Hyundai Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Hyundai Home Country: Korea Korea

I seem totally unable to trace where the Hyundai name comes from and what it means, except that Hyundai uses the Honda brand logo. The founder of Hyundai is Chung Ju Yung from North Korea, a farmer who went via rice sales into car repairs and shipyards. Mind you, the story of Chung Ju Yung is interesting in so far that he came from total poverty without any school education to make a career in rice and with that money started to set up a rather big industry. In 1968 Hyundai Motors turned from car repairs to importing CKD kits from which they assembled the British Ford Cortina Mk2. Later generations Cortina and the Granada followed. Hyundai's first own car only came in 1975 in the shape of the Hyundai Pony. The manager of the project was George Turnbull, an Englishman and until that moment British Leyland (Austin & Morris Division) boss, which may explain why the first Hyundai car had extensive use of parts from not only the Ford Cortina, but more so the Morris Marina. And maybe some design basics of the Pony remind of some Talbot projects as George Turnbull also was a Talbot manager in the Sunbeam & Horizon days, though that was later and his duties edging towards the commercial side of things. Anyway, Turnbull as project manager meant business and he hired 5 further British engineers including a BRM Formula 1 chassis man and also called on help from Giugiaro/Italdesign. The resulting Hyundai Pony was very much a no-nonsense design that suited the European taste, and yes, they sold it in Europe and even Canada with success. But maybe Hyundai was too keen to create an all Korean car too soon. Despite the Pony's big success "friendly" Hyundai sacked Turnbull after only 3 years and by the mid-1980s the Pony was replaced by the Excel, the Cortina was replaced by the Elantra and the Granada by the Grandeur. OK, it would have been useless to re-export Cortinas and Granadas to Europe, but the Pony was a good start. Yet with what followed on from the Pony, Hyundai found it hard to be taken serious outside of Asia for a long time.

Curiously the other big Korean car manufacturer had a similar fate: Kia - apparently meaning "rising from A(sia)" - started out by importing Fiat/Lada 124, Fiat 132 & Peugeot 604. The first Kia branded car, the Kia Pride, was actually a re-badged Mazda 121. (Why call it your Pride, when it is not your own? Besides the 121 was never a great car.) Only towards the end of the 1980s Kia launched their first own cars, Capital and Sephia, and not even 10 years later, in 1997, they were bankrupt and fell under Hyundai ownership. So if you spot similarities between modern Hyundai and Kia cars, this is no coincidence. Another curiosity is the Hyundai Galloper from 1991-2003. This is a re-badged Mitsubishi Pajero/Shogun, and although largely known as the Hyundai Galloper, it was not actually produced by Hyundai Motors, but by HDPIC, a precision machine company belonging to Hyundai Group! It also never carried the Hyundai brand logo, but either a galloping horse or indeed the letters HDPIC. Strange in house competition. But again it shows that Hyundai did not actually start with cars, Chung Ju Yung created a whole line of money making industries from shipyards via electronics to, indeed one of their biggest arms, hotels. Today Hyundai is mother to a whole group of now South Korean based industries and is one of the top10 richest companies in the world. So no excuse they are a poor team. However it has to be questioned if they are really all that serious about rallying or even interested in having their cars look good. That said, you will find it very hard to find a friendlier and more dedicated bunch of people than Hyundai’s preparation contractor, MSD = Motor Sport Development in Milton Keynes, UK.

But in the right order – with an important 2014 update at the end:

