This year is particularly significant for Hyundai Motorsport GmbH as it marks the 10th anniversary of their return to the WRC at the 2014 Monaco Rally under the name ‘Hyundai Motorsport.’ With a major revamp in 2023, under the leadership of ex-F1 director Cyril Abiteboul and rally-hardened legendary technical director François-Xavier Demaison, Hyundai has reimagined its team for 2024. The team welcomes back former drivers Ott Tänak and Andreas Mikkelsen, rounding off a robust lineup as it eyes the 2024 championship title. Thierry Neuville and Tänak will compete throughout the season, while Esapekka Lappi, Dani Sordo, and Mikkelsen will share the third car.
Major changes are also in store for the race rules, aimed at spicing up competition until Sunday. The scoring system has been completely overhauled, with a provisional 15 points available based on Saturday’s results, and up to an additional 7 points (plus 5 for the Power Stage) available based on Sunday’s performance.
This season’s calendar sees several changes. With Mexico and Estonia out, Poland Rally makes a comeback after seven years, and Latvia is newly added. The Kenya Safari Rally, traditionally held in June, has been moved to March. With the onset of the monsoon around Easter, the already challenging Safari stage is expected to become even more daunting.
The 2024 season opener will, as usual, commence in Monte Carlo. Though a small city-state, most of the rally stages are located in France. Gap, a major city in the southeastern French Alps and a key course in the ‘Tour de France,’ has long been a familiar Rally Monte Carlo venue. Note that, after two years with the rally headquarters in Monte Carlo, the 2024 season will see a return to Gap.
Replacing Estonia, the Poland Rally was one of the original WRC venues in 1973. Following its debut, it vanished the next year, and hosting such a major Western event in Poland during the Cold War was remarkable. After a long hiatus, the Poland Rally briefly reappeared in the calendar in 2009 and then consistently from 2014 to 2017. Neuville from Hyundai secured a win there in 2017. The Poland Rally is known for its dirt and gravel surfaces, offering high-speed stages due to relatively fewer corners.
Rally Latvia is a brand-new event for the WRC. Situated just below Estonia, Latvia was part of the Soviet Union until its independence in 1991, just before the Soviet dissolution, and is now a NATO-affiliated Western nation. Latvia, along with its neighboring Estonia and Lithuania, is commonly referred to as the Baltic States.
Rally Latvia, organized in 2013 and based in Liepāja, Latvia’s third-largest city near the Baltic Sea, was the first international motorsport event post-Soviet independence. It has been part of the Latvian Rally Championship and a round of the European Rally Championship (ERC). Originally known as Liepāja Rally or Tet Rally Liepāja, it’s now referred to as Rally Latvia. Hyundai’s Lappi and Craig Breen clinched victories there in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Rally Latvia will expand its scale as it makes its WRC debut. The opening ceremony and a Super Special Stage will kick off in the capital Riga on Thursday, followed by stages in the western regions of Tukums and Talsi on Friday. The rally will conclude over the weekend around the coastal city of Liepāja. The WRC calendar then follows the same order as 2023, moving through Finland, Greece, Chile, Central Europe, and concluding in Japan.
Recently, there have been significant changes within the Hyundai team structure. Following the departure of Andrea Adamo as director at the end of the 2021 season, Julien Moncet, responsible for powertrains, stepped in as an interim director amidst the hurried completion of the i20 N Rally1 Hybrid for the 2022 season’s start. Despite these challenges, Tanak achieved 3 wins for second place in the championship, and Neuville took third in 2023. However, the team faced difficulties during Tanak’s absence.
Lappi filled Tanak’s seat, with the third car being assigned to Sordo and Breen. The interim directorship lasted for two seasons, then there was a surprise announcement just before the 2023 season opener: the new director was none other than Cyril Abiteboul, a familiar name to F1 fans. The Frenchman, who had been active mainly on the F1 circuit with Renault F1, Caterham, and Mecachrome, faced immediate challenges upon his appointment. In April 2023, Breen’s accident during a test run shocked many, prompting Hyundai to promote Teemu Suninen from the WRC2 program to fill in for the deceased.
