When Hyundai rally car entered the World Rally Championship in 2014, few initially expected serious competition from the South Korean brand new to top-level rallying. But within a few short seasons, Hyundai proved doubters wrong by rapidly developing potent rally racers like the i20 WRC. Let’s look at Hyundai’s impressive growth into race-winning WRC competitors.
Hyundai Rally Car Ambitious Goal for a Newcomer
Hyundai officially announced its WRC participation in 2012, giving the engineering team just over a year to design and build a car for the 2014 championship. Skeptics wondered if Hyundai could produce a successful rally car so quickly when veteran makes like Ford and Subaru took years developing racers.
But Hyundai motorsport staff including team principal Michel Nandan had past WRC experience at Peugeot and knew the monumental effort required. The challenging goal? Score a podium within 3 years of joining WRC.
Birth of the i20 WRC Rally Car
Rather than modifying an existing model, Hyundai took the ambitious path of designing a bespoke rally car from scratch. Hyundai based their new racer loosely on the i20 road car, but the i20 WRC featured extensive modifications allowed under World Rally Car rules.
The chassis grew wider and lower with an FIA-approved spaceframe. Hyundai developed a new 1.6L turbocharged engine and 6-speed sequential gearbox specifically for rallying durability. Custom suspension with increased travel improved handling on variable surfaces. Aerodynamic elements added downforce and cooling.
Early Struggles but Promising Pace
In their inaugural 2014 season, Hyundai struggled with the new car’s reliability. Engine failures and transmission issues often sidelined the i20 WRC before the finish. But when running cleanly, the i20 showed promise matching the pace of veteran teams. Signs emerged that Hyundai had the potential to compete.
The drivers also needed time to adjust to the car’s characteristics. Thierry Neuville scored Hyundai’s best result that first year – an impressive 4th in Germany. Consistency eventually came as Hyundai racked up mileage and data to refine the package.
Hyundai Rally Car First Podiums and Wins
In only their second season, Hyundai reached their goal of a podium three years early, with Neuville finishing 3rd in Rally Argentina in 2015. More podiums soon followed as the i20 WRC became a regular top-three finisher.
In 2016, Hyundai scored their breakthrough first victory in Germany driven by Neuville. 2017 saw two more wins for the Belgian along with a second-place championship finish. The capable i20 was now firmly a WRC contender just as Hyundai envisioned.
Ongoing Evolution to the i20 WRC Plus
Building on success, Hyundai continually evolved the i20 WRC racer from its 2015 introduction through 2020. Engine power grew from 380 to 380hp. The addition of electronic center differentials optimized traction and handling balance. Hyundai also exploited chassis flexibility to run either a traditional handbrake or an electronic hydropneumatic system.
Reliability improved through careful analysis and component strengthening. These enhancements paid off with consistently quicker stage times and podium contention.
Hyundai Rally Car Established as Championship Threat
Hyundai’s progress curved upward over six WRC seasons. Once thought of as underdogs, the team became respected title threats. Consistent development work extended the i20’s competitiveness against newer cars from Toyota and Ford.
Hyundai proved wrong the naysayers who expected little from the ambitious South Korean upstarts. Thanks to intelligent design, analysis, and a motivated team, Hyundai converted rally success from dream to reality. In a short span, Hyundai propelled themselves to the WRC’s elite ranks.