rally is held for the second time, and none of the drivers are used to it

Hyundai Motorsport GmbH entered Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen. In fact, the Hyundai team’s performance in Chile four years ago was not that good. Sébastien Loeb finished third and stood on the podium, but Neuville retired after an accident in SS8 and Andreas Mikkelsen finished seventh.

Ahead of this match, Neuville explained: "Rally Chile has only been run once before and this time there are going to be a lot of new stages, so our previous experience does not help our preparations too much. Because of this, the recce will be very important." “It was a big crash,” he then said. “It was tough last time in Chile. "For this podium to happen we will need consistency, a great feeling in the car and a setup that works well on the roads."

Both Lappi and Suninen have performed well in the Chile Rally

Lappi, who finished 6th with Citroen in 2019, also spoke about the Chile Rally. “Chile has a fast rally overall and is similar to Estonia or Finland. But the grip itself is not that high. “It’s not super rough so you don’t have to be too much careful, but you need confidence to run fast.” Suninen, who was given the team’s last rally 1 car, is participating for the sixth time this season for his team Hyundai. He said that making good pace notes is more important than anything else. Suninen finished fifth in Chile with M Sport Ford in 2019.

Meanwhile, Toyota gave the rally cars to Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans, and Takamoto Katsuta. Rovanperä, who widened the gap by winning Rally Greece, may be crowned champion depending on the results of this race. He is 33 points ahead of Evans, who is second in points, and will become champion if he scores 27 more points. And speaking of the Manufacturers’ Championship title, if Toyota scores 13 more points than Hyundai, they will win.

M Sport Ford prepared four Rally 1 machines for the first time in a while. Ott Tänak is the only winner of WRC Chile. Tanak, Pierre-Louis Loubet and Chilean Alberto Heller were given the rally cars, and thanks to the courtesy of Jourdan Serderidis, who was competing as a privateer, rookie Grégoire Munster was given the opportunity to make his Rally 1 debut. Munster, a dual citizen of Belgium and Luxembourg, is a 24-year-old rookie who went through Hyundai Motor Company’s driver development program last year. He has since moved to M Sport and has been competing in the WRC2 class. Heller competed in the WRC2 class of the 2019 Rally of Chile but did not finish.

In WRC2, with points leader Andreas Mikkelsen absent, Yohan Rossel, Gus Greensmith, Sami Pajari, etc. are in the final race to win the title.

The day after Thursday’s practice, drivers jumped in on an unfamiliar course

Only a test drive took place on Thursday; You could run the 5.75km course south of the service park, across the Bío-Bío River, up to five times. The test drive began with Rovanperä, who is maintaining first place in championship points, taking the lead. A light rain fell in cool weather, dampening the road surface. The drivers, who held an opening ceremony in Los Ángeles this evening with an enthusiastic welcome from the Chilean crowd, began the race on the morning of Friday the 29th. The stage in the southeast has some overlap with the one from four years ago - a repeat of the 19.77km-long SS1 Pulperia, Rere (13.34km) and Rio Claro (23.32km), for a total of 112.86km.

Drivers from each team competed fiercely from the beginning of the race for pole position

Tanak took the opening and rose to the overall lead. After retiring in Finland and failing to finish on the podium in Greece, which left his chances of winning the title slim, he seemed to be striking back. Rovanperä lagged behind cleaning his road surface. On a road with large and small gravel like in Chile, the player who starts first must bear a significant handicap.

Evans, Suninen, and Tanak competed fiercely from the beginning. Evans won SS2 and SS3 in the morning and took the lead, and in SS4 (Pulperia, 19.77km), Suninen pushed Evans out. Tanak recorded top times in SS5 and SS6 in the afternoon while wearing soft tires on all four wheels. Most players used a mix of hard and soft tires.

Lappi made a mistake right after starting the rally, his car was damaged beyond repair and he had to retire. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

Lappi in modern times retired as soon as he started the race; He stepped on the brake pedal late at the end of SS1 and crashed inside the corner, causing major damage to not only his car body but also the roll cage. His car was damaged beyond repair, so Lappi gave up the race. Next was Loubet; His car went off course in SS4, rolled and broke apart. Neuville was unable to secure grip on the dry, slippery road and lost 12.3 seconds to the lead in the first stage. Still, the suspension adjustment worked, and by the afternoon his car was back on pace.

Following Tanak, who took the lead on the high-speed gravel course, the duo from Hyundai topped the ranking table

At the end of the first day, Tanak took the overall lead, with Suninen of Hyundai close behind by 4.2 seconds. Suninen took the lead with his performance in SS4, but was overtaken by Tanak due to a radiator leak and a problem with the hybrid system. Third place was Evans, with Neuville fourth, 15 seconds behind him. Rovanperä and Katsuta took 5th and 6th place, respectively.

Rovanperä jumped into the grass in SS6, while Katsuta accidentally lost time after landing a jump in SS5. Rally 1’s rookie duo Munster and Heller finished 7th and 10th, respectively. Munster had to rely on his smartphone, after his co-driver Louis Louka lost his pacenote in the morning. In WRC2, Pajari finished 8th overall, leading his class, with Oliver Solberg 13 seconds behind him.