The initiative to have the Korean manufacturer in rallying actually came from Australia, namely Wayne Bell, an Australian driver and tuner. Following long negotiations with the manufacturer themselves, he started preparing and running Hyundai’s in the World Championship. Even insiders are hard pushed to recall the first entries of Hyundai’s World Rally Team. Their debut was in the Rally NZ 1997 with an F2 Hyundai Coupé Kit Car and drivers Wayne Bell himself and Robert Nicoli, both Australians. This was followed up with entries in Indonesia and Australia in 1997. Their first event in Europe was the Rally GB the same year, driver was none other than Jimmy McRae, who also did some tests for the team. The car they used was actually an Accent, but an older shaped model and as well entered in F2. Jimmy McRae only finished 32nd on that event, which curiously was still better than the Volkswagen Golf F2 debut in Jimmy's hands on the same event 4 years earlier. Next we have to give 10/10 marks to Wayne Bell for unselfishly recognising to move the operation to a European base and get expert help in was what he needed for a mainly European based World rally series. Already with the start of the following season, still with Wayne Bell involvement, MSD was in charge of preparing and running the cars, which now was permanently the better known Coupé Kit Car and with drivers Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae. Kenneth Eriksson was a clever choice, he still won 2 WRC events outright the year before, yet he became available when suddenly let down by Subaru after Rally Sweden 1998 in favour of asphalt ace Piero Liatti. Yes, surprising mid-season move by Subaru, but lucky for Hyundai. Alister McRae seemed logical for the Jimmy McRae – Wayne Bell connection, though Alister McRae only shared 2nd car duties with Wayne Bell in 1998.

From now on Hyundai had the dream of winning the 2-Litre World Championship, as i.e. Seat and Skoda had done before. Indeed, in terms of performance the car had a big struggle at hand on events where the Peugeot 306 Maxi or the Citroën Xsara Kit Car started, but measured at more regular competition as the kit car versions of Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Almera, Seat Ibiza or Skoda Felicia, Hyundai’s target should have been achievable. Reliability of the Hyundai was not the best either, so Hyundai actually never achieved winning the 2-Litre World Championship despite lack of competition. (In 1999 Renault beat Hyundai to the F2 title by accident, Renault never competed for the title in the first place! Hyundai was the only manufacturer* actually competing for this title in 1999, so you could say they were worse than mathematically possible! *OK, you actually had to register for the series. But while Hyundai sent 2 works cars with McRae & Eriksson to a 10 round program, Renault collected their points with a lady driver in a groupN Clio and a pair of old Argentinean R18s! Sorry, doesn't sound good for a Hyundai story, but this is too funny to let you miss out on.) But with the regular appearances of Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae they got a superb result in raising the brand awareness.

After all that from the season 2000 Hyundai entered with a proper WRCar, the Accent WRC, and a promise they would become World Champions within 2 years - a surprising claim or misjudgement following the F2 program that really was such an embarrassment. The project showed promise at times but 3 ½ years after the start of this project (at the time of writing this), they still have failed to even get a podium finish and even fastest stage times are very rare. The project seemed to move into the right direction in big steps with signing Juha Kankkunen as a test driver and 3rd works driver for 2002, but for 2003 the budget was shortened so much that the team not only lost Juha Kankkunen again, at one point the Korean Hyundai head quarters (and hotel owners LOL) apparently were even asking if their World championship stars could not sleep in tents! This is just an unbelievable attitude and a real shame to see the hugely likeable MSD crew struggling for the last pennies while the Korean head quarter is throwing billions of dollars at soccer sponsorship. It is a sad thought, but looking into the past years and the developments within the team, the question is far from “when will they be truly competitive?”, but more like “will they even bother in the future?”

This had been written in spring 2003. Things have moved on since. Hyundai headquarters in Korea had stopped paying the project full stop, leaving the private company MSD in an unbearable and unfair situation. It all went up in a massive, public argument and left without any budget at all MSD and such Hyundai works cars did not turn up for the last 4 events in 2003. As you already see in the mood the above was written, it was hardly surprising to see Hyundai disappear. The bigger surprise is that Hyundai promises to return in 2005, then in 2006, then.... To the day that comeback has not happened and honestly I do not believe we will see it happen, nor do I feel their return would be worthwhile. (How wrong could I be? Please note the important 2014 update below.)

