Hyundai Motorsport is looking to build on its double podium finish in Portugal with a victory at Rally Italia Sardegna, the sixth round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
Sardinia is the venue where Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team has enjoyed its most success in the past, with five wins and 12 podiums. Four of the victories are split evenly between team stalwarts Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo. Alongside co-drivers Martijn Wydaeghe and Cándido Carrera, both drivers will be battling the sun-baked stages next weekend in the hopes of standing on the top step for a third time.
Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm will join their team-mates on the Mediterranean island. The Finnish crew in fine form having secured podium finishes in the two previous rounds, Croatia and Portugal.
Rally de Portugal was a positive outing for the squad, with all three crews running in provisional podium positions during the weekend. The end of a tantalising fight saw Sordo/Carrera and Lappi/Ferm claim second and third, while Neuville/Wydaeghe had to settle for fifth after their efforts were undone by technical issues.
Celebrating it’s 20th edition this year, Rally Italia Sardegna has become one of the iconic events of the WRC. The gravel stages are fast and narrow, often lined with rocks and trees on either side, making them highly demanding for the crews to navigate cleanly. The surface itself is also a challenge, as the sandy top layer is swept away on the first pass, exposing rough and rutted roads below. These factors, combined with the scorching heat, creates a thoroughly gruelling test for both the car and those within it.
“To finish first, first you must finish” is an appropriate philosophy when it comes to rallying in Sardinia.
Just like Rally de Portugal and Safari Rally Kenya, Rally Italia Sardegna consists of 19 exhilarating stages. Hyundai Motorsport has secured 12 podiums at the event since its first event 2014 - including five victories - as well as 78 stage wins and 22 stage 1-2 finishes. All of these are the manufacturer’s highest totals at any event it has competed at during its nine previous seasons at the pinnacle of rallying.
Thoughts from the co-driver’s seat
Rally Italia Sardegna is just as challenging for the co-drivers as it is for those sat behind the wheel, as Cándido Carrera explains.
Carrera said: “Physically, it's a very tough rally with a lot of heat and rough terrain. Additionally, it's an event that usually combines different stages each year, so we have to carefully adapt and take advantage of notes from previous editions. Perhaps the most demanding aspect for me in this rally is that there are many sections where it's difficult to define the racing line, and there are many crests with tight curves right after them. Because of this, I have to stay highly focused to provide the driver with the information at the right moment. Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge will be the Monte Lerno – Sa Conchedda stage, which with its length and toughness can be decisive. Both the driver and co-driver will have to maintain a very high and consistent pace to be in a good position after the first day.”
Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul said: “Sardinia is a very tough event, but it is also one where the team has a lot of good memories from the past ten years. Thierry and Dani both know how to win there and Esapekka has demonstrated good speed on similar surfaces in Mexico and Portugal this season. We have been pushing behind-the-scenes to ensure the reliability issues we faced in Portugal are not repeated in the future and also to enhance our performance as we know the i20 N Rally1 Hybrid has performed well but we are also aware that we are a bit behind compared to our competitors. We hope that these efforts will increase our competitiveness and allow us to finish the weekend in Sardinia with a good result.”