In this year’s Rally Monza, the final round of the 2020 WRC season, Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team (hereafter Hyundai Team) finished with a double podium, securing its second manufacturer’s title in a row. But the team’s i20 Coupe WRC rally cars weren’t the only champion cars of the day. Another car by Hyundai, the i20 R5 driven by Jari Huttunen in the WRC3, was crowned a champion as well. To be clear, the WRC3 does not recognize a manufacturer’s title and only selects a driver champion. Since Huttunen was the driver champion, the i20 R5 was also a champion car.
The victory of a Hyundai rally car in the WRC3 is a testament to the company’s efforts to translate all its know-hows from WRC operations into its customer racing rally cars. Thanks to those efforts, countless private teams that have chosen the Hyundai i20 R5 have been brilliant in diverse local rally events.
*Customer Racing: a program by which car manufacturers sell race cars that meet the regulations of certain racing events to private racing teams or the general public.
i20 R5: Rally Car on Sale for Private Teams
In simple terms, customer racing is a genre of racing that uses race cars available on the open market. While the spotlight of the motorsport world often just shines on works teams (teams owned and supported by auto manufacturers), private teams, unaffiliated with manufacturers, make up the great majority. As these teams don’t have the technological wherewithal, they buy their race cars from the open market, and this demand is why many manufacturers operate customer racing divisions. The list includes luxury car manufacturers like Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz, but also mass-market makers like Hyundai, Toyota, Renault, and Peugeot.
Hyundai Motor Company established Hyundai Motorsport GmbH in 2012 in Alzenau, Germany, and announced its return to the WRC with rally cars developed from the Hyundai i20. But the company’s ambition was not limited to highest-flight competition; founding its customer racing division, the company set out to develop race cars for sale in the open market. The i20 R5, released in 2015, can be used for the WRC2, WRC3, and diverse other national rallies, and it is the embodiment of the know-how accumulated from the brand’s experience with the i20 Coupe WRC. The i30 N TCR, developed for circuit touring races, also won the world championship in the WTCR.
Great teams with great drivers naturally seek titles in the highest-tier competition, but not all teams can realistically strive to be the best of the best. Private teams differ in size and ability. There are many rookie drivers in need of experience, veterans who need a shot to prove themselves again, and even amateurs who find fulfillment in participation alone. To accommodate all lovers of the sport, the competition needs varying classes of competition.
Just as formula racing has classes such as the F1, F2, and F3, rallies are divided in broad terms into six categories. The WRC, where Hyundai Team has won two straight manufacturer’s titles, is the highest-tier competition belonging to the RC1 category.
The RC2 category comprises the R5 and R4 classes and is placed right below the WRC. The R5 rally cars are used by drivers knocking on the WRC door―reserve players and pro drivers looking to prove their worth to the top competition in the sport. While the WRC2 and WRC3 don’t quite have the shine of the WRC, they are still the highest-level regional competitions and therefore highly competitive. In the early 2000s, this category used to run with front-wheel-drive rally cars in the Super 2000 class, but the FIA supplanted this class in 2012 with the R5 category, essentially a simplified version of World Rally Cars.
R5 rally cars differ a bit from World Rally Cars in regulations. They are to use a 1.6ℓ turbo engine with a 32-mm air restrictor (a plate-type device installed at the intake of an engine to limit its power) and a 5-speed sequential transmission; the drivetrain is 4WD, and the minimum weight is equal to that of World Rally Cars, at 1,230 kg. But their power is lower than that of World Rally Cars by about 90 HP, and the structures of certain parts, like the electronic differential and aerodynamic components, are more simplified. Despite these measures, R5 rally cars are powerful rally machines that more budget-conscious private teams can appreciate. After all, only works teams can invest in every small margin to win at all costs.
Under the RC2 category lies the RC3 category, which includes the R3T, R3C, and R3D classes. 2WD rally cars used in the J-WRC belong to the RC4 category. There is also the RC5 category, which uses small cars with engines around 1.0ℓ, and the R-GT category, which is used exclusively for tarmac rallies.
The i20 R5 Has Become Better
After its release in 2015, the i20 R5 was tested throughout Europe and made its debut in the 2016 Tour de Corse (Rally France). The first batch of vehicles arrived in an Italian client’s hands in Sep. 2016, and countless private teams have since chosen the i20 R5. Starting with the French National Rally Championship in 2016, the i20 R5 reported victories all over the world―Romania, Slovenia, France, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium, to name a few.
Of course, staying at the top requires tenacious dedication to become even better. In 2018, Hyundai Motor Company introduced to the i20 R5 a variable valve timing mechanism and improved its damper and differential. As a result of those improvements, 2019 was a very successful year for the model, with Simone Tempestini in Romania, Jari Huttunen in Poland, and Rok Turk in Slovenia each raising a trophy in an i20 R5. It was a well-deserved triumph earned against longstanding stalwart models like the Skoda Fabia, Ford Fiesta R5, and Citroen C3 R5.
