Thierry Neuville has promised to band together with the Hyundai Motorsport team instead of looking for a source of blame after he retired from the lead of Safari Rally Kenya on Sunday morning.
Neuville had constructed a commanding 57.4-second lead over Toyota junior Takamoto Katsuta over the first 13 stages of the event, but SS14 of 18 would prove his undoing.
“Basically we came to a very slow left-right corner and on the exit suddenly I felt that something broke on the car,” he explained.
“We tried to finish the stage and after investigation we saw that the damper exploded and yeah, we had to retire there.”
The retirement was a massive blow for Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe and the entire Hyundai team. Neuville leaves Kenya having scored no points and now trails championship leader and rally winner Sébastien Ogier by 56 points.
Hyundai has also lost yet more ground to Toyota in the manufacturers’ race, sitting 59 points behind in the standings at the season’s halfway point.
Safari was the third rally in a row where Hyundai has surrendered the lead of the rally, paving Toyota’s path clear to profit.
On Rally Portugal and Rally Italy, Ott Tänak had been leading on Saturday before retiring with suspension-related issues. Evans took advantage in Portugal while Ogier won in Sardinia.
And just to rub salt into the wounds, Ogier suffered a damper problem on Friday morning in Kenya but managed to bring his Yaris WRC to service and ultimately continue in the rally which he eventually won.
“Unfortunately it’s a big disappointment, not only for me, for the whole team,” admitted Neuville.
“And it’s a tough time as a team standing together after three rallies in a row retiring from the lead with suspension damage.
“That means it’s difficult but I have to stay with the team, I think I am altogether fighting hard and we’re definitely going to try and find some solution for that problem and fight back harder towards the end of the year.”
Neuville’s rhetoric is about collaborating to solve the problem, rather than a reference to his allegiances – he’s signed with Hyundai Motorsport until at least the end of 2023.
Hyundai team principal Andrea Adamo admitted clearly the team “is doing something wrong” after suffering three problems of a similar nature on three consecutive rallies.
It’s a stark contrast to Adamo’s stance following Rally Italy where he said Hyundai has ‘done no mistake’ in preparing its cars for the recent rough gravel rallies.
“The car has the same specification as it finished last year in rallies like Turkey and Sardinia and we never had problems so it means we are doing something wrong, this is the only thing I can say,” he said.
“I’m not chasing for excuses and no one is chasing for excuses. Those things cannot happen and should not happen. Without panic we have to understand what we are doing wrong because once should not happen, three times in a row means we are doing something wrong.
“Again [they’re the] same parts as last year, some others as 2017. Performance has been increased, maybe the stress is different I don’t know, I’m not an engineer but we cannot find excuses, we have to find solutions.”
The team can at least take some solace from Neuville’s strong pace in Africa, as he seemed to find the perfect blend between pushing hard but not too much in order to risk serious damage before the damper problem manifested itself.
“I felt comfortable in the car and everything was working well,” said Neuville. “Unfortunately a big surprise this morning when the damper failed but we knew it’s going to be a tough event.
“I think we were prepared for it and we did the job, me and Martijn in the car as well as the mechanics everybody was working hard. The motivation is still there but unfortunately the luck is missing. I’m sure we’re going to all come back stronger and have much more joy towards the end of the season.”
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