Upon assuming his role, the new director was immediately confronted with challenges. With a steadfast resolve, he began to navigate the uncharted waters of the rally world, meticulously addressing the most pressing issues first and foremost. One pivotal move in this strategic chess game was the acquisition of a technical director. Enter François-Xavier Demaison, a titan of engineering, who not only steered Volkswagen through its golden epoch in the WRC but also brought a wealth of experience from the high-octane arenas of F1 and rallycross. The continued involvement of Christian Loriaux, a sage in the realm of technical consultancy, now as the WRC program manager, further fortified the organizational bastion.
Cyril Abiteboul, the captain at the helm, now dons dual hats as the director of the Hyundai Team and the Executive Director of Hyundai Motorsport GmbH (HMSG). Stepping into the shoes left by the former executive Kim Seon-pyong in 2022, he is poised to lead both the mighty HMSG and the indomitable Hyundai team towards the lofty pinnacle of securing the 2024 WRC championship title. Whispered in the corridors of the motorsport world is the tale of his relentless efforts that were crucial in the re-signing of Ott Tanak.
In the grand theater of the 2024 season, the Hyundai team orchestrates a dramatic reshuffle in its lineup of gladiators, welcoming back Tanak into its fold. They construct a formidable duo with Neuville and Tanak, while the third steed, the i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, will be shared amongst a triumvirate of drivers. Lappi, once a full-time combatant in 2023, now adopts the role of a part-time warrior. Alongside him, the steady and unyielding Spanish driver Dani Sordo is enlisted for an 11th consecutive year. In a masterstroke, Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2023 WRC2 champion, is added to this illustrious cohort. Each warrior not only bears the laurels of individual WRC round victories but also includes among them a world champion driver – Tanak from the year 2019.
In this battalion, the Neuville and Tanak duo stand unchallenged. Since 2014, Neuville has been the team’s champion, a true ace, save for the year 2022. Tanak, the knight of 2019, after enduring a grueling season with the Ford team, perceived a glimmer of hope in the reborn Phoenix that is the Hyundai team. Moved by Abiteboul’s persuasive siren call, he chose to return to the fold after the Chile Rally.
“We know how much Cyril [Abiteboul] wants to deliver next year. He has been learning the WRC this year, but I am really confident for this position with the team now – I don’t think I have ever been so confident like this,” said Neuville. The way F-X [Demaison] and Christian [Loriaux] are working together is really good. It’s all working well. I think we were capable of fighting for more this year,” he said, “but the positive is that I felt comfortable with the car and we definitely made progress on the performance side. Next year is going to be interesting.”
Between 2011 and 2016, Andreas Mikkelsen shone under the banner of Volkswagen Motorsport. Following Volkswagen’s exit from the WRC, Mikkelsen transitioned to the Hyundai team from 2017 to 2019, where he played a pivotal role in clinching the team’s inaugural manufacturer’s championship title in 2019. However, the fierce competition for a spot subsequently relegated him to the WRC2. Steering a Skoda for Tok Sport, Mikkelsen claimed the WRC2 champion title twice, in 2021 and 2023, eyeing a chance for redemption. Now, the opportunity for a comeback has finally arrived, with Mikkelsen set to partake on a part-time basis in the third vehicle.
“I am very excited to return to the top category of rallying with Hyundai Motorsport,” said Mikkelsen. “Since 2019, we have fought hard to return to the top flight of the sport, and I am very pleased that we are doing so with Hyundai. We have a great opportunity before us, and we will take it with both hands and make the most of it. I want to thank Hyundai Motorsport for trusting us; we will do our best to help achieve the high goals that will be set for the 2024 season “
“We are delighted to confirm the final elements of our experienced and talented 2024 WRC crew lineup,” said Abiteboul. “Dani has contributed a huge amount to the team over the past 10 years, both on the stages and in the factory, so we are very happy that he will be continuing with us next season. It is also exciting to see Andreas return to our squad, as he brings with him proven success and plenty of experience that will benefit us in both WRC and Rally2. Thanks to their slightly different specialities and a huge amount of experience, the combination of Esapekka, Dani and Andreas will give us the opportunity to put the best team forward for every event to fight alongside Thierry and Ott.”
