Rally

Hyundai denies deal with Loeb for 2019 WRC programme already done

Hyundai will begin the 2019 World Rally Championship season with an unchanged line-up, despite speculation that Sebastien Loeb has signed for the squad.

Thierry Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo will drive a trio of i20 Coupe WRCs at round one in Monte Carlo, but a decision about who replaces Sordo for Rally Sweden could be delayed until after Monte.

Hayden Paddon is currently well-placed to retain his part-season shared drive with Sordo.

Team manager Alain Penasse said Hyundai had spoken to Loeb, who is unlikely to drive for Citroen in 2019 after it failed to secure backing for a third car, but denied a deal had already been done.

“We talked to him like we talked to everybody,” he told Autosport. “That is logical in our position.

“But I don’t understand where all the fuss came from. There was a story in the media about Loeb not being picked up by Citroen – I don’t know why this is – and everybody picked up on it.

“I don’t know what he’s doing. Is he doing rallycross? I have no idea.

“We know what will be our team in Monte, there won’t be a surprise here.”

Asked about Paddon, who finished fourth or higher on four of his final five rallies in 2018, Penasse added: “After Rally Australia he’s in pole position for the seat.

“There was talk about us talking to [Elfyn] Evans and [Craig] Breen, but this has not really gone any further.

“Hayden did everything we asked of him this season, he had a really good year.

“It’s difficult for Hayden to stay concentrated because of all this stuff about him losing his seat.

“I understand the media has a job to do, but, honestly, some people are making some things up and they even begin to believe their own stories!

“An example of this is our trip to Korea. We had this trip planned for months, to take 151 staff from Hyundai Motorsport out to see our colleagues in Korea. Then suddenly this has become some sort of debrief about the season.

“This is the normal life, but some people are wanting to make more of it.”

Hyundai team principal Michel Nandan has consistently talked of repeating this year’s split programme between Sordo and Paddon.

Paddon wants to return to a full-season schedule as soon as possible, but told Autosport his priority was to stay at Hyundai.

“I feel we did a good job this year and tried our best to work with the team and make sure we brought home solid results on each rally,” said Paddon.

“The two rallies where there was a little less pressure to just finish, where we could focus on performance [in Portugal and Australia], we were mixing it at the front.

“That’s something I know we can do more regularly.

“Naturally, I would like to be doing a full season again and I still back myself to achieve much more in the WRC, but I’m also realistic in what options we presently have.”

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