22 JUNE 2016

​Q&A: KEVIN ABBRING AND SEB MARSHALL

The brand new Hyundai i20 R5 makes its public debut as a course car on this week’s Kenotek by CID LINES Ypres Rally (23-25 June), round five of the 2016 FIA European Rally Championship. As has been the case during the car’s preliminary testing phase, Hyundai test and development driver Kevin Abbring will be behind the wheel alongside his co-driver Seb Marshall. Both are graduates of the ERC and have since competed at the sport’s highest level with Hyundai.

Q:
Kevin, you’ve been an important part of the development of the Hyundai i20 R5. How have you found that?

KA:
A bit like last year’s 2016 WRC car; it’s amazing to build something up from scratch with a group of people who are working in the same direction and having the same focus, and in the end when the car starts competing and turns out to be really competitive, it’s a great feeling. And it’s the same with the R5 now. We’ve been working hard on it and we’re finally going to put the car out on the stages and see what it’s like.

Q:
And how has the car felt? Are you happy with the development so far?

KA:
Yeah. First of all, what ŠKODA did in three years, we’ve done in six months so we don’t allow ourselves a lot of time, but nevertheless I think on Tarmac the car is already feeling really, really good, and I think with the parts we have for the engine and gearbox, we’ve got the package to have a great car. From the beginning, the car started to feel quite good and in balance, and from there on we’ve continued. OK, Ypres will be the first time for us on slippery Tarmac but I’m convinced the car will be able to do the job because it’s feeling really good.

Q:
Has your experience in the ERC been helpful to you, having driven a couple of different R5 cars in the past?

KA:
Yes, I definitely think so. I know the weak points of the R5 and the areas that we really have to work hard on to get a bit more feedback or more feeling from the car, because obviously they aren’t the same rules for the R5 compared to the WRC and there are a few things where the feeling is really, really different. But in most areas I think we already improved a lot compared to what I’m used to. So it’s been really helpful. I competed in R5 cars for one-and-a-half years and as well as engine performance and stuff like that, I think it’s about the feedback the steering wheel gives you and the diffs and the engine, just to make it an easy-to-drive car and obviously also competitive, not only for gentleman drivers but also the fast local drivers who want to be able to win rallies with it.

Q:
You’ve done Ypres in the past, but this time you won’t be able to compete with the other drivers…

KA:
OK we won’t be able to win a prize at the end but for us I think it’s no different to another rally. We obviously will have our times and OK, the car is not developed yet and not homologated yet but for us it’s a great way to see if we are in a good place, to confirm our feelings and expectations. For me and Seb, I think we will work as hard as we normally would during a rally to make sure we’re fast and make it to the end. There’s no tension or pressure of winning the rally but in the end we are there to be the quickest and we have to find out how the car is behaving on those roads.

Q:
Seb, alongside Kevin, you’ve been heavily involved in the development of the Hyundai i20 R5 car. During testing what is your role and how does it differ from competition?

SM:
Testing from a co-driver’s perspective, it can be repetitive at times but obviously it’s a very important job. We’ve done quite a bit of testing with the new i20 R5 in a variety of different locations and from my point of view, we usually will have a road of anything from three and eight kilometres each day that we will drive on, and I do my usual role as a co-driver of writing notes on the recce and reading them back. I will also be the person taking notes, if Kevin has anything that he wants me to write down, say he wants to change some settings on the car, I’ll keep a note of that in my pacenote book and record when we go out what changes there might have been to the car in terms of tyres, suspension, engine mapping, you name it, literally anything that we could change, I’ll keep a record of that accompanied by stage times for each time we go up and down the road, keep track of if that’s an improvement on the time or no tangible difference. So it’s like keeping a report of it in essence. Clearly the engineers also keep a very tight report and more in depth in terms of the technical side but I’m keeping tabs on everything from in the car. Compared to a rally it doesn’t require quite as much preparation; the stages don’t change at all during the day, you’re not driving off to the next one. It’s a different challenge but still an important part of the development team.

Q:
What are the team’s aims for Ypres?

SM:
We’re fortunate enough to have been invited by the organisers to debut our car on the rally, albeit not competing. If there is anything specific that they want us to do we will try and accommodate them. From the team’s perspective, obviously it’s the debut of the car, so we want to put on a good show for all the spectators out there and any potential customers who might be looking to purchase an R5. The entry for the rally is fantastic with WRC drivers like Stéphane Lefebvre, of course local hero Freddy Loix and Bryan Bouffier and that’s just cherry-picking a few names. There’s a whole host of competitive drivers in a wide variety of R5 machinery as well. So for us, that provides a great opportunity to demonstrate what the Hyundai can do. I’m not sure whether the times will be available, but certainly for people out on the stages, you’ll be able to tell that we’ve got a competitive package and hopefully it’s interesting to all those watching.

Q:
Can you give us a guide to the type of stages found in Ypres?

SM:
Ypres is one of the hallmarks of the ERC really, it’s been around for so many years and is one of the classics I think a lot of the drivers want to win. You can look at the stages on a map and think ‘oh they’re quite straightforward, it’s just straights and lots of junctions’ but that kind of hides the truth really. It’s an incredibly quick event, marked by lots of changes of direction but it’s a huge challenge. Obviously it runs very compact route around the town of Ypres, I think it’s all within 30 kilometres of the town, so the action’s quite frantic, you’re never sat around for a while waiting for the next stage. The stages are generally characterised by single-width Tarmac roads, all pretty flat. There are aren’t too many hills in Belgium, or at least in Flanders anyway! The key to success I would say is being able to carry as much speed as possible through the medium-speed corners. There’s a huge amount of junctions which are obviously very slow and are sort of 90 degree corners. There’s a huge amount of exceptionally fast flat-out corners, but it’s the ones where you have to make maybe a small brake or just one downshift – that is where the rally is won or lost really. That in itself is aided massively by the amount of cutting that takes place. The roads are usually lined by quite deep ditches on either side, which does enable the car to sort of hook a wheel on the inside and carry so much more speed. The key there is knowing which corners you can do that with; some of them you certainly can’t because you’ll find a drainage culvert or a rock or something buried in the grass, but there are others which you can carry a gear higher through them just because you can get that momentum as you hook through the corner. Everyone will say cutting is the key to being fast in Ypres really and that’s why you’ve got to have a really good recce, you’ve almost got to drive into every ditch and see what’s in there!

ENDS

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