The 2016 season may be far from concluded, but on planet WRC, thoughts have been very much centred on the upcoming 2017 campaign for a long time. With sweeping regulation changes on the horizon, each of the existing teams, plus new boys Toyota, have had their noses to grindstone developing and testing a whole new breed of WRC charges.
Jostling for position at the front of the queue is Hyundai. The Korean outfit, currently second in the WRC manufacturers’ classification on 201 points, is in the midst of its most productive WRC season to date, with victories in Argentina and Sardinia and an additional four podiums on other rounds.
Away from competition, Hyundai Motorsport has taken time out of its packed development schedule to present a preview of its future WRC challenger at the 2016 Paris Motor Show. The prototype car, based on the three-door road-going i20, has already been put through its paces across numerous locations in Europe since it rolled out of the factory in April. Whilst initial work centred on engine and powertrain testing, more recently technicians have turned their attention to fine tuning the suspension, differential and aero package for the varying combinations of surfaces and conditions likely to be faced by the 2017 challenger.
WRC regulations for the 2017 season also offer teams more power, an increase to 380HP, more downforce, Electronic Active central differential and the ability to compete with longer and wider vehicles.
The Paris prototype is perhaps the best reflection yet of the scope of these wide-reaching 2017 rule changes, which entail an increase in power to 380bhp, greater downforce, the addition of an Electronic Active central differential as well as less restrictive limits on the length and width of the competition cars. Nowhere is the greater aerodynamic freedom more evident than in the construction of the towering rear spoiler which dwarfs that of its 2016 predecessor. More in the way of air-scything apparatus is in evidence at the front end, with a much extended splitter sweeping up to a pair of aggressively flared wheel arches.
Although we love it’s snazzy ‘N’ division theme, the black and white livery on show in Paris is only an interim version, with the final specification and look of the car set to be kept under wraps until December. Until then, Hyundai has an extensive testing programme lined up at the backend of 2016 in order to further fine-tune the car ahead of its full debut at Rallye Monte-Carlo next January.
Meanwhile, WRC fans can catch Hyundai’s current crop in action this weekend at the tenth round of the 2016 Championship, Tour de Corse – Rallye de France. Two of the three-strong driver line-up, Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon, are sure to get their hands on the 2017 hardware having both agreed deals to stay with the team until 2018. They’ll be joined by the third member of the stable Thierry Neuville, whose WRC future is less certain, on the classic Mediterranean event all this weekend.