Hyundai Motorsport is in need of a new driver to share the World Rally Championship program with Dani Sordo.
Team principal Cyril Abiteboul has explained the criteria, telling DirtFish the combined experience of current drivers Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Sordo “alleviates a bit of the pressure on the team to find even further experience.
“So I think we can now afford to look beyond just what is here but a bit further away because at some point if we want a future we need to build that future,” Abiteboul added.
“This is also an indication given by Hyundai headquarters, to start building the future, so that is very much what we are doing these days.”
But who represents that future?
That’s the million-dollar question that we’re doing our best to find out.
Understandably, Hyundai isn’t giving anything away – but that doesn’t stop us making some educated guesses as to who it will be considering to drive a Rally1 car:
Could Hyundai’s former protégé make a return? It’s entirely possible.
Based on his current WRC2 form, you’d have to say that Hyundai was premature in releasing Solberg at the end of last year.
He clearly possesses bags of potential, and is among the strongest of the WRC2 competitors right now. It’s just he wasn’t given enough time, and had too much pressure placed on him during his first stint at the team.
It’s something particularly Ott Tänak voiced concerns over last year – feeling Solberg wasn’t getting the support he required and should have been receiving.
But with new management in place, it’s definitely a real possibility that things would be different the second time around.
What’s more, Solberg should be able to slot into the team quite nicely, with the fact he already knows the team, mechanics and engineers well.
As long as Hyundai can give assurances to Solberg that it will work hard to help him develop as a driver, this has the potential to be a second marriage made in heaven.
With solid Rally1 experience and plenty of time on his side at just 26 years of age, like Solberg, Gus Greensmith must surely be on Hyundai’s list as he ticks both boxes.
Potential and experience.
Hyundai said it didn’t require experience per se, but it’s hardly a disadvantage for any new driver to have some already.
Greensmith’s shown well since stepping back to WRC2 this season too, winning both gravel events thus far in México and Portugal.
A strong candidate for the drive.
There’s arguably other drivers showing stronger form right now, but it also can’t be underestimated just how hard these Rally1 cars are to drive.
And although Loubet has been making mistakes of late, he has also shown that he does have the pace to mix it up at the front, as was evident with a stage win on Portugal’s opening stage of the rally.
Loubet is far from the finished product, but in many ways that would suit Hyundai, especially since it states it is looking to build for the future.
It still has time to mould Loubet into the driver it wants and he has the potential to reach the ultimate level the manufacturer will be looking for.
No Rally1 experience (in competition at least) but plenty of years spent in World Rally Cars with three podium finishes for M-Sport and still under 30, is Teemu Suninen actually the perfect candidate?
Quite possibly. Particularly as he’s already on Hyundai’s books, driving for the manufacturer in WRC2.
Suninen would be a plug-in-and-play option for Hyundai. Throw him into an event like Estonia or Finland and he’d likely be able to perform from the outset.
Whether he gets the nod will likely depend on how serious Hyundai is on building the future as Abiteboul described it.
Suninen is absolutely capable of a long future in the WRC, but taking him on wouldn’t be moulding a youngster into a superstar. It would be taking on a known quantity and working to extract their full potential.
M-Sport would be reluctant to let him go, but that wouldn’t stop Hyundai making advances to poach Adrien Fourmaux – particularly not if it can offer him a Rally1 drive here and now.
Fourmaux’s season in a Rally1 car in 2022 is best forgotten, but he’s turned things around this year to become one of the clear stars of WRC2 – even if his championship position doesn’t reflect that.
He’s been around the WRC for a few years now but Fourmaux is still a driver that’s clearly yet to hit his peak, and Hyundai could benefit from that in the long-term if it nurtures him correctly.
Toyota is its biggest rival, but taking an asset from a rival team may be another pull factor for Hyundai here too.
Sami Pajari seems to be on everybody’s radar right now, especially Toyota’s, so it could be seen as something of a coup if Hyundai managed to swipe him from Jari-Matti Latvala’s nose.
At the age of 21, there’s still plenty of development in Pajari and yet he’s already won Junior WRC in 2021.
He went on to show plenty of potential driving a Fiesta Rally3 again in 2022, and on the occasions he drove a Rally2 car he handled himself well, finishing seventh and fifth on Rally Spain and Rally Japan respectively.
2023 has been a step up for Pajari, going up against the likes of Solberg and Greensmith in equal machinery, but he’s handled himself well so far, finishing third in Sweden and fifth in Croatia.
He’s the real deal, and Hyundai would do well in making sure he’s signed up with it for the long term.
Theoretically Emil Lindholm should be the candidate for Hyundai. If looking to take on a young driver to develop, surely he is the best of the bunch as the reigning WRC2 champion?
Lindholm impressed a lot of people on his way to that championship last year and that has continued into 2023.
The results aren’t as impressive on paper, but the level has risen yet again in the Rally2 class and Lindholm has established himself as one of the front-runners.
A Hyundai move would certainly be perfect for Lindholm, but there’d be lots for Hyundai to profit from too as it would gain a fast driver with a sensible head, good PR and marketing skills and testing and development skills as well given Lindholm’s involvement in Škoda’s Fabia RS Rally2 project.