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