Refined 2014 i20 to stand in until new car is ready
Hot on the heels of WRC champions Volkswagen displaying fresh 2015 livery comes the introduction of Hyundai’s updated challenger, the i20 WRC.
A refined version of the car the Korean team used in its 2014 WRC debut season, it will see action in at least the first six events of the 2015 season, before an all-new model – which commenced testing late last year – comes on-stream.
Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal Michel Nandan spoke of the team’s 2015 strategy in the lead-up to Rally Monte Carlo, which commences on 22 January. “We have one full season of experience in the car and we will continue to evolve it this year,” he said. “We are currently planning to introduce some engine upgrades in the first part of the season as well as some other components which we tested over the winter, which we hope will give us additional performance gains.
“At the same time, we will be working on the next Hyundai WRC car, based on the New Generation i20 Coupe. We have had a lot of support from Hyundai around the world following our inaugural season and it is a pleasure to welcome Hyundai Mobis, Hyundai Steel and Hyundai WIA as official partners of the team in 2015.”
As ever, Nandan was competitive, but realistic: “The competition in WRC is fierce and we are up against more established and experienced teams, so our learning is never over. We need to raise our game a bit more to get closer to the leading competitors. We have a lot of work to do but we are in WRC to win rallies, so we are pushing ourselves to the maximum of our ability at all times.”
The team aims to run two i20 WRC cars in each of the 13 events that make up this year’s WRC. Team leader Thierry Neuville, who gave Hyundai Motorsport its inaugural WRC victory at Rally Germany, 2014, will appear at all events, along with the experienced Dani Sordo in the second car.
From the second round in Sweden there will be a third car for young Kiwi sensation Hayden Paddon, who increases his appearances behind the wheel from nine events in 2014 to 12 this season.
Neuville said: “I am delighted to be a Hyundai Shell World Rally Team driver for a second consecutive season and I’m looking forward to continuing our progress. We had a very positive 2014 season with a win and several podiums but our focus is on showing constant improvements in every area of the team operation. We have a great bunch of people involved in this programme, a great car in the Hyundai i20 WRC and the right mentality, which I am sure will deliver us results.”
Sordo, meanwhile, welcomes the chance to return to the WRC on a full-time basis after sporadic events in 2014: “This will be an important season for me and for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team. We showed last year what we are capable of when everything goes well, so we have to take all of that experience and deliver improvements at each rally. I took part in half of the rallies last season so I am definitely pleased to have more time in the car and more events this year.”
Paddon, who was unlucky not to gain the number two drive, is nevertheless optimistic: “It’s fantastic to remain part of Hyundai Motorsport in 2015. The team has shown great faith in me and I was proud to play a part in an historic first season. With a more comprehensive programme this year, starting from Sweden, I am aiming to make further progress and deliver the results I know we are capable of.”
Young gun Kevin Abbring has also been announced as the team’s official test driver throughout 2015.
With some improvement ‘jokers’ still available to the team, expect a further leap in performance from the i20 WRC before the new model makes its debut. Will it be closer to the updated VW Polo, though? Only rally time will tell.