Hyundai’s 2016 WRC challenger has finally broken cover at the Korean outfit’s European HQ in Germany. Based on the company’s latest generation i20 road-going hatchback that debuted back in Noverber 2014, the WRC homologation was originally meant to roll into battle midway through the 2015 season. However, setbacks in the production of the three-door i20 variant prompted a rethink, and emphasis at Hyundai shifted to preparing the five-door hatch for a competitive debut at Rally Monte Carlo 2016.
The car that will challenge the likes of the Ford Fiesta RS and the all-conquering Volkswagen Polo R in the world’s premier rallying completion will feature a slightly revised livery and has already accumulated 8,000km of testing prior to launch. According to those at the wheel during these tests, including the retained 2015 driver line-up of Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon, the new i20 has proven itself both faster and easier to handle than its predecessor.
Additionally, we now know the specifics of Hyundai motorsport’s 2016 WRC title assault; and its very much a horses for courses approach. Whilst three i20 WRCs will take to the stages on each of the 2016 events, only two will score championship points for the brand’s senior ‘Shell World Rally Team’ squad. Cars #1 and #2 will be accompanied by car #20 on each rally, flying the flag for Hyundai’s second-string ‘Mobis World Rally Team’.
However, in an intriguing move, no one driver shall be allocated to a specific car, with team principle Michel Nandan instead favouring a fluid ‘pick and mix’ policy. This means all three men will take turns representing the flagship Hyundai squad depending on how each individual event suits their relative skillset. Expect to see the Neuville-Sordo combination deployed on asphalt-based events such as France and Germany, where both have previously taken victories, whilst Kiwi gravel specialist Paddon will most likely take centre stage at off-road events such as Rally Wales GB and his nominal home rally in Australia. It’s a strategy that will hopfully enable Hyundai to close the gap to Volkswagen in the manufactures’ standings, whilst not hindering each individual pilot’s fortunes in the drivers’ standings.
The team will begin its third season in with two new generation i20 WRCs and one 2015 model at Rallye Monte-Carlo before the third updated version joins the fleet from round two in Sweden onwards.
Another familiar face retained for another season on-board the Hyundai bandwagon is rising Dutch star Kevin Abbring, who will continue his duties as the team’s official test driver. Abbring’s 2016 brief includes a handful of run-outs on selected WRC rounds in a fourth i20 however his main focus will be on the ongoing development and testing of the team’s 2017 WRC car.