The COVID-19 pandemic made the 2020 season a nightmare for the motorsports industry - not only local auto races but even global motorsports. The same was true of the WRC. The safety of the crew along with the athletes had to be a top priority, so the race was carefully canceled and the schedule was adjusted. The number of confirmed patients worldwide has soared, and it took nearly half a year for the season to resume after the third round.
However, despite the turmoil, the Hyundai World Rally Team (hereinafter Hyundai Rally Team) did not yield the Manufacturer Championship they got in 2019. It was a breathtaking match with the biggest rival Toyota Gazoo Racing Team (hereinafter Toyota Rally Team) throughout the season and eventually snatched the championship cup, recreating what happened in the 2019 season. In fact, the Hyundai Rally Team was a bit behind the Toyota Rally Team in ㅣㅣthe early and mid-season despite Thierry Neuville's victory at the opening race. Then things changed in the second half of the season; every time the first and second drivers make mistakes, the third drivers did outstanding performances. It could not be more thrilling because it was the second victory by only 5 points.
The Hyundai Rally Team looked more energetic than ever, even though they all had to wear face masks; maybe it's because the team made already made a few mistakes they had to fix. In particular, it should be more meaningful for the team with two winnings so far.
The Hyundai Rally Team has released a list of players ahead of the start of the new season. The biggest change is that Thierry Neuville, who has been a key player from the very beginning, has got a new co-driver in 10 years. At the time of joining the Hyundai Rally Team, Neuville, who became a veteran for 13 years from the promising Super Rookie, is drawing attention from rally fans as to what kind of 'chemistry' he will have with the newly joined Martijn Wydaeghe.
After joining the Hyundai Rally Team last year, Ott Tanak, who ranked third for a solid performance with almost no ups and downs, is considered one of the most anticipated drivers of the year. He enters a new season once again with Martin Jarveoja, who has been his co-driver for a long time. In addition, as he was proven to be a good match for the team's mascot Thierry Neuville, it is expected to help the team win the manufacturer championship again this season.
The two players' solid performance was remarkable, yet there were supporting actors indispensable to the Hyundai Rally Team's second straight victory; the drivers in the third car, that's who. It would have been difficult to defend the manufacturer's title in the mid-to-late-season, without Dani Sordo's Italian rally win and the third car drivers. That's why Dani Sordo and Craig Breen shine even more.
Unlike last year when three players drove the third car, two players will switch seats for this 2021 season. Both Sordo and Breen are indispensable for the Hyundai Rally Team who achieved good results every time, and they are expected to greatly contribute to the team's goal of winning the third championship this season once again.
Compared to last season, the race cars that will run this season's rally courses do not show a lot of changes except for a few parts suppliers, such as seats and harnesses. There will be a cataclysmic change to the hybrid powertrain system in 2022, so the change this year seems to be relatively insignificant.
Even so, the biggest part of the changes for this season would be the change of tire supplier from Michelin to Pirelli. Because each tire manufacturer has different compound characteristics in their tires, it is important that drivers adapt to changes in driving characteristics that determine the success or failure of the season.
The most striking change of the Hyundai Rally Team's new rally car is the external look. The strong impression was emphasized by increasing the red color in the symbolic Tricolore. Moreover, the aerodynamic performance was maximized by enhancing the aero parts and rear spoiler structure. Hyundai Rally Team's race car based on the second-generation i20 has been boasting excellent competitiveness on various road surfaces for many years, so it is expected to run the rally course without hesitation this season.
As usual, the first rally of the season will take place in Monte Carlo. The Hyundai Rally Team has good memories of the Monte Carlo Rally. This is because Thierry Neuville stood at the top of the podium last year. The 127-kilometer-long course as great as its 110-year history, and the highly challenging blind corners and snowy terrain are where any professional rally driver would dream of winning at least once.
In the first round rally held from January 21st to 24th, Hyundai Rally Team will go with Ott Tanak, Thierry Neuville, and Dani Sordo to win the opening match. In particular, Thierry Neuville has been steadily boosting the ranks every year in Monte Carlo, and is expected to show good results just as the last season's victory. However, this season, there is no shakedown for players to adapt to the course, and with the new tires, there would be less to be sure of the outcome.
Unlike last season when the schedule was greatly reduced and made the rally fans disappointed, the 2021 season consists of much more various courses. The Belgium Rally and Japan Rally, which were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, will be held in August and November, respectively; and the Safari Rally Kenya, which left a strong impression on rally fans back in the 90s, is expected to come back in June.
In addition, new courses that have not been seen before will be added this year, such as the Arctic Rally Finland and the Croatia Rally in northern Finland. The WRC's favorite Rally Portugal, Finland, Chile, and Spain are also included in the schedule, providing diverse excitement compared to the previous season.
As the season begins, Ott Tanak, the first driver of the Hyundai Rally Team, aims to win the second driver's championship since the 2019 season. Ahead of the season's opening, he said, “Last year, events were often canceled and replaced, and it was not easy to concentrate on the season. I believe that I will be stronger in the 2021 season because the Hyundai Rally Team is with me.”
Thierry Neuville, who has been with the Hyundai Rally Team since the very beginning, feels the same. “During the eight seasons working with the Hyundai Rally Team, we watched our progress every year with constant effort, and the team finally won two championships. I saw other teammates making good results for a long time, and I know I can do the same,” he expressed his love and faith in the Hyundai Rally Team.
In addition, Hyundai Rally Team manager Andrea Adamo said, “For this year's season, we will take the same approach as last year's. As we are facing fierce competition, such as having to adapt to a new tire (Pirelli), we will fight for victory until the very end," clearly aiming for their third victory.
The strong teamwork of the Hyundai Rally Team and the performance of the i20 Coupe WRC rally car have already been proven through the two manufacturer championships. This makes it even more believable when Adamo and the drivers showed determination toward the championship for the new season. Let's look forward to seeing what the Hyundai Rally Team will do in the 2021 season, and whether the team will be able to succeed in winning their third manufacturer's championship and even the driver's.
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
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