2017 season review: Hyundai
The bare statistics reveal Hyundai Motorsport enjoyed its most successful WRC season to date – runners-up in the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships, four rally wins and almost 100 special stage victories.
But – and it is a big but – there were no titles to celebrate at Hyundai’s Korean base and the team’s headquarters in Germany, and that’s the point at which the facts and the targets become somewhat blurred.
Hyundai’s 2017 goal was to win the manufacturers’ championship for the first time. If lead driver Thierry Neuville could halt Sébastien Ogier’s winning run in the drivers’ series, then so much the better.
The smart money was on both. Hyundai ended 2016 with Neuville, Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo in the top five points positions and all three remained onboard for 2017.
The opening rounds in Monte-Carlo and Sweden offered optimism, but ultimately disappointment. Neuville dominated in the French Alps until sidelined by broken suspension. Then a bizarre – and frankly inexcusable – error cost victory in Sweden when he ripped a wheel from his leading i20 in Karlstad’s Saturday night super special stage.
Hyundai was already on the back foot, 33 points adrift in the manufacturers’ standings and the Belgian 36 points behind Ogier.
There was no way realistic way back in the former, as M-Sport World Rally Team consistently racked up the points. The drivers’ battle was a different matter and Neuville could – and maybe should – be celebrating a maiden title rather than his third runners-up finish in five seasons.
Six straight podiums enabled him to erase the gap and move level with Ogier as the series departed Finland with four rounds remaining.
Then it all went horribly wrong. Broken suspension in an innocuous looking cut on Germany’s Panzerplatte military roads was followed by a dire weekend in Spain, which was finally halted by more suspension woes. Title dream over.
Paddon’s season was a disaster for a variety of reasons – some on stage and some off, while Sordo harvested good early year points but faded as the campaign progressed.
Team boss Michel Nandan drafted in Andreas Mikkelsen for the final three rounds to strengthen his line-up, but it was too late. Mistakes and inconsistency left the squad with too many obstacles to overcome.
Neuville ended the campaign with four wins compared to Ogier’s two, while Mikkelsen quickly found his feet in the i20.
These two will form the backbone of Hyundai’s 2018 challenge, with Paddon and Sordo sharing the third car. If that line-up fulfils its potential, it is more than good enough to atone for 2017’s errors.
2017 review: M-Sport
Title joy for private British squad
2017 Season review: Toyota
We look at how the WRC's newest team performed in 2017