Wed 15 Feb 2023

Abiteboul unflustered after Wolf Power Stage plan falls short

Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul was all smiles at the end of Rally Sweden despite his squad’s Wolf Power Stage strategy not unfolding as planned.

After a strong showing throughout the rally, part-time driver Craig Breen was ordered to incur a 10-second penalty by checking in one-minute late to the regroup prior to the final test.

This demoted Breen to third overall whilst elevating team-mate Thierry Neuville - who is undertaking a full campaign and therefore needs as many drivers’ championship points as possible - to second.

But those plans backfired when Neuville, 34, had an untidy run through the finale, dropping 1.8sec to Breen and therefore slipping back behind him in the overall standings.

Former F1 team boss Abiteboul, who took over the reins at Hyundai earlier this year, was unfazed by the outcome. He focused instead on the hefty manufacturers’ points haul his team brought home by securing a double podium.

“I’m smiling because, entering the [Wolf] Power Stage, it was quite an eventful thing for us,” Abiteboul explained. “We had three targets.

“The first was to win the Power Stage with Esapekka, and that’s what happened. Then we had the target to have two cars on the podium, and that’s been maintained. On top of that, we made our lives a bit more difficult to try and give an opportunity for Thierry to finish a bit higher up, but that didn’t work.

“I think, to a certain degree, we’ve done the right thing from a team perspective,” insisted the Frenchman. “When you have a strategy to fight for the drivers’ championship, you want to give the drivers maximum opportunity and chances, which is what we’ve done. But the God of Speed has decided otherwise, and I like the God of Speed.”

Despite M-Sport driver Ott Tänak taking victory at the rally, it was a hugely successful event for Hyundai - and a big turnaround from last month’s Rallye Monte-Carlo, where the team’s second and third cars finished down in seventh and eighth respectively.

“It’s a great way for us to finish Rally Sweden,” Abiteboul added. “We have scored 10 stage wins out of 18, and that shows that our team, car and crews have been very competitive. Overall, a tremendous team result.”

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