Thierry Neuville has rejected the suggestion that his pace was too quick for the rough nature of last week’s Safari Rally Kenya.
Neuville led the Safari with an advantage of nearly a minute before the final day, when the rear-right damper on his Hyundai failed and dropped him out of the contest.
Speaking to DirtFish, Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala said he told members of his team he could not see how Neuville would be “able to see the finish line with that speed – it’s too high. He is too fast”.
But Neuville said he thought his pace was appropriate, telling DirtFish: “I don’t think we went too fast because we had the lead after I was driving slower than anybody else and just always [drove] a little bit slower just to protect the car.
“Obviously it didn’t pay off at the end but the strategy was a good one.”
Of more concern to the Hyundai driver was the consistency of suspension failures that have blighted the i20 Coupe WRC of late. Team-mate Ott Tänak lost near-certain victories in Portugal and Italy due to some kind of suspension-related issues, and Neuville’s retirement in Kenya continued theme.
Those retirements have led to service park questions about whether anything has changed on the Hyundai, and if the team has perhaps sacrificed reliability for better performance.
But immediately after the Safari Rally, Hyundai team principal Andrea Adamo insisted “the car has the same specification as it finished last year” and Neuville backed up his boss’ comments.
The car was the same but somehow something is working against us for the moment. And this obviously has to stopThierry Neuville
“Actually to be very honest nothing has changed, that’s 100% right,” said Neuville. “We even tried to protect the car more this weekend with protection on the wishbones, much higher ride height than usual, and we were just prepared for the event.
“But unfortunately I just think we might be a little bit weaker than our other competitors, maybe yes, but I think we also missed out on, not the chance, but we missed the opportunity [to win].
“We don’t really know why because the preparation was good, the car was the same but somehow something is working against us for the moment. And this obviously has to stop.
“The car is the same, it’s more like a tank than in previous years while driving on the rough rallies like Turkey, we’ve always been very fast anyhow in the rough.
“Actually we were again this weekend but unfortunately we suffered some issues.”
Neuville also insisted that no suspension parts could or would be changed because the technical regulations do not allow that to happen.
“You are always developing the car but there are some parts that are under homologation and cannot be changed,” he said.
“The suspension, the wishbones, are under homologation and haven’t been changed since the car was born.
“We might be a bit softer, we might run a little bit lower on some of the European events and we have had some suspension issues that I was running really, really high throughout the whole weekend just to avoid anything that could damage the car.
“I think we run a little bit softer in terms of suspension to get more traction and run a little bit lower to get a bit more benefit from the aerodynamics and the underfloor of the car, but all those things should not really miss out the protection of the car.”
No such problems are anticipated on the next few rallies in Estonia, Belgium, and Finland at least with the smoother, fast gravel and asphalt roads not putting the same stress on components.
There is another rough rally later in the season – the Acropolis Rally in Greece – but Neuville said he has no reason to worry about a repeat suspension issue there.
“To be honest we have to go on,” he said. “I don’t see a reason why I should fear anything.
“There have been a couple of difficult rallies now with the same issue, but is there a real reason? To be honest I don’t know, I don’t think so.”