World Rally Championship

Two rallies to fight for Hyundai’s final WRC seat

The World Rally Championship loves a backstory and with two rounds remaining this year Hyundai’s Craig Breen and Dani Sordo look set to give us one. Sordo returns to the WRC this weekend to defend his Rally Italy win. It will be his first round in the championship since Rally Mexico in March. It’s also the Spaniard’s last chance to impress as Breen replaces him for the season-ending Ypres Rally Belgium.

With two rounds left, the two drivers have been given one rally each to fight for Hyundai’s final WRC seat.

Hyundai Motorsport’s Team Principal, Andrea Adamo, has been a revelation since his arrival at the start of 2019. Setting out to achieve long-awaited success for Hyundai, he began rotating the driver line-up in whatever way he saw fit.

As Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen fell out of favour, Breen was given a chance to break back into the top level of rallying.

For 2020, World Champion, Ott Tanak, was brought in to partner Thierry Neuville with Hyundai’s final seat shared between Breen, Sordo, and Sebastien Loeb.

Loeb’s planned assault of the 2021 Dakar Rally has put an end to his two-year spell with Hyundai, leaving Breen and Sordo as the supporting cast for Tanak and Neuville.

So who is the favourite to take permanent control of seat number three? At the moment, it is anyone’s guess. That’s what makes what happens in Sardinia and Ypres so important.

However, there is still some value in looking back at the pair’s WRC results with Hyundai since Adamo’s arrival 22 months ago.

Excluding results affected by mechanical issues, Sordo has a better average finishing position than his Irish team-mate. On average, Breen has finished sixth whereas Sordo has finished between fourth and fifth.

It’s worth noting though that Sordo has been in Hyundai’s set-up since 2014 while Breen has only completed four events for the team.

Sordo scored a podium and a win in his eight WRC rounds last year while Breen’s impressive runner-up finish on Rally Estonia in September was his maiden podium for Hyundai.

Do circumstances balance out the results difference between the two? They do to some degree but Sordo’s record makes it a brave move to let him go.

Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio, Hyundai i20 WRC, Rally Italy

After rallying’s Covid-enforced break, Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle jumped straight back into competition with MRF in the European Rally Championship. Sordo and Carlos del Barrio have done a few non-WRC events as well but none with serious championship ambitions.

Despite not having a full-time WRC seat, Breen made sure to be involved in some sort of Hyundai campaign this year. His Rally2 (R5) drives in the ERC have been, to an extent, for engineering purposes with MRF but they’ve also shown Breen’s ability to drive home a result.

Rally Estonia was the icing on the cake for the Irish pair after a very productive end-of-summer return to rallying.

Breen’s next WRC round will be on asphalt. The surface he loves so much. The surface he grew up on in his beloved Ireland.

A wintery Ypres Rally provides so much scope for another successful WRC weekend. If any nation knows how to tackle cold, damp, mucky roads it’s the Irish. Yes, Belgium’s stages are completely different, completely unique, but Breen is the defending Ypres Rally winner. He knows where he is going.

On the other hand, if there are conditions that can bite a rally driver, it is exactly those that will present themselves in Ypres. Rallying’s top tier guarantees results for nobody. That can be no more true than on a slippery asphalt rally.

Sordo will play his card this weekend on Rally Italy. Running down the road order he should be capable of a good result.

As Sordo hopes to shine in Sardinia, Breen will be bedding himself into Hyundai’s test World Rally Car, in asphalt specification.

Aarova Rally Oudenaarde marks the start of Breen’s preparation for Ypres. He’ll also compete on the South Belgium Rally in Hyundai’s world car. All this is sandwiched between Breen and Nagle’s MRF programme, quite a run of events.

Hyundai’s investment and interest in Ireland’s top rallying crew is clear and obvious. They’ll be hoping to continue their post-lockdown form in an upward trajectory right up to Ypres Rally Belgium.

The final unknown is the potential of Monza Rally ending this year’s World Rally Championship. Who will drive the third car if that happens? Perhaps that will reveal Adamo’s intentions for next year.

Either way, Sordo and Breen know the lie of the land. They have got their own events to prove what they can offer Hyundai beyond 2020.

For Hyundai, it’s a very nice position to be in.

One final note, considering the success of seat-sharing, who is to say Hyundai needs to part way with either driver.

Craig Breen and Paul Nagle, Hyundai i20 WRC, Rally Estonia

Subscribe to Rally Insight to receive the latest Irish, UK and International rallying news and features.

Photos courtesy of Hyundai Motorsport

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: