Toyota technical director Tom Fowler has admitted he was “caught out a little bit” by how quickly Hyundai recovered its deficit throughout the World Rally Championship season.
Toyota won both the drivers’ and the manufacturers’ titles for the second year in succession in 2022 – a strong achievement given the WRC’s regulations evolved from World Rally Cars to Rally1 between the two seasons.
Its GR Yaris Rally1 was widely recognized to be, on balance, the fastest and also the most reliable car of 2022, enabling Toyota to win both championships before the final round in Japan.
But, despite an awful start to the year in Monte Carlo, Hyundai came back strongly over the second half of the season – winning four of the last six rallies including both of Toyota’s home events in Finland (where the rally team is based) and Japan.
Hyundai deputy team director Julien Moncet has told DirtFish that the team always suspected its i20 N Rally1 was quick, it just wasn’t “optimized for performance” at the start of the season but outwardly, Hyundai’s turnaround came as quite a surprise.
How do you fix all those things without doing any homologation jokers? I don't know.Tom Fowler
“I would say in the mid-season we were, or I would say I was, caught out a little bit by how quickly Hyundai managed to step up the game,” Fowler told DirtFish.
“I didn’t anticipate as soon as they did to be as quick as they are. I thought they would be… if we speak honestly, they went from the car that couldn’t get to the end of the rally was the starting point.
“And I felt like it would be more we’d start to see the car getting to the end of rallies but not very well, and then start getting to the end of rallies with some speed.
“But actually they sort of missed out the middle bit and jumped from not being able to make it, to… which to be honest I’m not sure how that happens. No scandal, it’s just if you had to predict it it’s not realistic.
“It’s a compliment to them in many ways because, honestly, it was a bit worrying from the start of the season,” Fowler added.
“I don’t know the intricacies of all the things that happened in Monte Carlo and Sweden but it looked to me like the number of different types of problem…
“That’s the thing that shocked me was it wasn’t like a fundamental that you fix that and when you fix that we’re going to be OK, it was this and then it was this and then it was this…
“The only bit I would say that’s semi-scandal is how do you fix all those things without doing any homologation jokers? I don’t know. But it’s possible.”
World champion Kalle Rovanperä is equally aware of the threat Hyundai now poses.
“It’s going to be much, much closer next year,” he told DirtFish. “It’s going to be tough, we will need to again step up to stay in the fight but, yeah, we still have a lot of work to do also on our side. There are certain areas where we really need to improve and hopefully we can do that.”
Fowler confirmed that Toyota “already has a package of upgrades” that were homologated in 2022 that will be fitted to the car for Monte Carlo.
“We’ve got some new bodywork and there’s a few things you won’t see, some updates on the transmission to increase the reliability and a few bits and pieces like that, so that’s a package of work we’ve done and it’s coming,” he said.
“The next thing is what we are working on now is something we’ve sort of discussed before. We’ve had some really good rallies during this year but we’ve also had some nightmares.
“I mean Greece is an example – we didn’t have a good Greece, we didn’t have a good Greece test. So at the moment, this kind of hard-tire-dominated, hard-surface rally is not our strongest point at the moment, so we’re looking at that a lot because we want to work on the weaknesses.
“We’re putting together some developments based on that.”