Hyundai Helps Future WRC Drivers Grow
One major role of WRC’s lower divisions is helping prospects grow. This season’s WRC3 champion, Jari Huttunen, is a product of the Hyundai Motorsport Driver development Program (HMDP). A car manufacturer’s motorsport division can offer diverse experiences and abundant support that private teams cannot match. Such a level of support can mean the world for talented prospects breaking out of their shells; indeed, most star drivers with household names today are beneficiaries of manufacturer development programs. So a driver produced by HMDP could just as well be on his way to becoming a rally legend.
Huttunen, born in Finland, excelled in national rallies like the German Rally Championship and ERC in his early career. He passed HDMP’s rigorous screening tests in 2018 to become its development candidate that year. He was given an i20 R5 and competed admirably in the WRC2 and WRC3, becoming the driver champion for the latter this year and living up to the team’s high expectations.
Hyundai Team is also operating a customer racing junior driver program, targeting promising young drivers with a track record for excellence. Early this year, five such drivers―Pierre-Louis Loubet, Ole-Christian Veiby, Nikolay Gryazin, Callum Devine, and Gregoire Munster―were selected, and two of them were eventually given chances to drive a i20 Coupe WRC―in Estonia and Turkey for Loubet and in Monza for Veiby.
Hyundai Works to Expand Motorsport’s Influence
In nearly all sports, the main league grabs most of the spotlight, while lower divisions go mostly unnoticed. Rallying is no different. But while customer racing receives little public attention, it makes up an important foundation for the motorsport industry. If many private teams purchase their vehicles from a certain manufacturer and experience success, that manufacturer can gain in PR and marketing in addition to the profits from the sale. A manufacturer with aspirations for a high-end image ought to be active in developing customer racing cars and support private teams that buy them.
However, most manufacturers nowadays are focusing just on the main league. There is no other manufacturer like Hyundai Motor Company, which participates in the WRC, produces R5 rally cars, and supports customer racing infrastructure all at the same time. This is why many prospects dreaming of WRC glory choose Hyundai’s R5 rally cars, with this season’s WRC3 champion and HMDP product, Jari Huttunen, being a prime example. In addition, Hyundai is performing extremely well not just in rallies but also in circuit-based TCR; in recent years, we have seen champions emerge in a Hyundai i30 N TCR every season.
As Hyundai’s successes in rallies and circuits pile up, more and more private teams are seeking race cars from Hyundai. Now, there are 20 to 30 Hyundai-made race cars every week running racing events all over the world. These successes have led not only to improved specs for the high-performance N brand but also to the shifting of the “feel” factor in PR: the Hyundai logo and the N colors are starting to shine with class.
In October of 2020, Hyundai Motor Company revealed the i20 N Rally2, the next-gen rally car to replace the i20 R5. The WRC is facing big rule changes in 2022. Rally1, as renamed from WRC, will mandate a hybrid system and expand standardized parts to attract more manufacturers to join the league. The RC2 category, encompassing R5 and R4, will be renamed Rally2.
To prepare for these rule changes, the i20 N Rally2 will need to develop a massive number of new parts while keeping the 1.6ℓ turbo engine, 5-speed sequential transmission, and 4WD drivetrain. Beyond ordinary improvements scheduled after a season’s end, the suspension structure and the damper are being changed to improve handling. Hyundai Team is putting the one and only Ott Tanak to comprehensively test the i20 N Rally2, making sure that it is built perfectly for competing next season. The test results available up to date suggest that the i20 N Rally2 performs better and stronger than the i20 R5.
And so, expectations are building up; many drivers have already committed to the i20 N Rally2 for next season. Oliver Solberg, the son of a WRC champion Petter Solberg and the winner of 2020 WRC3’s Rally Estonia, has announced his selection of the i20 N Rally 2 on Dec. 18. Ole Christian Veiby followed soon. Given the track record of Hyundai and the i20 R5’s success in motorsport, and given the recognition that the i20 N Rally2 is beginning to get in the industry, it feels all but certain that Hyundai Team’s book of success stories will have more chapters to add in the Rally2 era.
By Lee Su-Jin, automobile critic
Excited about the 1991 establishment of the first domestic auto mania magazine 〈Car Vision〉, I sent a series of long letters there that led to an unexpected hire. 27 years have passed since then, the years of plowing through the writing struggles of an auto journalist. After becoming an editor for 〈Car Vision〉, I came to my current position as the Editor-in-Chief for 〈Car Life〉. My recent interests include cutting-edge techs like electric cars, connected cars, and autonomous driving, but the ‘otaku’ in me doesn’t want internal combustion engines to disappear either.