The 2016 WRC season has barely drawn to a close but, courtesy of Hyundai Motorsport, we already have our first real taste of what to expect from the radically revamped format next year.
A whole plethora of regulation changes promises to make the 2017 WRC season the most adrenaline-pumping in the sport’s recent history and the Korean manufacturer is the first to show off its newly developed hardware ahead of the upcoming campaign.
Unveiled to the world’s media at Italy’s Autodromo Nazionale in Monza, the three-door i20 Coupe WRC is the team’s third new car since its WRC debut in 2014. Entering its fourth WRC season, the team hopes to build on a positive period of growth. Built to exploit the new, more lax design regulations, the 2017 i20 Coupe sports a much more aggressive aero package than either of its predecessors. Highly flared wheel arches, a prominent rear diffuser and – most strikingly – a far chunkier rear spoiler, set the template for what we can expect to see in the 2017 WRC stable. The car’s overall weight has dropped, whilst Hyundai engineers have also been granted more freedom to optimise mechanical grip through enhanced traction control systems. And that’s not to mention the mouth-watering hike in engine power which will see next year’s machines endowed with a boosted 380bhp.
Tasked with taming Hyundai’s new generation of WRC beasts will be an unchanged driver line-up, putting an end to speculation that 2016 championship runner-up Thierry Neuville would leave the team. The Belgian, buoyed by an excellent run of form at the tail-end of last season, will join New Zealander Hayden Paddon and experienced Spanish campaigner Dani Sordo in what would appear to be one of the most settled squads in the service park. All three men will contest every round of the 2017 championship under the single banner of the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team, with the top two ranked drivers scoring manufacturers’ points for the squad at each event.
Since its debut season in 2014, Hyundai has made steady progress in establishing itself as a major force at rallying’s top-table. Third in the manufacturer’s in 2015 and runner-up to a dominant Volkswagen last year, the German team’s absence plus the sweeping rule changes have left Hyundai team principle Michel Nandan in no doubt as to his target for the new season.
“All teams are starting from scratch so we are on equal footing. Having finished in a fighting second in 2016, we want to demonstrate our ability to fight for the Championship next season”.
Will Hyundai really be the team to beat in 2017? Much will depend on the how quickly its trio of pilots can get to grips with their new machinery when the first competitive blows are traded at Rally Monte Carlo next January .