Julien Moncet, the man who led Hyundai through the 2022 World Rally Championship season, believes Toyota is still the favorite for next year’s WRC despite Hyundai’s strong second half of the year.
Although Toyota won this year’s manufacturers’ championship and its driver Kalle Rovanperä succeeded Sébastien Ogier as the drivers’ world champion, it was Hyundai which ended the season strongest with four wins from the final six events.
In fact, over those six rallies (the second half of the season) Hyundai outscored Toyota by 17 points and its drivers Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville would’ve been 1-2 in the drivers’ championship as well.
Such conclusions are ultimately irrelevant for Hyundai which simply wants to win titles in practice, not in theory, but it does give the team great confidence heading into 2023.
Asked whether that form made Hyundai the favorite next year, Moncet was pragmatic in his response but admitted Hyundai was perhaps even more motivated to win next year, having not won a world title since 2020.
“For sure we had the potential to do even better this year,” he said.
“Yes, we won many races, we did a lot of podiums and so on but if we could have started our season earlier, or let’s say at the same time as the others, let’s say we could have been in the fight for the championship until the end and why not winning? But this isn’t really a certain one.
“Definitely we need to look forward in 2023 and I do not say that we will win but we are in a much better position than 2022. And definitely the target will be to [win], as always, but I would say even more next year to secure both championships.
“But I am quite sure Toyota will not make it easy for us, and M-Sport as well.”
We are closing the gap and with our new driver lineup there is no reason we cannot catch up next yearJulien Moncet
Toyota technical director Tom Fowler told DirtFish that he was “caught out” by the pace of Hyundai’s turnaround in 2022 from the backmarker to the pacesetter.
When those comments were put to Moncet and he was asked if he believes Hyundai is on par with Toyota or if Toyota is still ahead, Moncet said: “I’m happy if Toyota is worried about us, and I think maybe actually if you look at the second half of the season they did some mistakes.
“Whether it was too easy in the first part or whether we put some pressure on them I don’t know, but they started to do a few mistakes and this helped us definitely.
“I think still Toyota has a great car, is a great team and they have still a bit the edge on us, but we are not far [behind].
“We are closing the gap and with our new driver lineup there is no reason we cannot catch up next year.”
Hyundai heads into 2023 with Neuville and Esapekka Lappi – signed from Toyota – as its full-time drivers, with Dani Sordo and M-Sport recruit Craig Breen sharing a third car.
Last year it fielded Ott Tänak on a full season, but the 2019 world champion elected to walk away from his two-year contract one year early and has joined M-Sport.
Breen replaces WRC2-bound Oliver Solberg who was dropped after Rally New Zealand, Hyundai citing a need for experienced drivers as the reason.
Lappi got his first taste of the i20 N Rally1 on Wednesday.