Last year, it simply wouldn’t have happened. We know that because it didn’t.
Thierry Neuville and the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 were not a podium-claiming package on Rally Estonia in 2022. But several decisions in the past 12 months have helped unlock the potential.
A swoop for Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi has certainly done the trick – both drivers have been open about the fact they want similar things from the car, and that’s helped them drive it forward.
But Hyundai’s choice to nominate Finland as one of its permanent test facilities has also boosted Neuville’s confidence on fast roads too, as he explained to DirtFish.
“There’s evolution from last year to this year. The fact that I’m driving more and more on Finland roads in testing with our home base over there, I’m getting more used to the driving style of the faster rallies.
“And the fact that me and EP have started to, or work in the same direction, also gave us both a lot of confidence in the settings we choose and they worked well.”
The benefit of driving on roads similar to the stages in Estonia and Finland must not be underplayed.
In an interview with DirtFish at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, a week before Rally Estonia, Neuville said the style of driving required to go fast didn’t come so naturally to him.
“Basically we need to drive a lot of very sideways, and it’s not what I am particularly very good on,” he said.
“You need to take a bit more risk as well at high speed which, yeah, you need to dare, but you need to feel the control and it’s something where I know I struggle a bit with.
“It’s in all the faster sections in any of the rallies I always lose but in all the technical sections I’m always very fast. So it’s not a secret, but we are working on it.”
Work on it he has. The results were clear. But the benefits stretch far beyond just getting Neuville more in-tune with faster roads.
“We can test there for Rally Sweden in the snow during the winter time, we can test for Rally Finland and we test there for Rally Estonia and probably Chile as well,” Neuville explained.
“So we get somehow a couple of occasions there where we save test days to use for other events.”
Hyundai’s move to Finland never looked like a bad decision, but it’s really starting to pay dividends now.