SÉBASTIEN Loeb will replace Andreas Mikkelsen in Hyundai Motorsport’s line-up for next week’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
PHOTO: Sébastien Loeb will make his fifth start for Hyundai in Portugal next week (Jaanus Ree/WRC Media pic)
The nine-time world champion has been drafted in alongside Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo after his drive-of-the-rally performance at Copec Rally Chile earlier this month, when he finished third on his gravel debut in a i20 World Rally Car.
The decision to axe Mikkelsen, who finished a lacklustre seventh, means the Norwegian has been dropped twice in four rounds following his demotion in Corsica in March. He is scheduled to return at next month’s Rally Italia Sardegna on 13-16 June.
Loeb’s first podium for the Korean manufacturer ensured it heads to the season’s midpoint in Portugal – round seven of 14 – with a 29-point lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing in the manufacturers’ standings.
Team director Andrea Adamo said it was necessary to react quickly after Chile.
“This decision was not taken lightly. We need to move forward as a team and make the most effective use of our versatile crew line-up,” Adamo said.
“Sébastien and Daniel (co-driver Elena) had a competitive event in Chile and have found a good feeling in the car on gravel. We felt their contribution would allow us to increase our points-scoring potential in Portugal.”
Portugal will be Loeb’s fifth outing for Hyundai this season after signing up for a six-round programme. It’s not known if the Frenchman will be persuaded to add more rounds to his current agreement.
“I had a great feeling with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in Chile, which was shown by our podium finish,” he said.
“I am pleased to have the chance to build some important momentum by taking part in Rally de Portugal. This is an unexpected decision, but I am feeling in a positive frame of mind and determined to get another strong result for the team.”
Rally Australia 2016 winner Mikkelsen looked to have recovered from a disappointing start to the 2019 season when he finished second behind Neuville at Xion Rally Argentina last month. Just two weeks later he trailed home 4min 30sec adrift of Chile winner Ott Tänak.
“We are trying hard to find a way to get Andreas’ confidence back and we are sure he will approach his next event, Sardinia, in the same way he was able to in Argentina,” Adamo. added.