2019 turned out to be a memorable year for the Korean motorsport scene—after all, the Hyundai World Rally Team became the manufacturer champion of the 2019 World Rally Championship. The victory marked the very first highest-tier global title won by a Korean motorsport team. But the Hyundai Team’s march to glory is only beginning—with even stronger reinforcements, the team is eyeing the highest honor possible in the competition: a double of both driver and manufacturer championships. We explore the team’s aspirations and strategies in the article.
Eyeing the Double: Team’s Aspirations for the 2020 Season
Having made aggressive additions to the already-championship roster, the Hyundai Team’s roster boasts unprecedented prowess. Theirry Neuville, the longest-tenured racer, has finished runner-up for four consecutive seasons (including the 2019 season); he aspires to end the 2nd-place streak and grasp the much-awaited driver championship trophy this season. Dani Sordo, a six-year veteran of the team, added valuable points to the team’s tally in the last season’s march to manufacturer championship. He won his first rally victory in the Rally Italy in Sardegna last summer. Sebastien Loeb, the so-called ‘legend’ of the rally, once won 9 consecutive WRC titles from 2004 to 2012 and made headlines by joining the Hyundai Team last year.
Added to the trio is Ott Tanak, the reigning driver champion of the 2019 season from the Toyota Team. Tanak has penned with the Hyundai Team a two-year contract, starting with the upcoming Monte Carlo rally and lasting up to 2021. His signing will surely ignite some intra-team rivalry while boosting the Hyundai Team’s chances for the consecutive manufacturer championship.
Andrea Adamo, the manager of the team, expects to be flexible with the driver selection every round. Neuville and Tanak, the aces of the team, will be mainstays at every round, and Sordo or Loeb will fill the remaining third car, depending on the rally characteristic. In short, the two aces will have a chance to battle it out for individual glory while collaborating for the team’s overall finish.
Defending Driver Champion Ott Tanak Joins the Team
The manager could not hide his expectations for the new driver. “Having Tanak on the team demonstrates the Hyundai Team’s high aspirations for the team. He will play a major role in our sustained run for the championship,” Adamo said.
Neuville, the ace driver of the team, also welcomed his most fierce rival of the previous season. “Tanak’s skills and strategy will be a major boost to the team. Of course, I’ll do my best to keep up with him as well,” he said.
Tanak, too, showed his zeal for the new team and the new season. “I was very pleasantly welcomed by everyone on the team. It will take a short while to get adjusted to the new team and the new rally car, but my initial impression of the i20 WRC was very good, and I have faith that I will be able to defend my driver championship this year,” Tanak said.
The Toyota Team, the old team of Tanak, is expected to be the team’s strongest rival. Despite an 18-year hiatus from the competition, the Toyota Team took only two years in winning the manufacturer championship in 2018 and propelled Tanak to the driver championship last year. The team was also runner-up to the Hyundai Team in the manufacturer category at 362 points, trailing the Hyundai Team’s 380 points by mere 18 points.
WRC 2020 Comes with a New Course
The 2020 WRC comes with noticeable changes in venue. The number of rounds stays the same at 13, but France, Spain, and Australia are out, replaced by Kenya, New Zealand, and Japan. This marks the first time since 2010 that an East Asian location was chosen for WRC’s venue.
The changes in courses, though, become a hurdle to overcome for teams accustomed to the existing collection of circuits. New styles of team management will be required: using the accumulated data, the teams will somehow have to prepare for the unexpected in the uncharted circuits. “Of course, we will pull in all our technical expertise and spare no resources to prepare our drivers for the new venues,” Adamo says.
Luckily, Thierry Neuville has some experience in the New Zeland circuit: he had participated in rallies there in 2013 before he joined the Hyundai Team. But the best preparation for the unexpected will be the powerful and versatile i20 Coupe WRC Rally Car. With noticeable improvements from the last season onward, the model is an all-arounder that does not shy away from any terrain, contributing to the team’s wins last year on tarmac (Corsica), gravel (Argentina/Sardegna), and mixed tarmac/gravel (Spain).
Hyundai Motorsport Enters the WRC-2
Meanwhile, Hyundai will also participate in the WRC-2 competition, a lower-order competition to the WRC, to further energize the competition in general. WRC-2, unlike the highest-tier WRC, encourages wide participation from many teams and drivers.
The name for the new team in the WRC-2 is Hyundai Motorsport N, and the team will be managed by Estonia-based company RedGray. In all, two performance-enhanced i20 R5 race cars will run the circuits for the competition’s 8 rounds this year, manned by the Norweigan Ole Christian Veiby and the Russian Nikolai Gryazin. In the WRC-2 last season, Veiby won the Rally Sweden with Volkswagen’s Polo GTI R5, while his teammate Gryazin also added a victory in Rally Finland on a Skoda Fabia R5. Hyundai is hoping that their high performance will continue in this season’s WRC-2 under the manufacturer’s banner.
Like the i30 N TCR, the i20 R5 Rally Car is a chosen favorite for many rally teams worldwide. Beyond just the WRC-2, it was designed to fit the specifications of local rallies with R5 regulations. Boasting a 4-cylinder 1.6L Turbo powertrain with a 5-speed sequential transmission and a four-wheel-drive system, the rally car produces the max power of 280 hp and 43.0 kg.m in max torque.
The decision to participate in the WRC-2 is not only a demonstration of the Hyundai’s continuing dedication to the competition’s success but also an opportunity for the manufacturer to prove the exceptional competence of the i20 R5 model. Featuring a variety of terrain, the competition will be a true test for the vehicle’s well-known versatility.
“I am thrilled to be part of this team with exceedingly high potential,” said Veiby, showing his high expectations for the season. “We will absolutely win the championship this season under the Hyundai banner. We will do our best to that end.” Gryazin added.
The heroics of the title-winning i-20 Coupe WRC Rally Car and the high-performing i-20 R5 stand as testaments to the Hyundai’s quality to the world, and more specifically, the brand is hoping that they will become lively adverts for the high-performance brand N. Now entering its seventh season upon the return to WRC, the Hyundai Team’s quest for the competition’s highest honor—the driver-manufacturer double—is beginning with highest expectations. Will the team live up to this higher-than-ever expectation? The Monte Carlo Rally, opening January 23rd, will give us the first glimpse of the team’s potential.