Toyota has emerged as the current pacesetter in WRC having won four of the five events to date this season, while Hyundai is the only Rally1 team yet to score a victory this calendar year following M-Sport-Ford’s success in Sweden.
While Hyundai’s last WRC win came in last year’s season finale in Japan, the Korean car maker has made a far stronger start to the 2023 campaign compared to a difficult beginning to the Rally1 era twelve months ago.
Its updated i20 N, which underwent visible aerodynamic improvements over the winter, has scored seven podiums shared between drivers Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi, Dani Sordo and the late Craig Breen, including second-place finishes in Sweden, Mexico and Portugal.
After scoring a double podium in Portugal earlier this month, albeit almost a minute behind rally winner Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera, Abiteboul says it is clear that his team needs to push harder to close the gap to Toyota.
“I think we need to be a bit more honest with ourselves,” Abiteboul told Autosport.
“We had an indication after Mexico that we were looking competitive but again I think we were helped a little with the circumstances in Mexico.
“Now that we have the indication of where we stand we probably need to tackle the areas with a bit more energy and commitment than we have so far with regard to all aspects of the car and the organisation.”
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Since those comments, Hyundai has bolstered its technical department with the signing of former Williams F1 and Volkswagen WRC technical director Francois-Xavier Demaison.
The experienced engineer will now take the role of technical director, focussing on the development of the i20 N and the brand’s other motorsport activities in TCR and ETCR.
Speaking before the announcement confirming Demaison’s arrival, Abiteboul confirmed that the team is planning to use one of its allotted homologation jokers to improve the i20 N.
The Frenchman did however admit that the restrictive nature of the Rally1 regulations has made developing the car more challenging.
“We will [use our homologation jokers]. We are in the process of firming up plans for the homologation,” he added.
“As you know with the Rally1 regulations they are pretty restrictive in what can be done.
“Frankly, to be honest, it is an area that probably needs to be looked at because I’m not sure it is more expensive to have a team available that can’t implement the good ideas they have because of the regulations.
“The team is here and the parts on the car are changed on a regular basis because it is rally and the parts suffer. I'm not sure what costs we are saving through this homologation and it is a discussion we will have.”
Hyundai has been testing its i20 N this week at its Finland test base with Lappi at the wheel.2023-05-25T09:01:30Z dg43tfdfdgfd