The idea of defending the WRC2 title is a curious one, as in a sense no driver really wants to.
Winning the World Rally Championship’s support category should, ideally, earn you a drive in the top class. But nobody since Pierre-Louis Loubet in 2019 has managed to make that jump.
So fresh from earning a title he was the first to admit he never expected to win last year, Emil Lindholm lined up for another year in Rally2 machinery in 2023.
But there would be no winning this season – on rallies, let alone the championship. A shift from Škoda to Hyundai power halfway through the year was a significant change, not least because it inducted the Finn into Hyundai’s ‘Driver Development Programme’, but it didn’t unlock the door to another championship title.
On paper at least, Lindholm may have even gone backwards with one podium and two retirements in his first four WRC2 starts in an i20 (he managed two podiums earlier in the season with a Fabia).
The latest setback was particularly galling, as Lindholm was on track to win his first WRC2 event in over a year on Central European Rally, only for the auxiliary belt to snap on the way to the first stage of the final day and leave him stranded without an alternator.
“I mean it started fairly well with a podium in Estonia, I think that was… that was a positive result. But yeah there’s been some struggles,” Lindholm confessed to DirtFish.
“I’ve made my fair share of mistakes but this is the sport. Let’s say last year everything was going fairly well and this year it’s been a bit of a troublesome year, that’s just how it is.
“I’m sure next year will go better.”
But what does next year look like? One of the reasons Lindholm will have traded a Toksport Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 for a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 was for the ‘2’ on the rear of his car to be upgraded to a ‘1’.
“I obviously want to be in a Rally1 car, that’s no secret, but let’s see,” the 27-year-old said.
“Hopefully we’ll have a good calendar but nothing is certain yet.”
But the reality is 2024 will likely be another year in WRC2 for Lindholm, leading the line for Hyundai.
Pressed on how close he was to a Rally1 deal, he added: “I guess the main target is obviously to do a full season in Rally2, and the rest is just in my dreams.”
Hyundai’s 2024 driver lineup is far from secure, though. Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak are confirmed to drive two i20 N Rally1s on a full-time basis, but the programs Esapekka Lappi, Teemu Suninen and potentially even Dani Sordo will have are less certain.
There has been ongoing talk about Hyundai running a fourth car too, at least at some events, so could that be to Lindholm’s benefit?
“Honestly that is a question I think I don’t know the answer to!” he said.
“Yeah, obviously the fourth car has been in discussions and it would be a great thing. I don’t know if that would anyhow concern me, but obviously I’d like that.
“I think everything from my side is speculation about that, so we need to wait and see.”
At least in the immediate future, Lindholm will be getting his teeth stuck into French Rally Championship action with an entry into Rallye Terre de Vaucluse (gravel) this weekend, and then Rallye du Var (Tarmac) two weeks later.