It’s been two years now since Andrea Adamo took over as Hyundai’s World Rally Championship team principal and properly entered the public eye.
That’s not to gloss over the career of someone who played a key role at Alfa Romeo when it was in its Super Touring pomp, and who has been a major player in international motorsport for much of the past decade, but it’s only since his arrival at the WRC’s top table that we’ve been fully exposed to the sometimes direct, often expressive, always entertaining manner in which he chooses his words.
During that time, too, Adamo’s not been afraid to talk himself down – see his reaction to Hyundai’s performance on the Monte Carlo Rally, and the blame he shouldered for it. So it’s perhaps of little surprise that his latest act of self-depreciation, when asked to summarise the differences between Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing’s new i20 N Rally2 and the R5 model it will replace, is a strong addition to an ever-growing list of golden analogies.
“Basically the difference between the new and current car is the same between me and Brad Pitt,” Adamo tells DirtFish. “This is the easiest [way of putting it].”
Adamo is talking to DirtFish in Finland, not long after a four-day test of the new contender conducted by the customer racing department that Adamo still oversees with Craig Breen and Oliver Solberg over the border in Sweden.
Despite exclaiming he is “Cold!” there’s a palpable warmth – which cannot be described as coy yet doesn’t get close to being bullish – to the way he talks about the i20 N, and the shift in development with this car compared to the product that was launched for market during the fledgling days of the division in 2015.
That’s an admission, perhaps, that procedurally things weren’t done in a “proper” fashion the first time round – though the five-plus intervening years have no doubt been necessary to scale up the department in a way that allows for such practices to be followed.
I'm more of a spectator that is asking the director not to make a thriller movie, but neither a comedy - a nice adventure movie, not a thriller!Andrea Adamo on the i20 Rally2's development
Of course, the Brad Pitt comparison had us hook, line and sinker for everything that was to follow, but there’s far more to the Rally2 gains than the superficial. That’s through both the rigorous procedures that Adamo believes in that have been instilled in his team, and a blend of an acceptance that some parts were simply in need of an overhaul and consistency with others as a mark of reciprocated trust in Hyundai’s customers and suppliers alike.
“The difference between the two cars is huge,” he continues. “The base chassis is different. The only thing that we kept is the transmission, gearbox and differential, because they were working very well – we cooperated with Riccardo for the first car, we never had any issue, and many customers have bought many spares.
“This is part of the process: now we sit together with the input and the sales and after sales we say, ‘Many customers have bought these and never had a problem, so it would be stupid to change for the sake of changing’. In life, you don’t have to change for the sake of changing.
“We also have to respect the customers, that when we came out of the blue [when the customer racing division was launched in 2015] they believed in us, buying things, so it’s a matter of respect for the people who believed in Hyundai when it was quite a challenge to believe in us.
“OK, these things we keep, sadly other things we change. We also modified for example the fuel tank – it’s pretty [much] the same as the current car, but we improved a bit here, a bit there. The bodywork is very different of course, body shell, weight distribution.”
Another change that’s evidence of the development of the customer racing branch is the evolution of the engine – modeled on the road-going i20 N’s base unit. The department’s work on not only the first-generation R5 car but also its TCR touring cars, of which it now has three internal combustion-engined models, means the engine it started with has “been improved a lot”.
“So now we are using the improved [and scaled] version of the two-liter turbo engine that is very powerful,” says Adamo. “The software now is all done by us, so it’s also a matter of development of what Hyundai Motorsport in terms of engineering capabilities has done. So now we will have our software that is managing the car.”
Adamo is keen to underline the procedural changes that have been made since the customer racing department’s launch in September 2015; when the i20 N was first announced last October, he said the project “shows how far we have come in the five years since”.
He’s been ever-present, but how has the make-up changed in that time – and how has that changed the way things are done?
“We have a proper engineering team, a proper engine development team, everyone is focused on [getting] things done properly with a proper plan,” he says. “We are planning things and we are not reacting slightly with panic to problems.”
He adds: “We cannot forget that the last car was developed by a team that initially was done by five people. Now, the design team [alone] is five people, it’s by far different, and I have to say in the first one, I was digging with my hands, with my team, much more.”
The feedback that we have from drivers so far is good. They say it's much easier to drive, smoother, all these kinds of things that you like to hearAndrea Adamo
That means a more hands-off approach from Adamo, who – returning to his demure way of self-assessment – says “it’s only the budget nowadays that comes from me”.
“It’s a different way and now I’m more of a spectator that is asking the director not to make a thriller movie, but neither a comedy – a nice adventure movie, not a thriller!” he adds.
Back to the i20 N. Last month’s Sweden test brought to an end what Adamo describes as the “first part of development”, which also included running undertaken by 2019 World Rally Champion Ott Tänak in Italy last November, and by Breen in France at the start of this year.
That’s already allowed for a good understanding of packages including the cooling – things that, as Adamo puts it, “when you give a car to a customer are also important”.
“Sorry if I’m still an engineer sometimes but once you homologate the cooling pack… it’s not like WRC, you have a cooling pack that’s for everything, and it has to work on gravel, hot rallies, very cold rallies, so you have to understand how to manage it,” he says.
“And it’s something that we are now developing and preventing before. We are not going to a rally or crossing fingers and trying to manage the problem after.”
Part two of the development is up and running, with a test in Sardinia where Hyundai will bring “the first big run of development parts” including new engine software and mechanical changes.
The use of such drivers as Tänak, Breen and Solberg is particularly important to Adamo, as swapping them over means Hyundai has “different experiences, and we are doing a proper process of development”.
What’s satisfying too is the evaluations they have tended to come back with when out of the car.
“I have to say, the feedback that we have from drivers so far is good,” says Adamo. “They say it’s much easier to drive, smoother, all these kinds of things that you like to hear. By the way, drivers with a contract so they don’t want to say good things just to be confirmed. This is important.”
Summer 2021 was the point at which the i20 N Rally2 was originally due to be homologated.
That, says Adamo, is still the plan, with a July 1 “target” in place – though one obvious factor, the coronavirus pandemic, has threatened to intervene.
“The road car is produced in Turkey so to be there has been problematic,” he says. “The [road] car launch is taking all the cars available.
“We are fighting and trying to make the best out of it. As I always say to my people, it could have been worse. We have to enjoy what we can do, we could have a much worse situation. What I say to my people [is] it’s complicated, that’s why you are here. If it was easy everyone would be able to do it.”
There’s no doubt the i20 N Rally2 will be a step up from its predecessor – but then again it needs to be, given the stiff competition of the Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo, M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta Rally2 and the uprated Citroën C3 Rally2, especially at WRC2 and WRC3 level.
But if it takes the fight to them? Well, Adamo’s team will have successfully met the brief for the adventure movie he is craving. We can have a fair guess at who the lead actor would be too – and it’s not Andrea Adamo.