Is Hyundai getting the credit it deserves?

Hyundai leads both championships ahead of Sardinia. David Evans says deservedly so


Before Rally Portugal earlier this month, when was the last time Hyundai departed a round of the World Rally Championship with a clear lead in the manufacturers’ championship?

And no, Sweden this year doesn’t count. I said a clear lead.

Try Monza Rally at the end of 2020. It was an important one, a double podium for Ott Tänak and Dani Sordo was enough to sign off on back-to-back world titles for the South Korean manufacturer.


Toyota have been the dominant force in the WRC since Hyundai won the manufacturers' championship back in 2020

But since Andrea Adamo retained that coveted crown three and a half years ago, it’s been all about Toyota – apart from Monte Carlo at the top of 2022, when M-Sport briefly snuck into a three-point lead on the back of a stellar Sébastien Loeb-Puma win. But then it was advantage Japan.

That’s 42 rallies since Hyundai last headed up the makes’ race.

Have we given Cyril Abiteboul’s team enough credit for bucking that unenviable trend? No. Let’s not forget, while the team around him might have been battling its way to the top of the table, Thierry Neuville has been there all along. It’s fair to say, 2024 has been something of a befuddled season.

Ott Tänak has returned to an i20 and spent much of his time struggling to find confidence and balance in a car which he feels is far too prone to pushing the front. The team is still working on a solution to bring the car to him, or at least to meet the 2019 world champion somewhere in the middle. The Estonian is quick to correct DirtFish when we talk of the car’s problems.

“It’s not a problem,” he said. “The car is fast. It’s the feeling…”

It seems there’s an inherent issue, baked into a hastily designed and built chassis which came too late to change in time for Monte, 2022. That’s the reason Hyundai wanted to build a ground-up new car for next season. It’s still the reason it’s looking to roll two years’ worth of homologation jokers (four in total) into a 50% new car for next year.

The common thinking is that this is Neuville’s car. Not really so. The championship leader has had his struggles with the car, but his time with the team and perhaps a greater fundamental understanding of how to get the best out of Hyundai and the i20 has allowed him to make the difference.

But still, there’s that nagging question of where is the i20 at? In Monte Carlo, a virtually snow-free, high-grip event, Neuville and the i20 were firmly on the same page. They were absolutely singing. In his words, they were the boss on round one. No arguments there.

Esapekka Lappi won round two in the sister car and then everything seemed to fall apart in Kenya. Until Sunday on Safari, the Frankfurt-built machines were being taken to the cleaners by Toyota.

Croatia and Portugal were both strong podium third places for Neuville. He was very much in the ballpark for a win in Zagreb and drove exceptionally well to deflect an opening day first on the road around Arganil.


Many have said that i20 Rally1 is Neuville's car, but his experience with it and within the team is also a factor

It’s been suggested around the service park that the i20 N Rally1 Hybrid comes alive when it’s placed very firmly on its doorhandles. The final day of Safari would bear testament to that, when both Neuville and Tänak threw caution to the wind and simply hurled their cars across the rocks. The pair of them put the super into that Sunday.

As mentioned above, that single-day success should be put into the kind of context the new points structure tries to cast into the shade, Toyota which remains dominant and – across the spread of an actual rally – unbeaten on a modern Safari.

Tänak too came within an ace of winning Portugal, he lost out to Sébastien Ogier by just 7.9s. Was it the fight that made the difference? Did more aggressive style bring the best out in the car? Possibly.

Are we in danger of over-thinking this one? Absolutely. The simple fact is that Hyundai leads both championships – and Neuville with a handsome, 24-point margin. Much as Neuville needs wins to take this year’s title, he needs to grind results out – that’s what he did in Africa. That fifth place and 11-point Sunday could be what makes the difference at the end of the year. It’s results like that one that, for me, make Neuville the most deserving driver to sit P1 five rounds in.

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Part-timer Sébastien Ogier is the man offering the best points-per-rally so far in 2024

Hyundai deserves its lead, too. The team is working flat chat and there’s no better rally brain than Christian Loriaux’s to make a good car great.

There is, however, a case to make for Toyota losing this year’s title as much as Hyundai winning it. Team principal Jari-Matti Latvala knew this would be the case as soon as world champion Kalle Rovanperä started talking about running a part-season in 2024. What’s worse is that the Finn’s contributed just 36 of a possible 90 points to Toyota’s tally. Elfyn Evans has been a consistent second in the championship and was very much within touching distance of leader Neuville before Portugal – but he has yet to win in ’24 and he’s yet to find the sort of confidence, form and ultra-pace he found in 2020 and 2021.

Taka Katsuta has found that form, but it’s been patchy. As the de facto second driver, he’s 30 points down on his opposite number at Hyundai, Tänak (and before you say it, I’m not suggesting Ott is actually a second driver, he’s the only other one running a full program).

Toyota’s savior so far has been Ogier. In terms of points per round, nobody’s outscoring the Frenchman – he’s done 23.33 on average from his three starts. Championship leader Neuville’s number is 22.

All of the above only serves to spice the title race up further. So far, Tänak is the only one of the top three to have superallied, when he damaged the radiator in Sweden. It’s unlikely Evans and Neuville will get through the rest of the year without some sort of an issue – that’s a statistical fact. There’s plenty more stories to tell and chapters to write in what’s could yet turn into a corker of a season.

But for now, chapeau Hyundai and Neuville. You’re top of tree. Now all you’ve got to do is stay there.

Bonne chance.