The question Hyundai’s driver decision raises

David Evans applauds Hyundai's driver development program, but isn't sure on the brief

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Is it just me or is there a slight incongruity about Teemu Suninen being named as part of the Hyundai Driver Development Programme?

We’ve just left Sardinia, so let’s rewind and go back there. Let’s jump back to the Italian island four years ago for the 2019 event… when the Finn came within 13.7 seconds of landing his maiden World Rally Championship win.

How much development does a driver with close to 40 WRC starts in a factory-spec World Rally Car need?

I like Suninen and I have no doubt he can do a job for Hyundai in Estonia and Finland, but I’m a touch confused about what that job’s going to be.

Naming a 20-something Finn in your squad for the fastest rallies of the season is nothing new. And it’s something to be applauded.

In 2013, it was Juho Hänninen in a Ford. Twenty years? Try Jussi Valimaki in a Hyundai. Twenty-nine (apologies to those of you who like a uniform approach – there wasn’t an example from 30 years ago) it was Tommi Mäkinen in a Ford. And it’s the full four decades since Juha Kankkunen got a shot in Toyota’s Celica TCT.

This would ordinarily have been the place where I would have lazily trotted out the line about Dani Sordo not liking Estonia and Finland. The amiable Spaniard has since corrected such thinking. He does like those countries, their roads and their rallies, but he’s understood that he’s probably not the man for the job.

I’d argue that point here. I’d say Sordo’s approach would arguably be favorable for Estonia and Finland. He’s a solid safety net and an absolute banker for manufacturer points.

Giving a Finn the keys to one of the world’s fastest rally cars on some of the world’s fastest roads can deliver some stunning results and who’s to say Suninen won’t win in Tartu or Jyväskylä?

One thing I’d question it being is a development opportunity. Suninen is fortunate in that Hyundai’s permanent test site being located in Finland means he might get more than one day of running before both events. But it’s still something of a leap, even for a Finn to be making his competitive Rally1 debut at Rally Estonia.

The likeable 29-year-old says as much himself.


“Both rallies,” he said, “are known as sprint rallies where you need 110% confidence and to push flat-out from the first corner to get good results, so that will ask for a lot of patience from me and only time will show our approach.

“My goal is to learn the car step by step and to gradually show more pace and bring good points for the team.”

For me, this would have looked more like a development program if he’d been named for Acropolis and an asphalt event as well.

It’s almost the same story for Emil Lindholm. He’s developed as a Rally2 driver, so wouldn’t it make more sense to have installed the defending WRC2 champion in a Rally1 car?

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I guess it depends on your definition of ‘development.’ Would I have argued so vociferously against Oliver Solberg being drafted back into such a program? Probably not. But then he’s five and eight years younger than Lindholm and Suninen respectively.

While there’s no mention of junior or young in the title of this Hyundai initiative, president Sean Kim says it himself: “We already have drivers with experience in Thierry, Esapekka and Dani, but now the direction is to look into the younger generation and help them to fulfil their potential.”

All of that said, Hyundai’s to be applauded for giving more drivers an opportunity. That’s something that’s vital in rallying moving forwards. All I’m asking is whether the development aspect should have come a step or two lower?

Words:David Evans