After the Hyundai i20 WRC’s disappointing start in Monte Carlo, the team is now eyeing a successful return to the WRC at Rally Sweden.
The snow rally kicks off this Wednesday, 5 February and runs until Saturday 8 Feb. And just to make sure they’ve got their preparations right, the Hyundai WRC squad has already completed a gruelling five-day test in the Arctic Polar Circle.
It’s only the new team’s second competitive outing, so it shouldn’t be disheartened by the two retirements in its first rally in Monte Carlo. 2014 is a public development year for Hyundai and the i20 WRC before a new Hyundai i20 road car and its equivalent rally racer are revealed next year.
The team is always learning, but it’ll be a particularly educational weekend for Finn Juho Hanninen. Hanninen will replace Spaniard Dani Sordo in the second car, as per Hyundai’s policy for this year, while Thierry Neuville will lead the challenge once again.
Even though the Monte did throw some snow the drivers’ way, Rally Sweden will be a totally different challenge.
Grip levels will be more consistent – consistently low thanks to the covering of the white stuff.
However, for snow rallies the cars are specially adapted. The Hyundai i20 WRC will run special studded snow tyres – these have little metal pimples set into the tyre that scrape through the snow to find grip.
If you’ve ever seen a snow rally, you’ll notice that the tyres are unbelievably narrow, too. This is because a big, fat, wide tyre would slip and slide around, whereas narrow, thin tyres get pushed through the soft snow, allowing the studs to bite harder and find more grip.
It really is quite a spectacle to watch – a 315hp World Rally Car slithering its way through a serene, snow-blanketed Swedish forest at breakneck speeds.
And, although those big Spruces can halt your rally, snow isn’t as soft as you think when you hit it at speed.
The big banks that build up around some corners are very hard and icy – tag these with a rally car and it can rip bodywork off and break mechanical components. It’s not too dissimilar to rock or concrete.
Preparations are going well so far. Both drivers have been testing on the unusual surface to gain more experience and perfect the special driving techniques needed to control a car on snow and ice.
It should be a good rally for Hanninen, too, who clinched his best ever WRC result at last year’s Rally Sweden:
“I’m very proud to have the chance to drive for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team at Rally Sweden. Its one of my favourite events.
“For a Finn, to drive on snow is almost a natural thing so of course we would like to get a good result but the main target for Tomi [his co-driver] and I will be to finish the event and get as much experience as possible for the team – which will be helpful for the rest of the year and for 2015 when we will put into practice what we learned during our first season in competition.”
Despite his early crash in Monte Carlo last month, the team’s lead driver, Thierry Neuville, is determined to finish:
“I don’t have much experience on Rally Sweden – having only competed there twice before – and snow is probably my least favourite surface but it’s a rally where I enjoy a lot driving and where we got a good result last year (fifth place).
“It’s a unique rally – very fast, with narrow roads and big snow banks alongside the roads. We tested for a couple of days for Sweden back in December where we got the first feeling of driving the Hyundai i20 WRC in full winter conditions.
“After retiring at Rallye Monte-Carlo so early in the competition, Nicolas and I are really looking forward to get a fresh start and we want to finish Rally Sweden for ourselves and for the entire team.”
We’ll bring you new of how Thierry and Juho faired in the Swedish rally next week, as well as any significant updates once the rally kicks off on Wednesday.