Hyundai Motorsport has unveiled its updated line-up of junior drivers for the 2021 rallying season.
Last year was the first time rally drivers were inducted into the Hyundai Customer Racing Junior Driver program, with Pierre-Louis Loubet, Ole Christian Veiby, Nikolay Gryazin, Grégoire Munster and Callum Devine forming that inaugural line-up.
Unsurprisingly, Hyundai’s Monday morning announcement confirmed that Oliver Solberg has joined the roster in place of Gryazin, who is now driving a Volkswagen in WRC2.
Loubet – who drives for 2C Competition full-time in the WRC and was joined at the team by Solberg for Arctic Rally Finland – and WRC2 driver Veiby both remain, and there’s a return to the fold for 2020 WRC3 champion Jari Huttunen, whose sensational form of late has taken him full circle and back into Hyundai’s works bracket following a disappointing season on the driver development program in 2018.
Munster also keeps his place in the junior set-up but Josh McErlean is a new member of the club, displacing fellow Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member Devine.
But who are all these drivers, and what are they set to achieve this year? DirtFish has compiled this fact file so you know who to look out for in Hyundai colors aside from the WRC drivers in 2021.
Career highlights: 2019 WRC2 champion
2021 program: WRC with 2C Competition
Loubet effectively leads Hyundai’s junior driver program this year as the only one to be competing full-time in the team’s top-spec i20 Coupe WRC.
The Corsican, son of 1989 European Rally Champion Yves, has been rallying since 2015 and was immediately on the international scene – his second ever rally was Rally Portugal.
From there Loubet began dovetailing WRC2 and ERC campaigns, winning the WRC2 title in a Škoda in just his fifth ever season behind the wheel. That led to Hyundai picking him up and handing him a WRC debut after the 2020 season restarted following COVID-19.
This year Loubet is contesting the entire WRC season but is yet to register any championship points on the board. He has been unlucky on several occasions in both 2020 and 2021 however, so will be aiming to better his current best finish of seventh (Rally Italy 2020) throughout the course of the year.
Career highlights: 2020 ERC1 Junior champion
2021 program: WRC2 with Hyundai
Solberg’s rise through the rallying ranks is similar to that of Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä.
The son of 2003 World Rally Champion Petter, Solberg made his first competitive start in rallycross but he soon started rallying in 2017 with a Peugeot 208 R2 in Latvia.
He stepped up to all-wheel drive in 2019, contesting – and winning – several American Rally Association rounds with Subaru Motorsports USA as well as taking his first ERC victory on Rally Liepaja in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Last season was Solberg’s first full-time in the WRC, contesting WRC3 in the family Polo as well as entering several rounds in a Fabia Rally2 evo due to an alliance with Škoda Motorsport. He won in Estonia and was snapped up by Hyundai during the winter on a two-year deal for 2021 and 2022.
Solberg’s campaign is primarily to be in WRC2 but he has already tasted World Rally Car competition in Finland and performed handsomely.
Career highlights: 2020 WRC3 champion
2021 program: WRC2 with Hyundai
Huttunen’s recent form in a Hyundai i20 R5 has been simply ridiculous – an opening stage mechanical failure on the recent Arctic Rally Finland aside.
The Finn and the podium have been best buddies for the best part of a year, and superb drives in both WRC3 and Poland last year have rightfully restored Huttunen’s place in Hyundai’s official set-up.
Huttunen first rallied back in 2013 and rose to prominence in 2016, winning Germany’s Opel Adam Cup and earning a works Opel seat in ERC3 for the following season.
He then saw off stiff competition that included several current WRC drivers to earn a spot on the Hyundai Motorsport Driver Development Program in 2018 but a disappointing year put Huttunen into the shade for 2019, despite getting two outings in an i20 Coupe WRC on Finnish national rounds.
Now he’s back, and will primarily drive in WRC2 for Hyundai as he further looks to revive a career that had looked to have stalled.
Ole Christian Veiby
Career highlights: 2nd in 2017 APRC, 2019 Norwegian champion
2021 program: WRC2 with Hyundai
It’s hard to believe Veiby is still only 24, as he’s been driving Rally2 cars internationally ever since 2016.
He started his career in his native Norway in 2012, aged just 16, but soon moved up into the world championship and forged close ties with Škoda Motorsport and MRF Tires – coming second with the latter in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship with two event wins.
He contested a more regular WRC2 season in 2018 but failed to win an event and only managed seventh in the standings, leaving to him going his own way in 2019 with a VW Polo R5.
Veiby joined Hyundai’s junior program last year and competed in WRC2, finishing fourth behind Mads Østberg, Pontus Tidemand, and Adrien Fourmaux. He remains in the series for 2021.
He got his first taste of World Rally Car machinery on last year’s Monza Rally, taking Loubet’s usual seat at 2C Competition, but he crashed out on Saturday on a treacherous stretch of road that caught out other WRC drivers.
Career highlights: 2018 & 2019 Belgian Junior champion
2021 program: Belgian Rally Championship with BMA
Another member of Hyundai’s junior line-up to hail from a rallying dynasty, Grégoire – the son of 1995 Belgian Champion Bernard – has only completed four rallying seasons in his career, but come the end of 2021 he’ll have been a Hyundai Junior for 40% of them.
He’s packed a lot into such a short career, with two full seasons in an Opel Adam R2 in Belgium and, like Huttunen, in Germany’s Opel Adam Cup. Although he twice won the Junior title in Belgium, he was second two years in succession in the Adam Cup.
In 2019 Munster made a step up to the ERC where he remained in 2020 but in a four-wheel-drive Hyundai i20 R5 due to his Hyundai support. It was a hugely impressive season that included an outright podium on Rally Hungary and a sustained ERC1 Junior challenge that went the distance against Solberg.
Munster will compete primarily in the Belgian championship in 2021, but is expected to contest international events as well, where his schedule allows. He does have WRC experience to complement his ERC outings, doing Monte Carlo (albeit in a Škoda), Estonia and Monza last year.
Career highlights: 2019 British Junior champion
2021 program: WRC3, select ERC and BRC events
The new kid on the block, McErlean is more than worthy of his place in Hyundai’s roster even if he is at the more junior end of the junior line-up.
McErlean began his junior rallying career in 2014 before stepping up to senior competition in 2017, piloting a little Citroën C2 R2 Max in the UK and Ireland. A switch to a Ford Fiesta R2T and the British Rally Championship in 2018 brought more power but not necessarily any better luck or reliability.
It all came together in 2019 however as, then equipped with a Peugeot 208 R2, three wins from five netted him the Junior class title and a shot in a Hyundai i20 R5 for that year’s Rally GB. This was key as it helped him to bolster relations with Hyundai Motorsport.
Also supported by the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, McErlean was set for Britain but turned attention to Europe when COVID-19 brought UK rallying to a standstill in 2020. He flew under the radar as he was instructed to just learn the rallies, but those that knew had spotted his potential and handed him a shot on Monza Rally as Munster’s team-mate in WRC3.
A more complete WRC3 campaign will be McErlean’s “focus” for 2021, according to Hyundai, though he will also contest rallies in the British and European championships. He has bags of potential that he now just has to show to a wider audience.