After a woeful outing on the World Rally Championship’s Monte Carlo Rally season opener, Hyundai would have been mightily relieved to have bagged second place on Rally Sweden.
It’s hard to definitively read much into how the competitive order stacks up after two rounds, especially on such specialized events as Monte and Rally Sweden. But all the while, there’s been a lingering suspicion that the i20 N Rally1 isn’t all that on asphalt.
Monte provided a clue. On stages that offered lower grip across the board, Hyundai edged closer to Toyota and M-Sport on raw pace. And even with the grip of studded tires biting into ice underneath, Sweden isn’t a million miles away from a gravel rally either.
With pre-event testing for Rally Croatia now done, Hyundai deputy team director Julien Moncet feels his team has taken some steps since Monte – the only competitive running on asphalt thus far.
But there’s an interesting admission at the end of it.
“We worked mostly on the chassis setup, kinematics,” Moncet told DirtFish. “There’s still a lot to do on this especially as Croatia is a pure Tarmac event, so it’s a bit different from the others.
“We work as well always on trying to adapt our maps as much as possible – engine maps, hybrid maps – and some are homologated. But still you have to make the two work together in the best conditions.
“We made some good progress in terms of setup and car behavior from what we had in Monte Carlo; I think all the drivers could notice improvements.
“Will it be enough to catch up to the others? We have to wait and see. I’m confident but I know we are maybe a bit behind on Tarmac.”
A team admitting its car isn’t a match for its rivals? That’s a rare revelation to make so openly. But there’s a reason why Moncet is comfortable saying it out loud – it’s not entirely by accident. It’s a gambit.
During the off-season Hyundai relocated its permanent test base to Jämsä in central Finland – a move that Ott Tänak personally pushed for. Never before has Hyundai been able to test and refine its car so regularly on gravel.
Therein lies a strategy designed to play out of the course of the whole year, rather than chasing wins everywhere. There may be losses on asphalt – but they’ll be worth it for big wins on gravel.
“You have to see as well that the championship, most of the races are gravel races,” Moncet pointed out.
“I mean of course you always want to have the best, the most efficient car in both Tarmac and gravel but if you have to make some compromises, I think you look towards the gravel side, due to the championship itself.
“This is not an excuse or whatever; we are maybe a bit behind on Tarmac but we make some good progress and I think we can show a good result in Croatia.”