Interrupting is never normally considered a nice trait, but in this case DirtFish was more than happy for Hyundai’s deputy team director Julien Moncet to interject.
“This weekend you mentioned you’d be looking for a better result…” we begin to ask.
“Not difficult!” Moncet quips with a chuckle.
It gives just a small idea of the mood inside Hyundai Motorsport at the moment. There’s an acceptance that it must do better and a determination to ensure the Monte Carlo Rally leaves a bruise, not a scar.
“After we had let’s call it a disappointing result in Monte Carlo, the mood was maybe not at the top,” says Moncet.
“Now we took the opportunity of these few weeks between Monte Carlo and Sweden to try to review all our weaknesses, all our issues together to tackle them and I think we made some positive pre-event tests [in] the last weeks which gave us back some confidence.
“And on top as well we had a bit more time to re-prepare, reassemble the rally cars so time was more than welcome, definitely. I mean we can always have more time but compared to [the] Monte Carlo preparation I could feel that there was less stress.
“There is still because we have to get some results, we cannot stay on this disappointing result from Monte Carlo we have to show our real performance, but yeah it’s getting better.
“Obviously good results in Sweden would help.”
Confidence doesn’t directly translate to a faster rally car, but a stronger morale and a workforce firing on all cylinders across the board can only boost Hyundai in Sweden.
Although it never admitted it publicly before the event, Hyundai had genuine fears that it wouldn’t quite be at the races on the Monte due to its compromised preparation. In fact, it had some fears it wouldn’t be at the race at all.
But those fears are beginning to vanish. Thierry Neuville has even begun to have fun again.
“I have to say our test days were a real success because the car was working trouble-free and I actually started to enjoy it,” he tells DirtFish.
That’s quite the contrast to Neuville’s declaration that his Hyundai was frightening to drive during the Monte Carlo Rally. But that’s because Hyundai has been busy – Neuville describing the last few weeks as “quite challenging” and “quite busy”.
“It was obvious that after Monte Carlo we knew that we had quite some work left on some of the items, especially we focus on the reliability but as well we went for the very first time on this new chassis driving in [a] gravel set-up in snow conditions which never had been done before,” he says.
“There was a hell of a lot of work left and everybody tried to work as hard as we could to get most of it done before Sweden already, and now we are here.”
Moncet is quick to confess that reliability was Hyundai’s biggest weakness on round one and that’s therefore been the team’s key focus.
“Only one car made it to the finish line out of three which is not what we want, and we had a lot of small issues that prevented us from having a good result in Monte Carlo,” he says.
“When the car was working fine in some conditions we were able to do reasonable times but we just could not put everything together because we had reliability issues, so definitely it has been our main focus once we are back to Alzenau, our factory, was to get rid of all these reliability problems and hopefully now it’s done so we can really focus on the performance now.”
For Neuville, however, “it’s difficult to say” if the work that was done will prove to be enough.
The level of confidence and the mood is a bit better now [than] it was just before Monte CarloJulien Moncet
“Our target was to solve the problems we had in Monte first rather than focusing on anything that could happen, and that’s what we have done. I’m not 100% it was enough but it could be a surprise as well and somehow we are in the fight.”
Despite the car being “more or less the same” to how it was in Monte Carlo, if Hyundai’s work to improve reliability proves successful there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest it can’t fight in Sweden, and its shakedown pace more than proves that.
As Toyota’s Elfyn Evans admits: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they are, and ultimately we don’t know who will be [competitive] because ultimately Monte is one thing but here is something completely different.”
The consensus from the Monte – at least from Ott Tänak – was that the i20 N Rally1 wasn’t so good in high-grip conditions but wasn’t bad everywhere else. It stands to reason it should be a bit more competitive in Sweden.
“Yeah that’s what I am hoping for, we are all hoping for yes,” says Moncet. “As I said the tests were positive, the feedback was good.
“Now we have to see because it’s true our competitors did not wait for us, I’m sure they worked as well, but back to your very first question the level of confidence and the mood is a bit better now [than] it was just before Monte Carlo. So fingers crossed and yeah, I mean podium [is the target] but if we win I’m happy as well, no?”
Oliver Solberg is opting to keep his powder dry, mirroring team-mate Neuville’s answer from earlier.
“Difficult to say. I’ll have to answer you on Sunday night,” he tells DirtFish. “We will see. It felt quite good on the tests we’ve had, but again it’s very difficult to say.
“We don’t really know where we are standing, we were quite far behind on development, and I think we’ve done a hell of a job pushing in the short time we’ve had and really taking some big steps forward.
“I think it feels like we’re inside a window on gravel and snow. But Tarmac.. I feel that we were stronger on this surface, so hopefully it’s better than Monte Carlo.”
It certainly can’t get any worse.