WRC Hyundai's Neuville bids for hat-trick of wins as WRC debuts in Chile
COPEC RALLY CHILE, May 9-12, 2019
2019 FIA World Rally Championship, round 6
For immediate release
Wednesday, May 8th, 2019
HYUNDAI’S NEUVILLE BIDS FOR HAT-TRICK OF WINS AS WRC DEBUTS IN CHILE
· New stages, fresh challenges and a different form of pressure awaits top teams
· Copec Rally Chile to start from Plaza de la Independencia on Thursday evening
CONCEPCIÓN (CHILE): The fascinating battle between the world’s leading rally drivers and the top four professional factory teams resumes with this weekend’s Copec Rally Chile, the sixth round of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
The brand new addition to the WRC calendar marks the 32nd country to host a round of the world’s premier rally series. Crews will tackle 16 gravel special stages from Friday morning through to Sunday lunchtime to the south of the city of Concepción, mainly on forest tracks and gravel trails situated between the Pacific coast and the Rio Biobío, Chile’s second longest river.
Professional teams carried out some preparations for Chile during recent test sessions in Europe before the Rally of Argentina. Citroën, for example, held a four-day test in Portugal and Toyota also made revisions and improvements to the Yaris WRC on Portuguese gravel.
Belgian driver Thierry Neuville will take the start on Thursday night in downtown Concepción defending a 10-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship, courtesy of back-to-back wins in Corsica and Argentina. Those successes have also given the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team a 37-point advantage over Toyota Gazoo Racing in the Manufacturers’ Championship.
Neuville said: “We are still in a positive state of mind after our two recent victories and in an important process of progress for the team. Leading the championship means being first on the stage, so we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Sébastien Loeb returns to drive the second i20 WRC. The nine-time World Champion added: “The fact that this is a dirt event is one of the only things I know about Rally Chile, like the rest of the WRC community. I’m looking forward to discovering more. Chile is not a country I have been to often – only once to see the Dakar.”
Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen drives a third i20 for Hyundai, so the team have a very good chance of completing a hat-trick of wins after his runner-up finish in Argentina. Team manager Andrea Adamo is leaving nothing to chance. “We have enjoyed our winning streak, but now it is time to focus. Chile promises to be a fascinating event and we are delighted to be part of this debut in the WRC calendar. It will not be easy for Thierry to open the track, but that is what it is when you lead the championship.”
Six-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier is Neuville closest challenger and is focused on preventing his Belgian rival winning a third successive WRC rally. The lead Citroën Total World Rally Team driver won rounds in Monte Carlo and Mexico and finished second in Corsica.
The Frenchman said: “The roads are very different to Argentina. They are fairly flowing and fast, somewhat reminiscent of those you get at Wales Rally GB. We’ll have to see whether recent rain limits the extent to which the roads clean or not.”
Finland’s Esapekka Lappi needs to bounce back from a disappointing start to the season in the second Citroën and is hoping for dry conditions to take full advantage of his lowly starting position for the opening stages on Friday morning. His best finish so far this year was second place in Sweden.
Estonian Ott Tänak has slipped behind his closest title rivals on the last couple of events and the Toyota Gazoo World Rally Team driver knows the importance of a podium finish in Chile. Despite winning in Sweden and collecting five extra Power Stage points on the snow, he trails Neuville by 28 points after five rallies, but hopes that recent testing will stand him in good stead for a strong challenge for the win.
Toyota’s team principal Tommi Mäkinen said: “Chile is a bit of a question mark for all the teams, but we understand that the road conditions should be very smooth and I believe it should suit our car. We tested in Portugal, working on the suspension to give us more grip and traction.”
Tänak’s team-mates Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala hold fourth and seventh in the Drivers’ Championship and are both capable of snatching an inaugural Rally Chile victory on Sunday. Latvala added: “Before the recce, I was looking at how the roads are in Chile. I don’t think it will be a rough event. There are no rocks and the sides of the roads are very clean. Some places actually remind me of the forest stages in Britain when they are dry. My motivation is very high.”
An accident put paid to Elfyn Evans’s brave challenge in Argentina but the Welshman is determined to come back fighting with a podium finish for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team in a bid to improve on his fifth position in the championship. He suffered cruel luck on the final stage in Corsica that dropped him from first to third and finished in a similar position on the podium in Mexico back in March.
The Ford Fiesta WRC driver said: “We are facing a completely new experience for everyone, the notes from scratch. For the team it was a logistical challenge, even more so after damaging the car in the previous rally. I can only thank the mechanics who worked to repair it. I hope to repay them with a good result.”
Teemu Suninen’s one flash of brilliance this season was his performance in Rally Sweden and he is also looking for a positive run on the third of the long-distance gravel rallies this season in the second of the M-Sport Fords.
Italian privateer Lorenzo Bertelli drives the 11th World Rally Car on the entry list – a Ford Fiesta prepared by the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team.
Tomorrow, the traditional shakedown stage takes on extra significance, as it will be the first time that the leading drivers have raced on Chilean gravel at rally speeds. The 6.45km special at San Pedro de la Paz, a short distance south of the city, starts at 10.00hrs and the top teams will be permitted 90 minutes of exclusive testing before non-priority drivers join the fray and take centre stage until the session ends at 14.00hrs.
To add a little spice into shakedown proceedings, there is also a rain forecast for Thursday morning in the Talcahuano and Concepción areas.
Several of the leading drivers will then attend the official FIA pre-event press conference in the Media Centre before the focus switches to the ceremonial start in Plaza de la Independencia - in the heart of downtown Concepción - from 19.00hrs.
2019 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers – positions after round 5:
1. Thierry Neuville (BEL) 110pts
2. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) 100pts
3. Ott Tänak (EST) 82pts
4. Kris Meeke (GBR) 54pts
5. Elfyn Evans (GBR) 43pts
6. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) 30pts
7. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) 29pts
8. Esapekka Lappi (FIN) 26pts
8. Dani Sordo (ESP) 26pts
10. Sébastien Loeb (FRA) 22pts
11. Teemu Suninen (FIN) 20pts
2019 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers – positions after round 5:
1. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 157pts
2. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 120pts
3. Citroën Total WRT 117pts
4. M-Sport Ford WRT 78pts
For further media information:
Copec Rally Chile 2019, Media Centre, Puerto Marina Convention Centre, Talcahuano, Concepción, Chile. Contact Alvaro Lavin (firstname.lastname@example.org), Rodrigo Castillo (email@example.com), Lluisa Torres (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Neil Perkins (email@example.com).