Almost two decades on from Hyundai’s first World Rally Car appearance in the FIA World Rally Championship, the Korean manufacturer celebrated global success for the first time this year.
That statistic could, of course, be considered slightly disingenuous. Hyundai’s time in the WRC has been separated into two periods with an 11-year absence in the middle.
The 2019 season represented the sixth campaign with an i20-based World Rally Car and, from Thierry Neuville’s win in Corsica in March, the Alzenau team was never headed.
Central to the success was the introduction of new team director Andrea Adamo. The Italian stepped up from running Hyundai’s customer department to take over the whole motorsport operation.
With the decision to bench Andreas Mikkelsen in favour of a Neuville-Sébastien Loeb-Dani Sordo line-up for the French island event, Adamo demonstrated early on that he wouldn’t be shying away from tough decisions.
Throughout the season, he made it clear he would do whatever it took to open the door to Hyundai’s trophy cabinet and begin the process of filling it. And that’s exactly what he did.
The highlight came with a one-two result in Argentina, where Neuville led home Mikkelsen. There were two more double podiums to celebrate.
Sordo’s victory in Italy, allied to Mikkelsen’s third, sent Hyundai into the mid-season break on the high of a 44-point lead, while Neuville and Sordo combined for first and third on what would ultimately become the season-ending event in Spain.
Looking at the numbers, there’s a strong case for questioning whether the i20 was the fastest car across the spread of this season – an Ott Tänak-wheeled Toyota Yaris was comfortably the most potent car-driver combination – but few could argue that Hyundai stepped up and delivered its most efficient and proficient campaign ever.
Only Neuville started every round for Hyundai, but the rotation of Sordo, Loeb, Mikkelsen and Irishman Craig Breen, who started in Finland and Britain, worked superbly.
Mid-season upgrades gave the i20 more stability and speed and the combination of all those factors put Adamo’s squad beyond the reach of everybody.
Neuville led the drivers’ championship after his win in Bastia and he furthered that advantage with subsequent success in Argentina. The Belgian’s huge crash in Chile dropped him to third and from then on, he struggled to match Tänak’s march towards the title.