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WRC Central Europe Rally

Abiteboul: Suninen “very much on the radar” for 2024 Hyundai WRC drive

Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul says Teemu Suninen is firmly among the contenders for a World Rally Championship drive with the team for next year.

Teemu Suninen, Hyundai World Rally Team

The South Korean marque has already reshuffled its driver line-up for 2024 with Ott Tanak re-joining the team alongside Thierry Neuville, but it is yet to reveal plans for its third and potentially fourth car.

Abiteboul says a call is likely to be made before the season finale in Japan later this month.

The former Renault Formula 1 boss has admitted that Suninen, who was drafted in to pilot the third car for four rounds this year, and its full-time driver Esapekka Lappi are among the options on his list to pilot a third car next year.

Abiteboul says it is highly likely the third car will continue to be shared between drivers given the benefits that option can offer for road position as it looks to outsmart Toyota, which the Hyundai boss believes will continue to have an edge with its GR Yaris.

After witnessing Suninen finish sixth at last weekend’s Central European Rally, his first asphalt start in the i20N, Abiteboul confirmed the Finn is the team’s thoughts for next year.

Suninen was called up to join Dani Sordo in the third car this year following the tragic loss of Craig Breen. He finished fifth and fourth in Estonia and Finland respectively, before retiring from second on the final day in Chile.

The 29-year-old was back behind the wheel on Tuesday and Wednesday testing the i20N at the team’s test facility in Finland.

Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

“[Suninen] is very much on the radar, but I can’t say anything in particular,” Abiteboul told Autosport.

“He is very much part of our list so we have to now get together with the rest of the team and have a look at what has happened and make a collective decision for the way forward.”

Lappi also impressed last weekend by running as high as third before crashing out on stage five in what was the Finn’s third high-profile crash in the last four events.

Former Toyota, Citroen and M-Sport driver Lappi has played a key role in developing the i20N this year.

Abiteboul confirmed that the weekend’s results won’t alter his mind when it comes to forming the driver line-up.

“Esapekka was very much key to the system this year and really important and he has been delivering some of the very positive moments in the team this year,” Abiteboul said ahead of the rally.

“I like to think that he can be a part of what we do for the future and not just next year. It has been a discussion that has been going on between us for a while and I hope we can bring that to a conclusion in the next few days.

“I think it is about trying to understand what he wants and making sure we can deliver him what he wants and I’m not talking about money.”

Cyril Abiteboul, Team principal Hyundai World Rally Team

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

Cyril Abiteboul, Team principal Hyundai World Rally Team

It does however appear that Hyundai’s plans to expand to four cars could be delayed, with the team’s priority firmly on securing the line-up for its third car. Hyundai has already stipulated that the fourth car should be designated to developing young drivers.

“I [would] like there to be a fourth car but success happens with planning, with organisation, but also with prioritisation,” Abiteboul said in the post-event press conference.

“And I think the first thing we need to do is make sure that all three crews next year will have the car that they need and that will be the focus of the whole team.

“So in that respect, in that perspective, we may delay the plans for a fourth car.

“But clearly developing drivers, young drivers, with a fourth car is very much what we’d like to do. It’s all about timing.”

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