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2024.05.14 Hyundai Motorsport Team 분량11min

[2024 WRC Round 4] Neuville from Hyundai Achieves a Podium Finish at Croatia's Tarmac Rally

This year's Croatia Rally, the season's first tarmac rally, was fraught with challenges due to unpredictable weather conditions, including rain and snow, leading to a tricky surface. From the start, Neuville engaged in fierce competition for the lead, topping the standings until day two but unfortunately missing out on the championship in SS18. Meanwhile, at the TCR World Tour's opening event in Valerunga, Italy, the same weekend, Michelisz and Girolami each clinched victories in two consecutive final races.

WRC Croatia Rally in progress

From April 18 to 21, the WRC returned to Europe for its fourth round in Croatia. After starting the season on the mixed surfaces of Monte Carlo and the snowy landscapes of Sweden, and traversing the harsh terrains of Africa, competitors faced their first tarmac rally of the season in Croatia, known as the Adriatic's hidden gem.

Croatia, once part of the Yugoslav Federation, experienced considerable turmoil after the death of dictator Josip Tito, enduring the Yugoslav dissolution wars and subsequent civil conflicts through the 1990s. However, since fully achieving independence in 1998 and joining the European Union, Croatia has rapidly progressed and joined the Eurozone in 2022, adopting the euro as its currency last year.

Hyundai Rally1 machine is running on road

Although the Croatia Rally was only included in the WRC calendar in the 2020s, its rally course history dates back to the 1970s.

Croatia has a longstanding rally history, having hosted the Delta TLX Rally since 1974. It gained FIA recognition in 1986 and has been part of the European Rally Championship (ERC) since 2007. In 2021, Croatia hosted its 34th WRC event, attracting over 300,000 spectators annually, making it a successful and popular venue.

Infographic of rally map information about Croatia rally

Hyundai Rally1 machine is running on the road

This year, the competition spanned 20 stages covering a total of 283.28 km. The road conditions were far from ideal with a rugged mountain terrain and unpredictable weather making the roads slippery and uneven, causing quick deterioration. Dirt and gravel quickly accumulate at the corners due to the narrow, unpaved road edges. Rain further complicates the conditions, making it hard to rely on pace notes due to rapid changes in road conditions.

Such challenges contribute to the rally's popularity. One memorable battle occurred in 2020 between Kalle Rovanperä and Ott Tänak on a rainy Sunday. Tänak's unorthodox tire strategy of mixing wet and soft tires nearly overturned Rovanperä's lead. Unfortunately, as the roads dried up towards the end of the race, Tänak could not finish the drama.

The Hyundai World Rally team in memory of Craig Brynn

Hyundai commemorated Craig Breen, who passed away during a test drive last year.

Last year's Croatia Rally left painful memories for the Hyundai team and rally fans worldwide. Craig Breen, then part of the Hyundai team, tragically passed away in a test run just before the event. The team commemorated their late colleague by creating a special livery in the colors of the Irish national flag - orange, white, and green.

Hyundai WRC Team driver

Hyundai Rally1 machine is running on the road

The Croatia Rally course has endless twists and turns, making it easy for difficult situations to arise. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

Under the leadership of director Cyril Abiteboul, the Hyundai team has stabilized its lineup around Neuville and Tänak. Despite the lack of podium finishes since the opening victory, Neuville currently leads Evans by six points. The unpredictable road conditions in Croatia gave Neuville an early advantage due to his earlier start.

Ott tanak is posing in front of Rally cars

Despite his disappointing recent performance, Tanak is ranked 4th in the championship standings thanks to his clever points strategy.

In contrast, Tanak has not yet met the team's expectations. His highest achievement this season was fourth place in the opening round, and he has not secured a podium finish in the first three rallies. Tanak faced retirements in both the Swedish and Safari rallies, creating disappointing results. However, he's currently running fourth in the championship, thanks to the new scoring system. This time, he has to compete from a less favorable starting position compared to Neuville or Evans. Despite this, his consistent second-place finishes in Croatia over the past two years suggest he could still perform well.

