Toyota and M-Sport have plenty to celebrate at the end of Saturday. Sébastien Ogier has retaken the Monte Carlo Rally lead after an inspired push on Saturday morning and, while Sébastien Loeb couldn’t hang on at the top, he is one of two Pumas in the podium places along with Craig Breen.
Hyundai, on the other hand, has little to cheer about. Saturday on the Monte Carlo Rally was a disaster. One car retired, another didn’t even though its driver wanted to park, and the third spent the day limping to end-of-day service, hobbled with multiple afflictions.
It’s been a tough Saturday for all three i20 N Rally1s, two of which were in the top five at the start of the day. This is how Hyundai’s day unraveled.
SS9: Tänak already in trouble
Ott Tänak’s day was compromised almost as soon as he’d set off from the first stage.
He started Le Fugeret / Thorame-Haute in fifth place, only 8.9 seconds off team-mate Thierry Neuville ahead. He finished it tied for eighth place with Kalle Rovanperä, having suffered a slow rear-left puncture.
Oliver Solberg, meanwhile, was suffering déjà vu as intercom problems that had blighted his runs on Thursday night had returned. So too had the smoke pouring into the cockpit, turning his eyes red with irritation.
SS10: Solberg off, Neuville limping
If there were to be any positives for Hyundai they were likely to be delivered by Neuville. He’d held fourth since Friday morning and had edged further ahead of Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith on stage eight.
Then it all started to go wrong.
“At the start of the mid-loop stage, suddenly I felt the car was pulling to one side,” Neuville told DirtFish.
“We thought at the beginning that the cross-member or something came loose, but at the end of the stage we realized that the top-mount fixation of the damper was gone. There was nothing we could do.”
With Evans going off on the next stage, Neuville would have been in the box seat to inherit a podium finish. Instead, he was left clinging to the long-shot hope of a top-five finish.
“The target is to get back to service,” he said at lunchtime. “We had some other issues that make the car stop many times and we came late to TC as well.
“We are still here and we are fighting. Unfortunately, this is a long day without service so we can’t do anything for that. It will just be surviving for the next two stages.”
It was not his only problem either. His i20 kept cutting out, with Neuville having to coax the i20 back to life repeatedly. A fuel problem was suspected but not confirmed.
Solberg had been down in ninth and, in his own words, simply been driving to the finish. Monte was all about experience, not points on the board and a flashy result. But even that went wrong, as he slipped off the road on a downhill right-hander.
Smoke pouring into the cockpit had caused a new side effect – crashing.
“Before the stage, we were a bit dizzy, both of us, and I basically just lost concentration in the middle there and got stuck,” he said.
If the smoke issue did not get fixed, Solberg remarked that he would “probably retire”. His team insisted that he would march on.
SS11: Sisteron smash parks Tänak
After 10 mostly dry tests, Sisteron delivered a truly classic Monte stage. There was ice and snow aplenty mid-stage and, having bolted on a full set of softs, Tänak had to tip-toe over the top of the Col to make it to the other side.
But a tight left-hander caught him out, and he narrowly avoided dropping down a ditch on the inside and skating straight on into a rockface on the other side. The front-right corner had taken a hefty whack.
Though Tänak was able to limp to the finish line he went no further, pulling up on the road section and retiring his i20 as it began to leak coolant, sending temperatures skyrocketing.
SS12: Neuville’s damper finally snaps
Neuville had been nursing a broken front-right damper since the second stage of Saturday morning. On the penultimate test of the day, the same road where it had broken in the first place, it finally lets go entirely.
He’d valiantly clung on to fourth place until then but the fight was over. Neuville dropped over three minutes and fell to sixth, with 38.2s in hand over Greensmith.
Never one to give up, Neuville parked up at stage end and got to work fudging a roadside repair.
SS13: Hyundai’s longest day concludes
Saturday on the Monte did not pack a monster itinerary but it probably felt like one for Hyundai.
Neuville’s DIY damper fix did the job, allowing him to get a little over 10 miles through the stage before it snapped once more.
“I don’t know what to say, to be honest,” concluded Neuville. “We expected a bit better day than yesterday but unfortunately, it was worse.”
Solberg’s day didn’t end particularly well, as he suffered a slow puncture and hit a bank on the second Sisteron pass. But after sliding down a hillside and talking about potentially retiring at the midday tire-fitting zone, it was a minor miracle he’d got to the finish at all.
It’s been that kind of day for Hyundai.