With the WRC Rally Australia coming up this weekend and Hyundai taking their first win at Rally Germany last time out, we’d thought we do a retrospective on Hyundai’s time in the WRC.
The first time we saw an official presence in the WRC was with the F2 cars back in the late 1990s. These cars were pretty awesome an in the hands of the French manufacturers could compete for outright wins, particularity on tarmac. Hyundai came along with a pretty little coupe – based on the Tiburon. The car would see some class success with Kennith Ericsson and Alister McRae behind the wheel. it took five class wins in 1999 to take second in the F2 Championship – behind the Renault Clio F2.
That led into a full works WRC car with the car being developed and run by Motorsports Developments.
The car had some potential, but mechanical issues blighted the car. Despite this, Ericsson taking points in New Zealand and Australia. The team had precious little knowledge about 4WD turbo cars and on a small budget, they did well. But at a time when Peugeot came in with the killer 206 WRC, Ford had the Focus and the Group A cars from Mitsubishi and Subaru were still winning, they had to do better.
So, on came the Evo 2. This car featured massively improved suspension, an active diff and improved aero. The Evo 2 would still be somewhat unreliable but Eriksson and McRae would get to the end of more rallies. They still could not crack the podium with the best finish of fourth at the season ending Rally GB. Asphalt ace, Piero Liatti and WRC legend Juha Kankunen could not find any love for the car either.
After just one season, the Evo 3 was brought on.
The Evo 3 had upgraded suspension and engine parts with German Armin Schwartz and Belgian Freddy Loix coming into the driving duties. The Evo 3 would last for one and a half loveless seasons. 71 starts led to 41 DNFs – a figure that paints a picture of the car’s reliability. Pace was an issue with just five points finishes.
It is best to remember too – in the car’s defense – that there was no SuperRally in 2002, 2003, points only went to 6th and you had to beat the likes of Peugeot, Citroen, Subaru, Mitsubishi and Skoda. Points were hard to come by and half way through 2003, Hyundai threw in the towel. A public and catastrophic spat with Motosport Developments ended the relationship mid season. A much rumoured 2004 variant of the Accent never arrived and the planned return in 2006 never happened and Hyundai disappeared from the rally world.
All up, 27 WRC Accents were made, some still in rallying today. In fact, John Rintoul and Ross Hynd took a win in the 2014 Scottish Crail Summer Stages.
In 2012 though Hyundai announced their intention to return in 2014 with the i20 WRC. 2013 would be a testing year with Bryan Bouffier, Chris Atkinson and Juho Hanninen taking the testing duties. The team, now run inhouse employed many ex-Peugeot personnel including Team Principal Michel Nandan and Team Manager Alain Penasse.
The i20 features the normal things of a WRC these days – a 1.6L turbo, some 300 BHP and a 0-100 in some four seconds.
The team didn’t come in after a couple years testing in an S2000 car like VW did with Skoda, Expectation weren’t on for a win either, and they wanted to keep things moderate, and you can understand after what they went through the first time they competed.
They hired a crack, if schizophrenic driver lineup with the only full-timer being Theirry Neuville. Atkonson, Bouffier, Hanninen, Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon would take up the remaining duties – with the rally lineups changing often.
The approach seems to have worked for them though, taking podiums on pace and being in the position to capitalise when VW slip up. We all know Neuville is a star and his drive in Germany was brilliant – particularly considering what happened in Shakedown when the car was rolled into a compacter version of the i20.
What Hyundai have achieved in their first season back is to be on a par with Citroen and M-Sport. Something they never achieved the first time around. They have taken podiums and now a win. Yes, work must be done to consistently be at the front, to beat VW – and all comers must step up their game. They have produced a reliable car that is gaining pace.
They have crack drivers and a crack team behind them. They have the potential to win in the future and really take the fight to the Championship.
The pressure will now be on in Australia. With an Aussie and Kiwi in the cars, Neuville won in Germany and finished second in Australia last year with M-Sport, the expectations are high.
And now, Hyundai can reach them.
By Sam Tickell, September 2014
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