At the 2021 WRC season, Hyundai Motorsport GmbH finished their rally second overall in the Manufacturer’s category, and failed to become the third consecutive champion; however, second place is not a defeat, so there is no need to be sad. Only when you acknowledge your hard work and effort and applaud yourself can you get the power to face the next challenge; maybe Hyundai’s performances in the 2021 WRC should also be viewed from this perspective.
Looking at the details of this season – although the result is not satisfactory – it was enough to look forward to the next season. Compared to the last seven seasons, there is a lot of hope this year. If they could use that hope, Hyundai will be crowned again in the Manufacturer’s category.
Just as last year, the three major Works (manufacturer’s teams) – Hyundai, Toyota, and M-Sport Ford – will compete with each other for this season. But this is actually a battle between Hyundai and Toyota. Considering that Ford and Toyota have been veterans since 1973 – the first year of the WRC – the rise of the newbie is quite astonishing.
Hyundai suffered a series of misfortunes
In the Monte Carlo rally – the opening round – Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier won, but Hyundai immediately took action; Tanak won the Round 2 Arctic Rally in Rovaniemi, Laplant, northern Finland. Hyundai and Toyota have competed fiercely from the beginning, but this summer was exceptionally harsh for Hyundai. Even though their rally cars were faster, they retired more because of a series of unfortunate accidents.
At the beginning of the 4th Rally Portugal, Ott Tanak, Dani Sordo, and Thierry Neuville of Hyundai were taking 1st to 3rd places. But soon Tanak and Neuville retired one after another. In the Italian rally after that, Tanak suffered a series of accidents while taking the lead, and Sordo’s car also broke down. Neuville, while maintaining the lead in the 6th Safari Rally in Kenya, Africa, lost the championship due to an unfortunate suspension problem on the last day. In the 7th round of Rally Estonia, Tanak, who was driving relentlessly in the beginning, gave up on the race after a series of flat tires.
In the midsummer, when the competition was increasingly fierce, a series of bad luck discouraged the team. Of course, accidents, retirement, and even luck are the things that challengers must deal with. At the end of the season, Neuville won Round 8 Belgian Rally and Round 11 Spanish Rally, Tanak finished second in Rally Greece and Rally Finland, and Sordo finished third both in Rally Spain and Rally Monza; still, it was not enough to change the result.
As a result, in the 2021 season, Toyota (520 points), who finished the final Monza Rally with a one-two finish, took the manufacturer’s championship title. Hyundai (462 points) finished the season second. Thierry Neuville, with 176 points, was third in Driver’s Points, following Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans. Ott Tanak (128 points), who could not participate in the final rally, placed 5th, and Dani Sordo finished sixth with 81 points just from 7 rallies. For reference, with Neuville taking two victories in Belgium and Spain, plus Tanak’s win in the Arctic Rally, Hyundai Team won three times in 12 rallies at the 2021 season. In addition, the team recorded 5 double podiums and 17 podium finishes. Neuville also took the most extra points on the Power Stage throughout the season. Except for Kenya and Finland rally he retired at, he scored additional points in all the power stages, with a total score of 35.
Hyundai conquered the special stage
Looking at the details of the record, it is clear that Hyundai did well this season. Each rally in the WRC, teams add additional points from multiple Special Stages(SS). In the 2019 season, when Hyundai won the first WRC championship title, they won 66 times in a total of 224 season-wide special stages, with a win rate of 29.5%. That ratio increased to 48.6% in the 2020 season, 6.3 percentage points higher than that of rival Toyota; For reference, winning a stage means that the rally car ran faster than other competitors, so it becomes an important indicator of the performance of a rally car.
A total of 12 rallies were held this season; and with Hyundai conquering 108 out of 214 special stages, the team recorded a win rate of a whopping 50.7%. This means that Hyundai was the fastest at more than half of all the special stages. However, it seems like it was too much stress for Hyundai to defend the champion for three consecutive years. The team did quite aggressively for winning, and this would have led to an accident or a puncture. What’s clear is that Hyundai didn’t just end the season chasing rivals, but that they were taking the lead at first and then suffered from unexpected accidents, which forced them to give up.