If you allow me that note, even years later my mood about this manufacturer has not changed. They throw billions at the soccer World and European cups since a decade, state everywhere that Hyundai's are the official soccer cars when even soccer stars are so "satisfied" with their products, and Hyundai seemingly forgot they don't have busses in their range, that embarrassingly it is publicly seen that nobody involved uses the official soccer cars. Or is it only me to find a line up of Mercedes with big stickers “Hyundai, the official FIFA Cup car” hugely embarrassing? All those billions at soccer, but their rally team was left starving and struggling. I can't help thinking I am not the only one feeling maybe Hyundai is better off advertising their products through a sport that has no connection to cars. They seem better off in a sport that doesn't proof the quality and performance of their products, and it seems Hyundai knows that! Sorry, strong words, and they will be most welcome if their attitude changes. I just can’t help feeling it stinks that a car manufacturer throws billions at soccer, a game that is well rich enough, while at the same time leaving their own team starve in a sport that actually shows and proves their own products to potential customers!

Important update 2014:

Please note that the above text has been written in spring 2003, and the last two paragraphs sometime in 2006, when the soccer world cup was in Germany. Soccer is such a rich game and the German government threw millions of my tax money into building new stadions and everything, and to the day for the many low life hooligans this game attracts like no other game or sport, thousands of police officers are paid by my tax money to attend soccer games every weekend. Not that the soccer players, managers and teams in Germany pay any tax, judging by recent incidents. At the same time the ADAC has to pay every single permission, every single police man and every single road sign (ADAC's own road signs, just to be allowed to put them up) to the government to run Rallye Deutschland, such a huge bill that this sport is dying in this nation despite its large car industry that even the Rallye Deutschland World Championship event (which really is a World Championship in contrast to soccer) was repeatedly in danger of being cancelled. But every single TV station reports about soccer and for some reason Germans are so stupid with this, when German media or whoever talks about the world championship, they "of course" mean soccer - why "of course", it's the FIFA World Cup (TM), so where does that even make it a world championship in the first place, it's only a bloody cup! Sorry, I am still ranting. For me everyone can have the sport he likes. But exactly that is what winds me up, I thought I live in a democracy, but I don't, this is a dictatorship, in Germany if you are not a soccer fan you are being far more discriminated than any other species of human being! In this stupid country I would be better off being a homosexual than a rally and car fan! And no, I have no problem with homosexuals, some of my best friends are gays and lesbians. Only soccer gets tax gifts, and masses of them. The TV virtually forces soccer onto you, there is no other sport at all, and if as a result you get rid of your TV set, you still have to pay a TV licence to the government - I kid you not! Tell me, is this a democracy?

Sorry, still ranting rather than writing about Hyundai. Thing is, as a car manufacturer what can you proof about your products in soccer? Absolutely nothing at all! If you are a soccer fan, that's fine by me. But what does soccer proof to its sponsors? Who needs a ball? But everybody needs a car, it is your biggest investment in your life except for buying a house, so everybody should inform themselves about cars before purchase, and where do you get the best picture of what is a good car, in soccer or in motorsport? Besides soccer has so much money and so many sponsors that Hyundai’s sponsorship will hardly have an impact for soccer and they will hardly stand out from other sponsors. To pump billions into soccer while letting your own motorsport team that could prove far more about your product starve to a nasty public death – I can’t believe I am the only person who can’t find sympathies for this act.

Sorry, I really should stop ranting. I just can't get over how bad Hyundai was in rallying in 1998 to 2003. (Surely a Hyundai Germany thing and nothing Korean, but some of their advertisements were incredibly stupid too. "Hyundai, now with self supporting chassis" - Er, are we in the 1950s? Does it have 4 wheels? Obviously targeting customers with no idea about cars whatsoever.) Not only that, they were repeatedly claiming how they will be World Champions, after they left they were repeatedly claiming how they would come back next year, none of this ever happened, but then they pump billions of dollars into a game (it's not even really sport) that is totally meaningless for the car industry and that is bloody well rich enough with all that TV time and all that government money for which I pay tax. And sorry, alongside discriminating soccer-dictatorship, the next biggest thing I don't like is arrogance. Maybe in the case of Hyundai arrogance is the wrong word, but they repeatedly made claims they never lived up to. – If there was a leaflet why someone shouldn’t be your friend, by 2006 Hyundai had ticked every single box except the ‘tickling your girlfriend’s box’ one.
But times move on, all this happened a while ago, and Hyundai themselves can't have been happy with what happened. So note: In the last two paragraphs before this add on, I also say: and they will be most welcome if their attitude changes.