Significant regulatory changes were ratified at the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, in December 2023, alongside discussions on major transformations set to unfold post-2025. The most notable change for the 2024 season is the revamped scoring system, a strategic move designed to keep the adrenaline pumping and the competition fierce until the very last moment. While the current Power Stage allows the top five finishers to earn additional points, those assured a podium spot often opt for safety over risk. A more proactive approach was deemed necessary to fuel the competitive spirit and create a spectacle worth watching until the end.
Consequently, the point allocation system undergoes a complete overhaul. Initially, provisional points will be awarded to the top 10 finishers based on the results up until Saturday, with a reduced scale of 18-15-13-10-8-6-4-3-2-1 points compared to the previous 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1. Instead, Sunday’s performance will grant the top seven additional points on a scale of 7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Leading with a significant margin until Saturday doesn’t guarantee a higher score if the pace isn’t maintained on Sunday. The Power Stage format remains, allowing a driver to earn a maximum of 30 points, as before. However, Saturday’s points are not guaranteed; a retirement on Sunday means the next ranked driver inherits the points.
On the technical front, the number of Rally1 hybrid units available for use throughout a season will be reduced to three for 2025 and 2026, primarily to cut costs. Previously, up to nine units could be used per car. The Rally1 hybrid unit, crafted by Compact Dynamics in Germany, integrates the motor, battery, and control unit within a carbon casing. This standardized unit is supplied to all teams participating in the Rally1 class, including the Hyundai, Toyota, and M-Sport Ford teams. The current Rally1 regulations remain in effect until 2026, with a possibility of entirely new regulations being introduced from 2027.
Toyota team maintains its driver lineup for 2024. Young prodigy Kalle Rovanperä, who clinched the champion title for two consecutive years, leads the team, accompanied by Elfyn Evans, Sébastien Ogier, and Takamoto Katsuta. A notable change, however, is Rovanperä’s decision not to compete full-time this season. Having secured back-to-back driver’s world championships, Rovanperä has expressed interest in exploring other races, including the Dakar Rally, touring cars, and WEC.
Despite this, the Toyota team remains a formidable force; Evans secured three wins this season, finishing second in the championship ahead of Neuville. Both Rovanperä and Ogier, as current and former champions, pose a significant threat even with spot participations. Katsuta’s performance under the weight of expectations will also be intriguing to watch.
The M-Sport Ford squad, more commonly known as the Ford team, finds itself in a challenging position compared to the Hyundai and Toyota teams. The departure of Tanak back to Hyundai has left a significant void in their lineup, a gap that’s proving difficult to fill. While Pierre-Louis Loubet seemed a likely holdover, recent announcements have settled on Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster as the chosen duo. Fourmaux is no stranger to the M-Sport Ford, having participated in the full Rally1 season in 2022, whereas Munster brings experience from driving Jourdan Serderidis’s car in last year’s rallies in Chile and Central Europe. It’s worth noting that the veteran Greek driver Jourdan Serderidis, who has been competing as a privateer, announced his retirement.
In April 2023, the motorsport community was saddened by the tragic loss of Craig Breen in a testing accident. In his memory, his family and friends have established the Craig Breen Foundation to continue his passion for nurturing young drivers. The foundation will benefit the Irish J1000 (Junior 1000) class, an entry-level category using 1.0L engines targeted at youths aged 14 to 17. Breen was actively involved in discussing J1000 training schedules and how to assist these young drivers up until just days before his accident.
Initiated by Breen’s father and a group of close associates, this project has garnered support from Hyundai Motorsport GmbH, Motorsport Ireland, and the FIA to establish a fund that will back the J1000 series for at least five years starting from 2024. The series champion will not only receive a cash prize but also vehicle support and an opportunity to compete in the Spain/Portugal Hyundai i20 N Rally Cup, facilitated by the Sports & Youth team. The Hyundai i20 N Rally Cup, targeting drivers under 26, is a new entry-level class set to host six tarmac races this year, serving as a platform for discovering the next generation of rally stars.
by Lee Soo-jin (Automotive Critic)
He started as an automotive journalist after passionately sending letters to the launch of the Korean car magazine in 1991. Served as editor-in-chief and editorial board member for and , currently active as an automotive critic. While enthusiastically introducing the latest trends like electric vehicles, connected cars, and autonomous driving technology, deep down, he is a ‘car geek’ who hopes internal combustion engines will never disappear.
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
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