Even though its start to the World Rally Championship’s hybrid era was nothing short of disastrous, Hyundai deputy team director Julien Moncet says the team always knew its i20 N Rally1 had the pace to compete.
Hyundai eventually recorded a personal best five wins across the 13-round 2022 season – three for Ott Tänak and two for Thierry Neuville – but it was dramatically off the pace on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.
Neuville’s was the only i20 that made the end of round one, and he finished close to eight minutes down on Sébastien Loeb’s rally-winning Ford Puma.
A double podium in Croatia indicated further progress had been made, as did a win by round five in Italy, but it wasn’t until the second half of the season where Hyundai really hit its stride as the reliability niggles, which had heavily impacted its results, were ironed out.
“Definitely it has been incredible work that started already at the end of last year to have the test cars ready in time,” Moncet told DirtFish.
“We had to build another one after Thierry had a massive crash in December for the homologation because we had as well to pass the homologation, and then to prepare the rally cars for Monte Carlo it has been really non-stop work.
“And after, yes we keep pushing the whole season but I would say mostly until Kenya we were suffering a lot of, let’s say, lack of parts, again reliability issues so it was difficult to focus on performance.
“And I think for me, yes it started to become a bit better after Kenya. We had the two tough moments in the season, Monte Carlo and Kenya, and yeah, I think Kenya was the kind of wake-up call because in between we had, in the end, some not too bad results with some podiums, with the win in Sardinia, but Kenya somehow was really agonising. We had to push and I think the team reacted quite well after this second disaster of the season.
“I think it helps as well to put everyone working together in the same direction and for sure once you don’t have parts supply problem anymore, when you have less reliability issues you can work with the performance and you can work on your own process and the mechanics can work, I will not say more easy, but a more organized way and everything comes together.”
Hyundai was therefore able to focus on improving the i20 N Rally1’s performance in the back half of the season, but Moncet did admit that within the team “there was light at the end of the tunnel already” after the Monte, even if the wider world thought the Hyundai was miles off the pace.
“I mean honestly when we came to Monte Carlo, and I think it was the same for the others, our competitors, nobody knew exactly the performance of each other,” he said.
“We were not sure if the gap would be tenths per kilometer, seconds per kilometer, it’s a complete new regulation, new chassis, new hybrid, new fuel, it’s a completely new car.
“Even for me I was somehow worried that the gaps could be quite huge. In the previous years we had a very competitive championship and everyone could win and I was not sure we could repeat this with these new regulations.
“Already very early in the season it was quite positive to see that all cars in the end, even with completely different technical solutions, were able to compete.
“Each of the teams won during the first five rallies, we were the last one, but it was quite positive and even in Monte Carlo, yes as you said we were far away but we were far away because we had issues, reliability issues.
“Performance wise we knew that we were not ready, not optimized, but the gap was still… it was big but there was some light at the end of the tunnel already.
“We really thought that we would be nowhere, so it was not too bad, and after we saw already in Sweden that the car had potential but it took some time to work it out.”