Why Hyundai’s Acropolis defeat was so painful

On a rally it expected to do well on, both Hyundai and Thierry Neuville's championship bids collapsed


There are few characters more tenacious in the World Rally Championship than Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville.

But midway through last weekend’s Acropolis Rally Greece, the fight had dissipated from his body.

“I just wanted to go home.”

An impact through a hole had damaged the wishbone on rival Sébastien Ogier’s Yaris, but it had completely sidelined Neuville’s i20.

Rally lead – gone. But worse than that, it all but ended Neuville’s drivers’ title aspirations for yet another year, and has left Toyota as the firm favorite for the manufacturers’ crown too.

On an event where it had swept the podium for the first time in its history 12 months ago, this was a rude awakening and painful return to the Acropolis for Hyundai.


“What can I tell you that you don’t know already?” surmised Hyundai team principal, Cyril Abiteboul.

“You know the facts, you know what happened, so what I can tell you is the emotion that goes into the team at that moment and I would like to say obviously we are extremely gutted for Thierry and Martijn [Wydaeghe] who were doing a remarkable job.

“But it was not just them who were doing an excellent job, I think it’s the whole team has put an awful lot of effort fighting against all the challenges that we knew we had coming here with the fires and so on and so forth.

“It was an important rally for us because it was not only a rally where we have done extremely well last year, so I think we had in our hearts to try again and defend that win.


“But also it’s in fairness a rally we know we can win against some rallies we know we will struggle to win, at least in straightforward condition, and I think the domination that we had on Friday and also again this morning, at least on the dry, was showing that it was again very possible.”

Hyundai has been upfront about its deficiencies compared to Toyota this year, in what is widely seen as a transitional year with the likes of Abiteboul joining and François-Xavier Demaison coming in as technical director.

But the Acropolis was an event it expected to make good on what it currently already has. Not just, as Abiteboul said, because of its result last year, but the rougher, gravel events have tended to suit the i20 N Rally1 while Toyota’s GR Yaris Rally1 (at least last year) struggled.

Hyundai was again on the pace this year, but Toyota was more than a match having pulled off some sterling work over the winter to catch up.

In the end it was reliability which proved to be Hyundai’s undoing, and not for the first time this season.

“Reliability of the car has been in general, apart from the well documented propshaft issue, pretty strong but it was absolutely not the case here,” Abiteboul said.

“So I think we need to have a good debrief altogether and understand what really happened for Thierry, but also on EP’s car because Thierry clearly had an impact but we know coming here that we are going to have impacts. So is that the type of impact that should have caused failure or not?

“I don’t know yet so we need to wait a little bit to make any conclusion. But it’s a tough day, for sure it’s a tough day and you very quickly move from the top to the bottom.

“There is a saying in French that in ancient Greece you are throwing people from the Parthenon in Acropolis. You could be a king, but you could very quickly be thrown away, and that’s very much what happened today.

“And we are not far from the Parthenon so I guess this saying is very accurate.”

Neuville confessed it was hard for him to see the positives.

“I mean we know we still have some small weaknesses after what happened,” he said.

“Sometimes it just needs a little bit different angle, a bit more on the brakes, just a little bit faster whatever to make the difference. Obviously Ogier was close to retiring on that same place as well – but he didn’t.

“So he kept the chances alive for fighting for victory, I couldn’t. I would have loved to continue, even if with a damaged or bent suspension arm. But obviously it wasn’t our weekend and… it’s just hard for all the effort you put in in preparation.


“Not only us but also the team. I mean some people stayed here for seven or eight days to get three days of testing with the team, yeah, away from home, working here, trying to get the test sorted and a lot of effort in preparation here doing the event, 600km a day of recce for three days, working videos all night and at the end you get no return.

“It’s painful.”

With three rounds of the WRC remaining, Neuville trails points leader Kalle Rovanperä by 66 points. Toyota leads Hyundai by 91 in the manufacturers’ race.

The only reprieve for Hyundai was yet another podium finish for Dani Sordo.