Exactly this seems to have happened now. While I actually liked both the Wayne Bell and the MSD businesses, Hyundai now from 2014 operates in house in an all new motorsport centre in Alzenau, Germany. Interesting as well is what a colourful bunch of people they threw together: Based in Germany, the team director is Michel Nandon from France, former Peugeot 206 WRC engineer, team manager Alain Penasse from Belgium, who I know and value very highly as the head of the Ypres Rally organisation, press lady Nicoletta Russo from Italy, daughter to Fiat-Lancia legend Ninni Russo, and sorry for everyone else I didn't mention now, the list is very long indeed. But this selection shows how colourful the mix is, all on their own are very nice and good people. Some of them it seems surprising to throw them together as one team, but a brave and exciting mix and if it works out, who can argue.

Well, if it works out needs to still be seen at this moment. But obviously the attitude at Hyundai has changed, and that means indeed why should a change in their results compared to 2003 not be most welcome as well!

During the early part of the season the Hyundai team has been criticised quite often that they keep swapping drivers, they don’t have continuity. Now here is an aspect where I actually have to defend Hyundai, their drivers choice is in fact excellent! IRC ace Thierry Neuville as number 1 driver simply is the best investment into the future at this time. 2nd car duties are indeed shared between Daniel Sordo, Juho Hänninen and Chris Atkinson, with test driver being Bryan Bouffier. Seeing past seasons, Sordo may not always have been convincing, but he is good on asphalt and to get him mainly for the asphalt events therefore is a very good move. Hänninen in turn clearly is stronger on gravel. He and Bouffier are, like Neuville, past IRC heroes and the IRC/ERC top drivers are stronger than WRC managers want us to believe. Yes, maybe continuity is lacking, but it gives us a new (old) dimension of excitement in the build up to each event as which driver is chosen for which event. Plus 5 drivers surely can give more input into the development of a new car than just 2 drivers. Am I really alone thinking this move is exciting and smart? They should be praised for this, in modern WRC rules we never see enough drivers getting a chance in works cars, there is a reason why since over a decade nobody wins but French Sébastiens. As an example for Rallye Deutschland 2014 Hyundai announced Neuville, Sordo & Bouffier as their line up. Thinking of the big fight for victory between Neuville & Sordo in Deutschland 2013 and Bouffier's excellent show in Monte 2014, are you really telling me this is not more exciting in the build up to this event than a Hyundai team forced to stick to Hänninen & Paddon? WRC people should not criticise this move, but look at the WRC rules and get rid of 2-car teams and driver nominations. As it is a team running a 3rd car is a pointless luxury and if the 3rd car beats the main cars there are inevitably team orders as the 3rd car actually takes manufacturer points away from the very manufacturer entering this car - and then you wonder we don't find new talent?

Another small mid-season update, to not have more soccer than Hyundai in this story: So far the new era WRCar from Hyundai does not seem the big winner. But it is too early for a fair judgement. It's not really that bad either. The i20 WRC has won a stage on its 4th start. Which doesn't sound like much compared to the debuts of Peugeots, Citroens and Volkswagens, but is a big improvement on previous Hyundai World championship projects. The car also managed a podium finish on only its 3rd start, which is something the Hyundai Accent WRC never managed in 3 1/2 years of trying! And then there was the Rallye Deutschland 1-2! If Hyundai is realistic this win was not for the car's performance but helped by basically all Volkswagens and Citroens running into problems, but the big Hyundai drivers shuffle that is so often criticised actually turned the Rallye Deutschland into the most surprising and exciting WRC event of the whole 2014 calendar by a long way. So it's not the ultimate success story yet, but the program is still fresh with a new engine later this year and a new car from 2015 in the pipeline, so things might well turn more exciting for Hyundai than running up and down a green piece of lawn.

