Korean firm takes the wraps off the 2017 chal­lenger. By E MN’S

Motor Sport News - - Wrc 2017 Launch: Hyundai -

ight months and close to 4,000 test­ing miles have led us here. Monza. And with De­cem­ber just a hand­ful of hours old, the united fo­cus of the watch­ing world rests on a black dust­sheet.

Rarely have so many pairs of eyes men­tally un­dressed one thing so com­pre­hen­sively. In fair­ness, it wasn’t dif­fi­cult. Such were the curves and creases in the line of the ma­te­rial, it would have taken an in­vis­i­bil­ity cloak to hide such an ob­vi­ous shape.

That shape was, of course, Hyundai’s i20 Coupe WRC. And Hyundai’s i20 Coupe WRC is the shape of things to come in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship.

The first thing you no­tice is just how much ma­te­rial it takes to cover the new car – pre-launch con­fir­ma­tion that the next gen­er­a­tion of World Rally Cars are that much longer and wider than their pre­de­ces­sors. And still we wait. We’ve waited all year, a few more min­utes are nei­ther here nor there.

Af­ter a bit of pre­am­ble from Hyundai Mo­tor­sport pres­i­dent Gy­ooheon Choi, team prin­ci­pal Michel Nan­dan talks through the high­lights of the Korean man­u­fac­turer’s im­pres­sive 2016 sea­son be­fore invit­ing the drivers up to join him. Get­ting close now. “Per­haps,” says Nan­dan, “it’s time to see the new car…”

In a pre-pre­pared move, the drivers slide into po­si­tion and pick up a cor­ner.

Here goes… about to whip the sheet off, they’re stopped in their tracks as the host steps in to warn on­look­ers to re­main in their seats un­til the of­fi­cial pho­to­graphs are done. And go.

Un­cov­ered. Every­body’s up, out of their seat. It’s that kind of mo­ment. That kind of car. Monza’s not ex­actly the most ral­ly­fo­cused place, but this is north­ern Italy and our sport’s her­itage is never far away. And given the looks of Hyundai’s third new World Rally Car in four years, un­veil­ing it at the cathe­dral of speed is quite apt. Dani Sordo catches my eye. The Spa­niard grins: “Tour­ing car, eh…” He’s not wrong. At first glimpse, it’s def­i­nitely more DTM than WRC, all an­gled arches, scoops, split­ters, fins and wings. And it’s low. Boy, is it low. Ad­mit­tedly, it’s been launched in asphalt trim, but Sordo and I pon­der the tran­si­tion to gravel. “It’s hard to imag­ine with all of the mud,” he says. “It looks fan­tas­tic like this, but it will look dif­fer­ent in gravel trim. And for the snow, like this, we will be… [cue snow­plough-like im­pres­sion] with the snow com­ing over the top!”

Hav­ing seen the ho­molo­ga­tion il­lus­tra­tions, Volk­swa­gen’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Fran­cois-xavier De­mai­son warned me there was some aero­lairi­ness on the hori­zon. With all the bits bolted on, the i20 Coupe WRC’S not go­ing to be short on down­force. Or speed. “Spain,” says Sordo’s team-mate Hay­den Pad­don with­out a mo­ment’s hesitation. “That’s where we’re go­ing to see the big­gest dif­fer­ence. The Tar­mac stages in Catalunya are fast, wide and quite like a race­track – that’s where we’re go­ing to see the big­gest dif­fer­ence in speed from th­ese cars. And Fin­land, of course.” But what will that dif­fer­ence be? “That’s hard to say, it re­ally does de­pend on the road,” says Pad­don, clearly pon­der­ing his chances of side-step­ping the ne­ces­sity for a num­ber. Not a chance.

“OK,” he says. “I would say it could be as much as a sec­ond per kilo­me­tre quicker than this year’s car in some places.”

Hyundai launched the new i20 car in Tar­mac spec

David Evans chats to ris­ing star Hay­den Pad­don

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