Rome wasn’t built in a day, according to the old adage, and so 134 days since the curtailed conclusion of Rally México, Hyundai Motorsport returned to competitive action near the Italian capital this weekend.
The 15-stage tarmac rally saw an eclectic mix of competitors with Hyundai Motorsport entering two Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars into the Rally Stars event, reserved for current WRC machinery, and a total of five Hyundai i20 R5s into the main Rally di Roma Capitale, which heralded the opening round of the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC).
The weekend marked an important occasion for Hyundai Motorsport and its customers as part of rallying’s united efforts for a safe return amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Run over two days of competition, Rally di Roma Capitale covered almost 200 kilometres of special stages, with safety considerations of paramount importance. From the service park in Fiuggi, to the south-east of Rome, competitors tackled two loops of three stages on Saturday, and a trio of three timed tests on Sunday.
Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio returned to the cockpit of their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for the first time since Mexico, as part of a test and development opportunity ahead of the planned re-start of the WRC season, and particularly for the tarmac of Rallye Deutschland in October. The Spaniards took a comfortable win in the Rally Stars event.
Sordo said: “It has been fantastic to be back behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. It has been a very long and tough year so far, so to have the opportunity to go rallying again is something we all value and greatly appreciate. We have used this rally as an opportunity to test many different parts of the car. We had a throttle issue during SS3 on Saturday, which lost us about 25 seconds to reset, but it’s all part of why we’ve been here: to learn. It’s been a nice rally overall and great to be rallying again!”
Joining them were Hyundai Motorsport Junior Driver Pierre-Louis Loubet and his compatriot co-driver Vincent Landais. The French duo ended the opening day on top of the timesheets but lost some ground on Sunday, as they made the most of their competitive debut in a 2C Competition-run Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC car to finish second.
Five Hyundai i20 R5s were entered into Rally di Roma Capitale, following an unbroken period of support by Hyundai Motorsport to its valued customer teams since the start of the pandemic. Craig Breen and Paul Nagle, who will compete in the WRC at Rally Estonia in September, got their full-time ERC season off to a positive start with a fourth-placed finish. The Irish crew joined the BRC Racing Team, with support from MRF Tyres.
Breen said: “Being part of this rally has been an absolute pleasure from start to finish. I have really enjoyed myself. It's not often I would be happy with finishing fourth in a rally, but after all the hard work, all the testing, it has been immensely satisfying to have been competitive with our MRF Tyres in Rally di Roma Capitale! Both the tyres and the Hyundai i20 R5 performed faultlessly, we still have some work to do but the foundations are solid.”
Customer Racing Junior Driver Grégoire Munster, co-driven by Louis Louka, had a consistent rally to finish seventh. Of the other R5 contenders, there were mixed fortunes. Hyundai Italia backed Umberto Scandola lost time on the opening day but showed more representative pace on Sunday’s stages. Customer Racing Junior Driver Callum Devine and co-driver Brian Hoy endured a luckless start to their season, retiring on Saturday’s fourth stage, while fellow Irish crew Pauric Duffy and Jeff Case, enjoyed their first taste of the Hyundai i20 R5.
Team Principal Andrea Adamo said: “I am very happy with what I have seen here in Rome this weekend, especially from Loubet, who has been getting a lot of experience, driving consistently. I’m proud of him and his team, who have demonstrated their professionalism. Dani, as always, has done a great job. I can only thank him for everything that he’s doing for us.
“Craig has done a nice job in the Hyundai i20 R5; we know that MRF is building up its tyre development and they are pushing very hard. It is not easy to come into a championship as challenging as the ERC and to be immediately as competitive as the others. Some of the stage times have shown that the pace and performance is there, so they just have to keep at it. Craig is the guy to give them the support and experience they need. BRC Racing Team is doing its usual amazing effort.
“It could also be a useful reference for the junior drivers that we have had with us here. Grégoire Munster has had a consistent rally on these challenging roads, and I’m honestly very happy with his achievements. Callum Devine made a mistake, simple as that. The road to becoming a World Champion is full of hurdles. We can remember many past champions who had their career paved by errors, but only someone who is doing nothing can claim to be perfect.
“Finally, I’d like to add some words for Jean-Baptiste Ley from Eurosport for the warm welcome he has given us, and to the FIA, ACI Sport and Bruno de Pianto, organiser of Rally di Roma Capitale, for allowing us to be here this weekend. The sheer ambition and effort they have made to run this event against all odds, and especially under COVID-19 conditions, is amazing. Only people with such vision, determination and passion for motorsport can make such a thing happen, so our thanks to them.”