It may have missed out on both World Rally Championship titles for the second year running, but Hyundai deputy team director Julien Moncet says the team “should not be ashamed of what we have achieved” in 2022.
Hyundai didn’t start the new hybrid Rally era in the best of shape. With much later sign-off on the project from the parent company than both M-Sport and Toyota, Hyundai was already behind its rivals in terms of development – and that was before Hyundai elected to change its direction.
The first real iteration of the i20 N Rally1 therefore didn’t hit the test roads until late 2021, and matters were complicated further when Thierry Neuville crashed the only chassis down a ravine.
By the time the Monte rolled around in January, Hyundai was therefore barely ready to compete with three cars – let alone challenge for the win and ultimately the world title.
Indeed, the best Hyundai could manage on round one was sixth place with Neuville – almost eight minutes down on rally winner Sébastien Loeb’s Ford Puma.
So for Neuville to have claimed Hyundai’s fifth win of 2022 at the season-closing event in Japan is nothing short of remarkable, and it’s in this context that Moncet feels the entire team must be proud of its seismic turnaround.
“It has been a tough season, we haven’t won any championships but we did great nonetheless, the team, if you look at how we started,” Moncet told DirtFish.
“As I said, this weekend [in Japan] has been pretty major for our season. We started with a big disaster with the fire on Dani’s car, we kept working, kept pushing and in the end we finished with a good result on a high.
“So hopefully we will be able to keep the momentum for next year to transfer this positive energy to the start of the championship for Monte Carlo Rally next year.”
Asked if Moncet could have believed Hyundai’s 1-2 on Toyota’s home soil – its fourth win from the last six events – was possible at the beginning of the year, he admitted: “No, obviously in Monte Carlo we would have said it’s not possible.
“We were just nowhere. We were late, the performance of the car was bad, we had no reliability, we had issues with everything, structure, parts,” he continued.
“So to be able to react as quickly as we did actually, because we won already in Sardinia, we had some podiums even before. We show that there is some competitive pace there early in the season if not with reliability issues.
“It’s a great achievement. We have never given up. Of course, you can always say we could have done more. This is obvious, but we should not be ashamed of what we have achieved and I really hope we can build on the future.”
Neuville “wouldn’t say it was a great season to be honest, it was a challenging season” but was equally quick to pay tribute to his colleagues who transformed the i20 N Rally1 into a consistent rally winner in the space of half a year.
“For sure,” he said, “there has been a turnaround in the midseason for sure, but still there’s plenty of work left and we all know that. And we have to keep working for sure.
“But results like this, gives a boost to the whole team actually to carry on working because Monte Carlo is in less than two months and we need to be ready for that, and there is a lot of work left.
“So yeah, such results are for the teams and a special boost.”
Pressed on how much confidence beating Toyota on both of its home rounds (Finland and Japan) this year gives him ahead of 2023, Neuville added: “It doesn’t matter where, Toyota is always difficult to beat.
“But I mean the season was over, the championships are over and the target was clearly to beat them on their home soil and, yeah, we have achieved that goal, with two cars. So I think we can be proud of that result for sure.
“But, yeah, next year is a different challenge again. It’s going to be a bit tough again and every single round counts.”
Hyundai will head into the new season with a new roster of drivers as Esapekka Lappi has joined from Toyota for a full season while Craig Breen has jumped ship from M-Sport Ford to share a third car with Dani Sordo.
Ott Tänak has decided to leave, but his WRC future is yet to be confirmed.
There is no news as to who will lead Hyundai either, although Moncet has suggested to DirtFish that Japan “may be” his last rally for the team.