Most drivers had a hard time due to the different road conditions for each stage

On Saturday September 30th the racers turned south. On this day they passed through the mountains, not much different from four years before; They repeated three long stages over 20km. Six stages, SS7 to SS12, were held on the 154km-long section, the longest of this rally. Compared to Friday and Sunday, Saturday’s stage was rough and hard, so drivers had to pay a lot of attention to tire wear. Some players even described it as a completely different rally. Rio Ria (21.09km) in SS8 and SS11 was the only course that was the same as in 2019.

Neuville’s flawless management amidst the chaos steadily elevated his ranking. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

On this day, the difference was in tires; Unlike the previous day when Tanak showed good performance with soft tires, this time he used a mix of soft and hard tires. On the other hand, the trio from Toyota, which used only soft tires, was a complete failure. Rovanperä recorded a top time on his first course, Chivilingo (27.23km), but his tires wore out too quickly and he could not maintain the pace. Things were not so different for Evans and Katsuta; On the other hand, it was a good opportunity for the Hyundai team. Suninen was overtaken by Evans in SS7, but returned to second place in SS9 (Maria De Las Cruces, 28.72km). Neuville also passed Evans at this time and moved up to third place.

As rankings kept changing due to continuous retirements, the tire strategy became the key to success

Tanak widened the gap between his rivals by conquering four of the six stages and ended Saturday in the overall lead. In particular, the plan to save two hard tires as spares and then push using four hard tires on the longest stage, SS9, was a great success. The gap with Suninen, who was in second place, widened to almost a minute. Suninen saved weight by only carrying a spare tire (3 hard and 2 soft), but was limited by the tires. Neuville came in third, 1 minute and 12 seconds behind Suninen, and only 10.7 seconds behind Evans in fourth. Rovanperä and Katsuta took 5th and 6th place respectively.

WRC2’s Solberg, Greensmith, Pajari, and Rossel followed them. Pajari, who started Saturday with a 13-second lead, lost almost 40 seconds to the dirt on SS7 and allowed Solberg to overtake him. Munster’s car suffered damage to its steering system in a collision on SS12. Heller’s car also hit a rock at the hairpin corner and lost speed.

On the day of the battle, the duo from Hyundai began chasing Tanak at a remarkable pace

On Sunday, October 1, drivers repeated the two new stages on the east side of the service park. The combined distance of the four stages was 54.12km, with the 13.86km-long El Poñen being the power stage. The duo from Hyundai started the race looking for the final chase. From the opening stage Las Pataguas (13.2km), Neuville and Suninen, who took first and second place for two consecutive times, reduced the time gap with Tanak. Hyundai’s Neuville still has a chance to win the drivers’ title and swap places with Suninen, but this time it’s a long shot; With fourth placed Evans close behind him, things could have gotten worse for him. Neuville recorded his second consecutive top time with a bold push, reducing the time gap with Suninen from 13.9 seconds to 6.7 seconds. In addition, the time gap with Evans behind him widened to 20.8 seconds.

Suninen, who was climbing up the ranking table, had no choice but to give up the race due to an accident at the last minute. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

However, in SS15, which repeats the opening course Las Pataguas, Hyundai had a bad news; Soon after Suninen’s car jumped slightly, it hit a tree stump on the right side of the road and slowed down, eventually forcing Suninen to retire. Hyundai has no longer had any chance of recording a double podium. Neuville finished second, and Evans finished on the podium. There was no drama in the final power stage; Rovanperä got an additional 5 points, while Evans, Neuville, Tanak and Katsuta got 1 to 4 points.

Contrary to the results of recent races, Tanak won and Neuville finished second

In the end, Ott Tanak won the Chile Rally once again after 2019. The tire operation was coordinated on Friday and Saturday, giving us a significant lead over our rivals. Although they succeeded in scoring a large number of points, their championship ranking remained the same. Neuville marked second place. Although the results did not meet expectations, there is still a glimmer of hope for the drivers’ title as Rovanperä finished fourth. Neuville is currently third in the championship, 31 points behind second-placed Evans. Evans took the final spot on the podium in 3rd place, followed by Rovanperä and Katsuta in 4th and 5th place. The WRC2 drivers including Oliver Solberg, Greensmith, Pajari, Rossel, and Gryazin took 6th to 10th places. Suninen’s last-minute retirement wiped out his team’s chance of a double podium, and Toyota took the manufacturer championship title this season.

Only two Tarmac rallies remain in the WRC 2023 season - Central Europe and Japan. The Central European Rally, to be held from October 26th to 29th, will be jointly hosted by three countries to share the burden. The rally, which starts in Prague, Czech Republic, will cross the borders of Austria and Germany, creating a fierce last-minute race for the championship title.

By Sujin Lee, automobile critic 

Excited about the 1991 establishment of the first domestic auto mania magazine 〈Car Vision〉, I sent a series of long letters there that led to an unexpected hire. After becoming an editor and the Editor-in-Chief for 〈Car Life〉 and 〈Car Vision〉, I have started a new career as an auto critic. My recent interests include cutting-edge techs like electric cars, connected cars, and autonomous driving, but the ‘otaku’, a maniac, in me, wants to keep internal combustion engines from extinction.

HMG Journal Operation Team


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