Mikkelsen is posing in front of Rally cars

Hyundai picked Mikkelsen, known for his strong tarmac rally results, as the third driver for their Rally1 car.

Hyundai’s third car, which was previously driven by Esapekka Lappi in Sweden and Safari, is now helmed by Andreas Mikkelsen. Hyundai alternates the third car among the Finnish Lappi, the seasoned Spaniard Dani Sordo, and the Norwegian Mikkelsen.

Once a mainstay in the Hyundai team before moving down to WRC2, Mikkelsen is recognized as a tarmac rally specialist. However, he has struggled with the adaptation to the hybrid Rally1 system. After nearly three months since the season opener, he competed in the Rally Regione Piemonte in Italy a week earlier to prepare for Croatia.

Mikkelsen described his experience, saying that the Rally1 car, being more aerodynamically advanced than the WRC2, required some time to get used to after the Monte Carlo opener. It's very much different from the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC he used to drive—it felt like racing a completely different car for him. In Monte Carlo, the car became more comfortable to drive as the rally progressed, and by the final stage, he was able to push harder.

Images of players participating in the Croatian rally

WRC teams have thoughtfully curated their entries to tackle the challenging tarmac rally.

Toyota, like Hyundai, retains full-season drivers Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta, switching their third driver. Evans, last year's winner and runner-up in 2021, has a good track record in Croatia. Katsuta has finished sixth in all three of his Croatian appearances. Sébastien Ogier, who won in Croatia in 2021, replaces Rovanpera, who won in Safari. Although 40 years old, Ogier is a legendary veteran with eight world champion titles.

M-Sport Ford entered Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster. Jourdan Serderidis, who had come out of retirement to spot-participate in Safari, has stepped back, reducing the Rally1 entries to eight. Fourmaux, emerging as a new hope for M-Sport Ford, has been consistently performing well, securing podium finishes in Sweden and the Kenya Safari Rally, and currently holds third place in the championship.

The WRC2 class is poised for intense competition with 25 entries. Point leader Oliver Solberg opted for a break, but opening round winner Yohan Rossel, Gus Greensmith, Nicolas Ciamin, and Pepe López are among the top contenders. Ciamin, Emil Lindholm, and Henk Vossen drove the i20 N Rally2 on a privateer basis.

Hyundai's Rally car in Croatia Rally

With top teams assembling their best squads, a fierce battle is anticipated.

Racing commenced on Friday, April 19, with the longest stage of the event, Krašić - Sošice, covering 23.63km. After three more stages, the afternoon saw a repeat in reverse order, totaling 119.74km without mid-service. Most chose soft tires due to low grip, but Toyota opted for hard compound tires considering tire life.

Hyundai's Rally car in Croatia Rally

a rally driver scrambling on the course

Mistakes due to unstable surfaces and complex courses were frequent. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

Neuville took the opening stage, leading Evans by 6.6 seconds. Despite struggling with understeer and reporting low grip, Neuville's time was commendable. Tanak, starting fourth and facing dirtier conditions, finished 17.8 seconds slower than Neuville, though better than Mikkelsen, who had veered off course, trailing Neuville by 50.7 seconds.

Evans's time, only 6.6 seconds behind Neuville on hard tires, was considered good. Fourmaux, on soft tires, struggled with overheating issues. Evans was fastest in SS2, but Neuville reclaimed the lead in SS3, a stage affected by melted snow mixing with dirt to create muddy conditions.

Hyundai's Rally car in Croatia Rally

a rally driver scrambling on the course

Neuville utilized his early start advantage to maintain the lead early in the race. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

In the afternoon, starting with SS5, normally a repeat of the morning stages, the sequence was reversed starting from SS4 Platak. The already dirty surface, compounded by falling snow, made conditions even more challenging. Neuville surged ahead, taking the top time in SS5. Evans briefly seized the lead in SS6. Neuville suffered tire damage from a stone on the road in SS6, but fortunately, it was near the end of the stage, so the time loss was limited to about 10 seconds.

