Thierry Neuville claims that Safari Rally Kenya retirement has dealt Hyundai a huge blow after losing a chance of closing the gap in the World Rally Championship title race vanish.
Thierry Neuville had to retire from fourth place in the Safari Rally Kenya Friday’s event due to a broken front-left suspension. Despite being held back by a slow puncture on the first pass of the Geothermal, Neuville was running in fourth place and was only 5.3 seconds behind Elfyn Evans in third.
However, the Geothermal stage would catch up with him again on the second pass when Neuville’s Hyundai’s front-left suspension failed while driving through a swift stretch.
The Belgian noticed the problem, found an access road right away and pulled off into retirement after having failed to repair the damage.
“We lost the screw from the top mount so the damper came loose and when it completely went it took off the driveshaft and power-steering,” Neuville said, “so we just tried to fix to get back to service.”
When the front-left suspension of the Hyundai driver’s i20N suffered damage on stage six, he was driving in fourth place and 35.3 seconds behind rally leader Sebastien Ogier of Toyota.
The car will be fixed by Hyundai crew during the course of the night, but it is unknown if Neuville will return to the rally tomorrow.
“There was no warning at all,” Neuville said. “The damper must have gone a couple of corners before and obviously at the next corner it came out of its position the driveshaft went immediately and it was all over.”
“It is frustrating and it has hit us very hard. We were following the plan, we were in the fight despite not the best road conditions and I had a good feeling in the car as well. Obviously we expected better, but the luck was not with us.
“We have to analyse tonight. If there is a chance to get back in the points there is a reason to drive tomorrow, but that will be the only reason.”
Given that the next rallies in Estonia and Finland don’t usually work for him but are ones that series leader Kalle Rovanperä consistently performs well on, Neuville had identified this event as essential for his prospects of winning the World Rally Championship.
“I don’t know, let’s see at the end of the weekend,” Neuville responded when asked what this meant for his championship challenge.
Rovanperä is now in second place overall, trailing teammate Sébastien Ogier.
Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul says that a thorough investigation into the failure will be conducted.
“What we can say that a nut came loose in a compression and the suspension failed,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com. “We need to have a better understanding of what happened whether it is design related or not.
“One thing I can say is we didn’t touch the suspension in the service, so it is not finger trouble due to some mistake.
“Having said that these things should not happen. We need to make sure how to stop this happening in the future.”
Esapekka Lappi who is currently the leading Hyundai after Neuville’s retirement along with an impressive debut on Kenya’s challenging stages, is now in fourth overall, 54.0s behind leader Ogier going into Saturday.
The Finn, who won stage three, has been instructed by Abiteboul to use a “maximum attack” strategy on Saturday despite the high likelihood of running into challenges in this rally.
Dani Sordo’s third Hyundai is still in the points scoring positions despite being in sixth place and 1m28.4s behind the leaders. Strangely, the Spaniard lost 24.8 seconds on the last stage of the day after becoming tangled up in his own dust.