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WRC Rally Croatia

Abiteboul: Croatia lead a “small sign of light” for Hyundai WRC team

Thierry Neuville leading after the first day in Croatia is a “small sign of light” for the Hyundai World Rally Championship squad, according to team principal Cyril Abiteboul.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

The South Korean marque is running a reduced two car entry following the tragic death of its third driver Craig Breen in a testing accident in the lead up to the asphalt event.

The team only elected to compete in the rally after careful consideration and discussions with the Breen family, the Irishman’s surviving co-driver James Fulton, and team members.

Both cars driven by Neuville and Esapekka Lappi are running a special tribute livery to honour Breen this weekend.

Neuville completed Friday’s eight stages with a 5.7s lead over Toyota’s Elfyn Evans, with Lappi sitting fourth 33.4s behind his rally leading team-mate.

“It is a small sign of light and a welcome one because the whole team has had to put in a big effort to be here,” Abiteboul told Autosport when asked to reflect on the day.

“There were a lot of logistical challenges and emotional challenges, so it is good, but it is only day one.

“We feel the car in still a bit behind on tarmac conditions so that must be, when the time comes, a direction for the future for what we need to do.

“As for today, Thierry has driven very consistently and he has shown a sign of wanting more in the morning which is good and is a sign of his ambition for not just the championship but this weekend in particular.

“As for Esapekka there has been some interesting moments he has been a bit up and down. It is a rally he doesn’t know that well and it think it is fair to say we were expecting something better this afternoon than this morning and that is what he did.”

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Neuville admitted it was a relief to end the day in the rally lead after witnessing his 16.1s morning lead decrease following a charge from Evans across the afternoon stages.

“I’m happy to be in the lead at the end of the day and it is the best result we could expect after the tough days we have had as a team,” said Neuville.

“It was a big relief when we crossed the finish line and we found out we were still in the lead so that is very positive. It hasn’t been an easy day at all and it is going to continue with a tougher day tomorrow.

“This morning was really tough and we changed the dampers and so on and I got a bit more comfortable but I feel like its is not a big commitment, where you can go for the last couple of tenths which makes the difference at the end and Elfyn was always able to go slightly faster than me. But we still have the lead and that is the thing to remember.

“Tomorrow is going to be challenging. There is a new stage which was really dirty in the recce so with the rain that has fallen I think tomorrow is going to be even tougher than today and we will be starting further down the field so the road will be more dirty.”

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