Ogier claimed the last two stages of the day, wrapping up Friday. Neuville and Evans finished the day tied in time. Neuville, who placed third in the last stage, was just 1.6 seconds quicker than Evans. Ogier was third, 6.6 seconds behind, followed by Tanak 34.5 seconds back. Tanak was followed by Fourmaux, with Katsuta, Mikkelsen, and Munster trailing. In WRC2, Gryazin maintained the lead despite a tire puncture, with his teammate Rossel 31 seconds behind. Greensmith and Pajari were close behind.

Hyundai's rally car to test short jumps

As dark clouds lingered, worsening weather conditions with rain plagued the drivers.

On Saturday, April 20th, chilly weather persisted with overcast skies and rain forecasted. Racers began with the 15.72 km SS9 (Smerovišće - Grdanjci) and repeated four stages. Notably, SS9~SS16 totaled 108.7 km, with service scheduled for lunchtime unlike the day before. The starting order was also adjusted, with the lowest-ranked Rally1 driver Munster entering the course first.

Hyundai rally driver in driving

Neuville, adapting well to the surface, excelled from SS14 to SS16, achieving top times. Photos: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

In a light drizzle, Fourmaux took the opening stage. Neuville pushed past Evans by 0.8 seconds, taking the solo lead. Neuville also set the fastest time in one of the hallmark stages of the Croatia Rally, SS11 Duga Resa - Vinski Vrh. By capturing SS12 as well, Neuville slightly extended his lead over chaser Evans to 4.7 seconds.

Hyundai rally driver in driving

Tanak, consistently strong in Croatia, managed a steady performance. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

The duel between Neuville and Evans continued into the afternoon. Evans momentarily led in SS13, but Neuville reclaimed the position in SS14. Neuville maintained the fastest times through SS16, widening the gap to 4.9 seconds and securing 18 provisional points. At the end of Saturday, Neuville remained in the lead, with Evans trailing by 4.9 seconds, followed by Ogier. Tanak, who had been in fourth since the start, held his position comfortably ahead of Fourmaux in fifth, with Katsuta, Mikkelsen, and Munster in pursuit. In WRC2, Gryazin led with Rossel, Pajari, and Greensmith chasing.

Hyundai rally driver in driving

As Toyota eyed the lead, Neuville faced a cliffhanger battle.

Sunday, April 21st, mirrored the previous year's setup, with the power stage in the 14.24 km Zagorska Sela - Kumrovec stage, notorious for its challenging and thrilling route, slightly altered from last year. SS17~SS20 spanned a total of 54.78 km for the final showdown.

Rally driver in driving

Rally driver in driving

Accidents were frequent amid heated competition on narrow courses. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

Katsuta clinched the opening SS17 of the day. Neuville, a bit slower, saw his lead over Evans shrink to 2.6 seconds. In the prelude to the power stage, SS18, Fourmaux faced a crisis with front tire damage. However, the real crisis hit Neuville who lost 20 seconds due to a navigational error in a heavily cornered section. When Evans also spun, losing time, Ogier surged to the lead. The trio of Ogier, Evans, and Neuville were separated by just 10 seconds. To make matters worse, Neuville had to drive without downforce due to damage to his rear wing and bumper.

SS18 saw Tanak set the fastest time, vaulting to second in the Super Sunday rankings. Only the power stage remained, offering extra points. Fourmaux grabbed 5 points there, with Tanak taking 4, and the rest divided among the Toyota trio. Neuville, concluding the race, expressed regret, ”It is what it is. Great days but unfortunately today didn’t go so well. We take 19 points from the weekend so it’s not so bad. I wanted to push in the Power stage but without the rear wing, it was not possible.”

Thierry Nouville and Co-Driver on Podium

Despite losing the win at the last moment, Neuville secured a substantial score, maintaining his lead in the championship points.

