Alzenau, Germany – With a snazzy new colour scheme, an unexpected five-door body shell and non-matching colours for its lightweight wheels, Hyundai Motorsport’s latest WRC charger looked the part as it was revealed at the team’s new home close to Stuttgart.
The unveiling of the New Generation i20 WRC marks the opening of an exciting new chapter in Hyundai Motorsport’s short history, building on two successful seasons in the World Rally Championship environment.
But why the change in colour and the five-door configuration, and what’s with the mismatched wheels?
Well, according to Hyundai’s chief designer Thomas Bürkle the interesting blue-grey paint scheme for the 2016 WRC car could become the signature colour for Hyundai’s N performance brand.
The five-door shell was a forced decision due to regulations stipulating that a certain number of a specific derivative need to be built to qualify for WRC homologation.
And the wheels? Well, while this could not be confirmed it apparently reflects the different wheel colours chosen for Shell and Mobis, Hyundai Motorsport’s main sponsors…
Hyundai Motorsport’s new home
The presentation venue was particularly of interest as it took place in the heart of what is to become Hyundai’s customer racing headquarters and the birthplace of the company's upcoming R5 rally car, also based on the new generation i20.
On hand for the reveal were Hyundai Motorsport drivers Dani Sordo, Hayden Paddon and Thierry Neuville, as well as development driver Kevin Abbring, introduced by Team Principal Michel Nandan.
In his address Nandan said the young team is entering an exciting phase in its journey which will reinforce its commitment and ambition in the competitive WRC community.
Since inception the team’s cars proved to be both quick and reliable, securing a maiden win in Germany in 2013. From there, the team enjoyed a more consistent second season, scoring four podium finishes and fighting for second place in the Manufacturers' Championship right up to the season finale.
Early this year the team committed to a year-long test and development programme for a WRC specification of the road-going New Generation i20, and it has already accumulated 8 000km of testing.
It has proven to be quicker than its predecessor, with the team's drivers also praising its improved drivability.
Nandan said: “We have come a long way since our inaugural foundation year and our performance in last season's championship gave us renewed optimism for the future.
“The new generation i20 WRC is the product of a full year of development and with a more experienced team we should now raise our objectives. The competition remains strong and we know our rivals will not ease in their pursuit for victory but we want to take the fight to them in 2016.”
Three cars in 2016 WRC
Hyundai will field three cars in every round of the 2016 Championship, with Sordo, Paddon and Neuville all confirmed for a full season of WRC.
From Monte Carlo in January to a new-look season finale in Australia and a brand new event in China, the trio will share the #3, #4 and #20 cars during the season.
"We have worked with Dani, Hayden and Thierry for two seasons now, so it is a real benefit to us that we can continue our partnership with all of them,” Nandan added.
“They’ve all experienced the new car and given positive reviews, so I'm looking forward to this season. I'm convinced we have the most versatile driver line-up in WRC and we want to use that to our advantage."
New car is better and faster
Sordo said he’s very motivated and can't wait to start the season. “We had a reasonable season overall this year; we showed some good speed and set some promising times, but on a few rallies our final position didn't reflect our pace.
Sordo said: “I have a lot of faith in the new car. It is better and faster, with a good engine and chassis. I believe 2016 will be a good year for me and the team.”
Paddon echoed his sentiments: “With the combination of the new car and another year of experience under our belts, I am confident we can fight at the front – especially in the gravel events.
“I'm excited about the i20 WRC. In the tests we have carried out so far, the car has been a big step up in all areas from the previous version, and it really suits my driving style better.”
However, he warned that while testing has been positive, “we never really know quite how we will stack up against the competition until we are on the stages – so in that regard we are all anxious to get the season started”.
The Belgian Neuville said he has a lot of confidence in the new car. “It’s all new compared to the current version and I’m positive we will be closer to our main rivals.”
The team has also retained the services of rising Dutch star Kevin Abbring who will remain Hyundai Motorsport’s test driver. Abbring will contest selected WRC rounds in a fourth car, but his primary focus will be on managing the development of the team's 2017 WRC car and its R5 activities.
The R5 project, falling under the banner of Hyundai Motorsport's customer racing division, will be further developed to be homologated by mid-2016, before orders for private teams will be opened in the second part of the year.