Hyundai chief wary of WRC’s Rally2 temptation

Benoît Nogier has seen rallying from all angles - he provides a different perspective on the future


Will Rally2 really replace Rally1 as the basis for the World Rally Championship’s top tier?

That debate has been simmering away through the first two rounds of the season, but it’s very much coming to the boil.

The verdict on which direction the sport’s top level will take is expected from World Motor Sport Council on February 28, following a three-month deliberation by the WRC working group.

One man very keen for the debate to be resolved is Hyundai’s new customer racing manager Benoît Nogier. He’s in charge of setting the development strategy for the brand’s i20 N Rally2. In less than 12 months, that car could be the machine upon which Hyundai is pinning its WRC hopes. If the brand’s Rally2 car is going to be ready for that challenge, Nogier needs to know what the 2025 regulations look like. Now.

“We are all waiting for where this Rally2 regulation will go,” Nogier told DirtFish. “This will be crucial to understand what will be the future of the category and then we will decide how we will proceed [with the development of the i20 N Rally2].

“The next step for us in terms of homologation is to provide five more jokers, so five more evolutions on the car and we have to propose them all at the same time. So [the FIA’s decision] is extremely crucial to that choice. For sure if the category changes, if the goal changes, it will have an influence on our choices.”

Simply binning Rally1 and bumping Rally2 up to the top of the FIA’s rallying pyramid has been viewed as a quick and simple solution in some quarters. Each of the WRC’s current factory teams – Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport Ford – has a homologated car ready to go, with Citroën and Škoda also capable of joining the party with their Rally2 machines, if they so wish. Costs would be slashed and the depth of competition would increase dramatically overnight. The solution, surely, is staring us right in the face?


The future of the Rally1 class is set to be decided at the end of February 

Not according to Nogier, who takes a far more practical view. The question of how factory teams would change what, at its core, is a customer rallying formula has the Frenchman concerned.

“I think it’s difficult to mix customer and works team in the same championship.” said Nogier, who worked at Peugeot while the Intercontinental Rally Challenge was booming, a series which ran from 2006-2012 with works and customer teams competing alongside each other.

Nogier continued: “Everybody has to take care to not destroy what Rally2 is. It looks, maybe, too simple to say that Rally2 can replace Rally1 because we have a lot of Rally2 [cars in the marketplace]. Rally2 works at the moment because it has been created and it respects the commercial approach of the sport. This is not at all what a factory team does, because they just focus on the result and not on the money they spend.”

Charged with managing both Hyundai’s rallying and racing customer programs, Nogier is acutely aware of how factory spending in Rally2 could push customers away from the Korean brand’s program, undermining the intended purpose of the category.


Hyundai wants Rally2 to remain viable for customers, such as the CHL Sport Auto squad running Emil Lindholm in this year's WRC2 championship

He reasoned: “If you take the example of Škoda [during the IRC], they were focusing so much on the official project with the [Fabia] S2000 that their customer program was not so big. There were almost only official cars, and it was almost impossible [for customers] to get cars. It was factory cars, basically, not a customer system because it was done just for a factory.

“It pushed the cost of the S2000 [cars] at this time because you have to rebuild the car every 1,500 kilometers. Why? Because the factories were behind, pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing [for success].

“That’s why, for example, in TCR (an international touring car class in which Hyundai has a customer program) we know quite well what the situation is and it is something that everybody is taking care to keep this balance between the factories and the customers.”

IRC Golden Stage Cyprus, Pafos 06 11 2011

Škoda ran a works team in the IRC, which increased the running costs of its Fabia S2000, says Nogier 

While Hyundai’s TCR operation gives it some experience of operating a customer program alongside official works-supported teams, Nogier remains nervous about applying this model to a championship as prestigious as the WRC, where manufacturers will inevitably prioritize chasing the ultimate prize of global glory over supporting customers.

“I think it’s difficult to make those two cohabit in the same championship with the same rules,” he confirmed. “Honestly, I’m a bit afraid this could destroy what Rally2 is, which is a big success at the moment.

“I understand that we have this temptation for all of us, we would like more cars on the grid and to improve the number of competitors. But I think to mix those two is a bit dangerous.”