Can Hyundai end on podium again in Rally Chile?

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The Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team is ready to tackle Rally Chile in South America – the final gravel event of this year’s calendar – with renewed determination and a target of extending its podium streak to four in a row. 

The South American event from tomorrow (Thursday) until coming Sunday, 1 October, is the eleventh round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and marks only the second Rally Chile to ever be contested. 

Rally Chile’s smooth, cambered roads lie in and around the mountainous city of Concepción; closed forest stages present tight, technical sections, which contrast the ocean scenery of the open coastal roads that also feature on the itinerary. Additionally, the rally often delivers treacherous conditions and occasionally has its profile compared to the likes of Rally Finland, Rally de Portugal and Wales Rally GB. Detailed pace notes and unwavering attention from crews are therefore crucial in ensuring a successful finish in Chile.

All three drivers set to take on the 2023 Rally Chile in the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid – Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen – competed at the sole previous running back in 2019. The trio will be hoping to harness their past experiences of the rally to produce a strong result for Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team this time around.

Like all events on the WRC schedule, Rally Chile brings with it a unique challenge for both car and crew. Following its three-year absence from the calendar, the 16-stage rally is now longer, with a revised course map taking the stage total up to 321 km. Crews will also take to the gravel roads less than an hour after sunrise, starting with the 19,77 km Pulperia stage Friday morning.

Unexplored territory

Chile will be a brand-new proving ground for two of Hyundai’s co-drivers, including Neuville’s right-hand man Martijn Wydaeghe. Facing the unknown means different preparation is needed from the passenger seat, as the Belgian explains:

“I can prepare with a lot of information from the team, as well as recce videos from 2019,” said Wydaeghe. “I think it will also be similar for everybody, including the people that have been there before, because only one of the full stages is the same as the last time the WRC came here. Even though it is spring in Chile, the conditions can be quite tricky – they had fog during the recce here before, which makes things quite complicated. But from the footage I have seen and the data I have access to, the profile looks quite nice.”

Hyundai Motorsport team principal Cyril Abiteboul said: “A mixed rally last time out in Greece gave us disappointment and success; we are determined to get on to the podium for a fourth consecutive rally. Each of our crews have experience in Chile, with Thierry winning several stages while Teemu and Esapekka produced fifth and sixth place finishes respectively in 2019. Despite taking on unknown terrain, we are hoping for a consistent run with the ultimate aim of bringing back a good haul of points from the podium places.”

Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe

Neuville said: “Rally Chile has only been run once before and this time there are going to be a lot of new stages, so our previous experience does not help our preparations too much. Because of this, the recce will be very important. Last time in Chile it was quite tough for me as I had a big crash, but we go back this year with the target of having a good rally and finishing the weekend on the podium. For this to happen we will need consistency, a great feeling in the car and a setup that works well on the roads. If we can get all of those things to align, we will be fast.”

Crew Notes: Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm

Lappi said: “The first thing I will do to prepare is to look at the onboards from when I was there in 2019, but a lot of the stages we will be taking on are new for this year. I will also try to remember how the surface behaved in different conditions and what the feel of the car was like. While there are some technical sections, the rally is quite fast overall, which reminds you of Estonia and Finland. However, the grip level you get at those events is not there in Chile. It is not the roughest rally, so we won’t have to think about saving the car too much, but we will need to have confidence to be fast. As always, the goal is to finish on the podium.”

Crew Notes: Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula

Suninen said: “Most of the stages at the event are new, so our preparations will be different. Making good pace notes on the recce will be key to being successful. The roads in Chile are normally fast, but we still expect them to be slower than those at Rally Estonia and Rally Finland as they are a bit more technical. The surface is quite smooth, so we won’t have to think as much about the car lasting well, we can just push it to the limit from start to finish. Our focus is purely on ourselves, trying to improve our pace from Finland and finish as high as possible.”

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