Ultimately, Ogier won the rally, marking his 100th podium finish. Evans finished second, and Neuville had to settle for the last spot on the podium. Tanak took fourth, with Katsuta, Mikkelsen, and Munster following. In WRC2, Gryazin finished seventh overall and claimed the class win, with Rossel and Pajari completing the scoring positions.

With a complicated point system in play, scoring differed slightly from rankings. Ogier scored the most with 21 points, but Evans and Neuville each took 19, maintaining Neuville's 6-point lead in the championship. Moreover, despite finishing fourth, Tanak managed to gather a significant 20 points from the power stage and Super Sunday, keeping Hyundai close behind Toyota in the team points.

TCR World tour Winner

The new season of the TCR World Tour has commenced, overcoming last year's unresolved challenges due to shipping logistics issues.

Simultaneously, this same weekend saw victories at the TCR World Tour event held in Valerlunga, Italy, marking the season's opening. Due to Houthi insurgencies last year, global shipping faced significant disruptions, causing difficulties in transportation and even leading to the cancellation of the Australian round. The newly scheduled TCR World Tour started in Valerlunga, Italy, and will proceed through Morocco, the USA, Brazil, Uruguay, China, and Macau to wrap up the season.

TCR World tour race in progress

The new season of the TCR World Tour has commenced, overcoming last year's unresolved challenges due to shipping logistics issues.

At the season opener in Valerlunga, Norbert Michelisz took pole position but briefly lost the lead to Yann Ehrlacher right after the start. However, Michelisz quickly regained the lead and crossed the finish line first. Mikel Azcona, after a fierce last-minute battle with Marco Butti, finished in fifth place. Newly joined Hyundai team member, Argentine Néstor Girolami, started from the 10th grid and finished the race in 10th place.

Drivers on TCR world tour

BRC Hyundai has welcomed new drivers this season. (from left to right, Norbert Michelisz, Mikel Azcona, Néstor Girolami)

BRC Hyundai has welcomed new drivers this season (from left to right, Norbert Michelisz, Mikel Azcona, Néstor Girolami), adopting a three-car strategy to counteract the four-car strategy of rival team Lynk & Co. The team scoring system aggregates the points of the top two cars from each team. Furthermore, with a reverse grid start for the top 10 qualifiers in the second race, teams with more cars can implement various strategies. For instance, Girolami, who qualified 10th, started from pole position in the second race and managed to fend off persistent challenges from Santiago Urrutia to clinch victory, allowing BRC Hyundai to dominate the opener.

Born in 1989, Girolami began his career in karting in 1993 and made his WTCC (World Touring Car Championship) debut in 2015 driving a Honda Civic. He started competing under the TCR regulations in the WTCR with Munich Motorsports (Honda) in 2019, securing 7 wins over four seasons. Despite participating in TCR Europe last year, Girolami received calls from multiple teams and made guest appearances in the TCR World Tour, reaching the podium five times. Now a full-time driver with BRC Hyundai, he is set to compete throughout the TCR World Tour season.

Hyundai Rally 1 machine on the road

The fiercely competitive WRC now moves to its next battleground, the Rally Portugal.

The fifth round of the WRC, the first gravel rally of the season, will take place from May 9-12 in Portugal. Being a pivotal unpaved rally, its results could significantly influence the championship standings. Meanwhile, the second round of the TCR World Tour is scheduled for May 2-4 in Marrakesh, Morocco. This event marks a return to the Marrakesh street circuit, a venue that hosted WTCR races from 2009 to 2019.

infographic of WRC Standings after croatia rally

By Lee Soo-jin (auto critic)

He started as an automotive journalist after passionately sending letters to the launch of the Korean car magazine in 1991. Served as editor-in-chief and editorial board member for and , currently active as an auto critic. While he diligently spotlight the latest trends in electric vehicles, connected cars, and autonomous driving technologies, deep down, he is a true 'car geek' who secretly hopes the scent of gasoline and the rumble of internal combustion engines never fade away.