Hyundai Motorsport WRC Preview: Round 12 - Central European Rally

25 October, 2023

  • Hyundai Motorsport is set to compete on home soil at Central European Rally, round 12 of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), for the first time since 2019
  • The event includes stages in Germany, Czech Republic and Austria, making it the first WRC rally to be contested across three countries
  • Jumping into the cockpit of the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid for the unique event will be Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe, Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm and Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula

Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team is returning to tarmac for the first time since Croatia at the inaugural Central European Rally, with hopes of adding another mark to its podium tally. The unique, border-crossing rally is the second pure tarmac event of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and will take place during October 26-29.

As a brand-new event, Central European Rally presents a number of unknowns. The recce will be the first time the crews will have the opportunity to grace the stages, leaving little time for them to get to grips with the profile and characteristics of the roads. Furthermore, the contrast in surfaces across the three countries is striking; the rougher tarmac and narrow forest passes seen in Czech Republic could prove the toughest challenge of the weekend for all competitors, including those behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid.

The event will see WRC return to Germany for the first time since the 2019 edition of Rallye Deutschland. As Hyundai Motorsport’s factory is based in Alzenau, Germany, Central European Rally will feel somewhat like a home event for the manufacturer. The team also claimed its first WRC victory on German soil back in 2014. A repeat of this success will be the goal for all Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team three crews: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe, Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm and Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula.

Central European Rally will be the first event in WRC history to cross borders into three countries. The 18-stage itinerary covers a total competitive distance of 310.01km alongside the longest liaison distance of the season so far – a huge 1380.69km. The rally begins in Czech Republic on Thursday and remains in the country throughout Friday, before heading to both Austria and Germany on Saturday morning. This sees all three nations host stages in less than 48 hours.

i20 N Rally2 low angle shot speeding on circuit

Crucial co-driver

Preparing for a rally that has never been run before is as much of a challenge for co-drivers as it is for drivers. Markkula accounts how he prepares to tackle the tarmac of central Europe:

“A new rally requires spending extra care and time on maps and our other documents to ensure the pace notes are perfect. The pace note process itself isn’t too different, mainly because there are always some new sections or completely new stages at events that we have already done before. I think this rally will be somewhat similar to Rallye Deutschland, an event we have experience at in the past. I expect the Czech roads to be narrow, bumpy and fast with the Austrian roads contrasting that – smoother and wider – but just as fast. Tarmac and grip levels will vary country to country, which will be a big challenge.”

Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul said: “The introduction of a brand-new rally to the calendar, and one as remarkable as this, always presents a challenge to teams and crews. Bringing a WRC event back to Germany is special for us as a homecoming round, and also for the German fans that have not seen top-flight rallying action in their country since 2019. Uniting three countries in one round is something the WRC has never done before, for three countries with such a huge rallying heritage to play host is exceptional. Podium finishes in our two previous tarmac rallies this season means that we are confident we can replicate, if not better, Thierry and Esapekka’s third places at Monte and Croatia.”

Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (#11 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)

  • Belgian crew going for top step glory following second place in Chile
  • Neuville claimed victory on German soil for Hyundai Motorsport in 2014

Neuville said: “It’s the new event on the calendar and it’s always exciting when you get the chance to discover new roads. It is a tarmac event; I always like to drive on tarmac so I am looking forward to it. It’s going to be a long event between Passau, Prague and also with stages in Austria. It has the furthest liaison distance of the calendar so far, so it will be long distances to travel between stages but I’m sure it’s going to be exciting. Usually we get some footage from the organiser which shows the stages, so we can try to have a look and see what we have to prepare for, especially ahead of the pre-event test – which is going to be crucial on a rally where you could have three different days with three different types of road. We need to be well prepared and that’s the main thing you can do. Like every other rally, the goal is victory.”

Crew Notes: Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (#4 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)

  • Finnish crew will push for the podium on the European stages
  • Searching for redemption after an early exit in Chile

Lappi said: “It’s an interesting concept that I like a lot; it’s the first time we have seen this happen in the top-flight of rally. Friday is going to be demanding as I know what the Czech roads are like from past experiences. I do not know Austria so much, but Germany we have experience on thanks to Rallye Deutschland. It’s the time of year where there’s going to be a lot of rain, as well as leaves from the trees, so it will be a challenge managing the different natural elements. I strongly believe that there will be three different sets of characteristics across the weekend, as it’s going to be three different countries. I don’t think we have had these kinds of changes on tarmac before, so it will be a unique event to prepare for. The goal is to push, if we do that then I am sure the end result will be good.”

Crew Notes: Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (#3 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)

  • Finns looking for first overall WRC podium of the season
  • Fourth and final 2023 appearance in the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid for the crew

Teemu said: “Central European Rally will be really demanding. It’s going to be in three different countries so we can expect to have very different types of roads, different tarmac and a lot of changes, so it will be a big challenge for me – especially when it will be my first rally with the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid at a tarmac round. We had a really good test in Austria and got some good experience in the car, but Central European Rally is going to be a lot later in the year, making it the most difficult tarmac rally on the calendar. The conditions will be a lot trickier and that’s something new we are facing in the rally. It starts to become autumn time with colder conditions, trees starting to lose leaves, meaning dirt on the tarmac. The goal is to bring the car home and learn as much as we can from our time on the stages. The fact that Hyundai want to see my pace on the tarmac means a lot, so I want to end the weekend with a good result for the whole team.”

WRC2 Overview

Back-to-back WRC2 events for Hyundai Motorsport’s entries means a return to action on European stages for the Hyundai i20 N Rally2.

The Finnish crew of Emil Lindholm and Reeta Hämäläinen were running high up the order before an unlucky end to their outing in Chile: an error on SS15 Las Pataguas 2 meant the car rolled and was damaged beyond repair. This will be the crew’s first tarmac rally in the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 – a challenge the duo is ready to take on.

Lindholm said:“This is the second event in a row that is completely new to me, and since it’s taking place across three countries it requires us to think carefully on car set up on different stages. The stages will differ much more than in other rallies because of the change in countries, and the October weather could offer some surprises. In testing, the car has been feeling great so I’m capitalising on that and aim for a podium finish.”

Fabrizio Zaldivar and Marcelo Der Ohannesian travel to Central European Rally following their best WRC2 finish of the season at Rally Chile: fifth place in class.

Zalvidar said:“Coming off the back of a successful rally in Chile, we are confident that our good performance will continue. It will be our first tarmac rally of the year in the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 as part of WRC2 and it is a very different style of event. The changes of surface from stage to stage will mean we have to have precise pace notes, as we want to maximise pace without putting a foot wrong. Our goal is to continue our momentum from Chile and try to score another top five result.”

Weekend at a Glance

  • After shakedown on Wednesday, Thursday afternoon will see two Super Special Stages: SSS1 Velká Chuchle (2.55km) and SSS2 Circuit of Klatovy (8.92km)
  • Friday begins in the German ‘Messepark Passau’ service park, before heading back to Czech Republic for SS3 Vlachovo Březí 1 (13.66km)
  • Crews head to the first German stage of the rally on Saturday morning, SS9 Schärdinger Innviertel 1, 15.72km of rural road
  • The final stage of the rally is SS18 Powerstage Passauer Land 2 (16.37km), wrapping up Sunday’s 67.24km competitive distance.