Other than that, looking at the results this season, there is some hope; First of all, Hyundai stood on the podium for the first time this year in Rally Finland as the away team. Until now, Rally Finland has been dominated by Toyota, which has a headquarters here. So, it is noteworthy just with the fact that Hyundai stood on the podium – double podium in 2nd and 3rd place simultaneously.
In addition, the record of the Tarmac Rally, which has been pointed out as Hyundai’s weakness, has also improved. The team won double podiums in the Belgian and Spanish rallies, especially in Belgium, where Neuville, who had a home ground advantage, took the trophy. As with this season, the 2022 WRC has four Tarmac Rally, so overcoming weaknesses in the Tarmac Rally raises expectations for Hyundai’s retake of the championship.
Oliver Solberg – a member of the team’s driver program – is also notable. Born in 2001 and turning 20 this year, Solberg is the son of 2003 season WRC champion Petter Solberg; In other words, he is a second-generation driver who received elite education from an early age. He originally competed in the WRC2 class this season, but in the previous Arctic Rally, he finished 7th in Hyundai’s second team – C2 Competition – in his i20 Coupe WRC Rally Car. His record of fifth place in the final round of the Monza Rally is Solberg’s personal best performance, showing that he is quickly adapting to the new environment. Seeing his potential, Hyundai decided to board Solberg along with Sordo in the team’s third rally car for the 2022 season.
Hyundai is preparing for the 2022 season with big changes
Finishing the season, the team is gearing up for a cataclysmic 2022 season after a short break. In 2022, the era of the WRC ‘World Rally Car’, which has lasted for the past 20 years, will come to an end, and the era of ‘Rally 1’ will open. Developing new cars and quickly adapting to the changing environment become crucial. Christian Loriaux is supporting the team as an external technical advisor for this massive project. Loriaux, who was a professional driver himself and worked in M-Sport for a long time since then, is one of the best designers in WRC.
The most important part of the Rally 1 regulations is an eco-friendly hybrid drivetrain. The hybrid module supplied by the German manufacturer Compact Dynamics is provided equally to all teams, giving additional power to the current 1.6L turbo engine. A 100kW (134hp), 180Nm motor, battery, inverter, and management device are covered with a carbon housing and connected between the propeller shaft and the rear differential. There is also a regenerative braking function that converts kinetic energy into electricity when slowing down. In the designated section during the race, the cars will have to turn off the engine and use only the motor, just like electric vehicles.
Another big change is the introduction of the tubular steel space frame, which has been used for a long time since Group B. As the monocoque body – the only mass-produced part in the current WRC – disappears, it becomes possible to use more diverse rally cars. Therefore, the rally cars of the next season will likely be closer to a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ – getting much more powerful in the body of a current mass-produced car. In addition, a future rally car can house synthetic fuels to reduce emissions and artificial intelligence cameras for monitoring. Various changes will help reduce production costs as well; in a more simplified suspension configuration, the transmission uses the same 5-speed (current 6-speed) as in the Rally 2. Also, the active center differential, rear diffuser, and water-cooled brake are prohibited to reduce the production cost. In addition, the technology used in the next-generation hybrid rally car is expected to have a significant impact on the technological development of eco-friendly mass-produced cars in the future – just as the rally car technology so far has helped develop high-performance mass-produced cars.
A lot of changes are expected for the 2022 season WRC – a completely new hybrid rally car, changed regulations, etc. New cars are being tested under a high level of security, making it difficult for everyone to anticipate. However, in terms of driver lineup, Hyundai seems quite advantageous; in the following season, Toyota will only participate in a part of the rally after the team ace Ogier decided to retire. On the other hand, Hyundai has Neuville and Tanak with fine performances, with Sordo and Solberg sharing the team’s third rally car. Hyundai Team’s driver lineup, which is a combination of the strong two – a veteran and a rising star – will show steady performance even in the new era of hybrid cars.
By Sujin Lee, 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 and the Editor-in-Chief for 〈Car Life〉 and 〈Car Vision〉, I have started a new career as an auto critic. 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.