COLOURS & TYRES:

Nothing distinct it seems, the F2 cars were white with blue & red, the WRCars after Castrol sponsorship were silver & red.
But even here we see a dramatic change in Hyundai’s attitude and approach in 2014. In the new project they use a base colour called Hyundai Blue, and indeed it seems Hyundai has created this colour especially for rallying! This base colour is a light grey-ish-blue, it is hard to identify if it is more grey or more blue, and some people, me included, argue it has a hint of lilac rather than grey in it. And why not, if you want an unusual light blue, lilac is better than turquoise, OK, that maybe is opinion. But grey sounds boring, lilac sounds gay, yet the Hyundai colour is neither boring nor gay. Point is Hyundai uses this as base colour, and it works since it is a very light colour. And when 90% of rally cars in history had a white or silver-grey base, the Hyundai Blue is surely one of the most interesting and unique base colours ever seen. Add to this fluorescent red, which was only added for Shell sponsorship, but makes it even more distinct.

Tyres always Michelin.

REGISTRATIONS:

In 1997 Australian Wayne Bell was in charge of getting Hyundai into rallying. During that time the works cars were registered in Australia. Only 4 cars had been built and registered here. (A 5th Wayne Bell built car is P332 WGS, it was transferred to MSD in Milton Keynes before first registration, all other UK registered cars are MSD made. Also note P332 WGS was RHD, while all MSD cars were LHD.) The Australian reg plates would start with "HRS" = "Hyundai Rally Sport" (guess!), followed by quite funny numbers. Well, we had for the 4 cars: 009, 010, 011 & 101. From 1998 MSD in Milton Keynes UK took over and also registered the cars for Hyundai. Look at our general registrations guide for more info on UK plates. Soon we had private plates with a relatively short number and the 3 letter block displaying "MSD", which was the preparer's name. In 2001 the 3 letter block changed to "HMC" for "Hyundai Motor Company". This change went in line with the introduction of the WRC2 version Accent, such on the reg plate you can actually identify an early Accent WRC from its later evolution versions. However note that especially with the “MSD” private plates, reg plates have been re-used for later cars.
With the new outfit from 2014, Hyundai's own base is in Alzenau, Germany. As a funny and welcome coincidence, Hyundai Motorsport starts operating at a time some German cities run out of registration plate combinations and therefore new area codes are opened up. First test cars were on trade plates starting with AB for Aschaffenburg, the next bigger city to Alzenau. However from late 2013 Alzenau has its own area code and so eventually all Hyundai works cars should be on reg plates starting with ALZ. On the first events we see reg plates "ALZ-WR" followed by 2-digit numbers, the WR probably chosen for World Rally. But management and recce cars display "ALZ-H" and a 4-digit number, with the H obviously meaning Hyundai.

Hyundai Rally Cars

Model Class
Hyundai Hyundai Accent  Formula 2
Hyundai Hyundai Accent  World Rally Car
Hyundai Hyundai Coupé  Formula 2
Hyundai Hyundai i20  Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T
Hyundai Hyundai i20 (new)  World Rally Car
Hyundai Hyundai i20 (new)  Class R5
Hyundai Hyundai i20 (new)  Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T

Rally Honour Roll

Year Class Place Manufacturer Events
2017 IRC Class R5 7th. Hyundai (20pts) 8

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

2017 WRC World Rally Car 2nd. Hyundai (345pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

2016 WRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 2nd. Hyundai (312pts) 13
Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 5th. 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

2015 WRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 3rd. Hyundai (224pts) 13
Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 6th. 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

2014 WRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 4th. Hyundai (187pts) 13
Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 7th. 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

2003 WRC World Rally Car 66th. Hyundai (1pts) 14

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

2002 WRC World Rally Car 4th. Hyundai (10pts) 14

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

2001 WRC World Rally Car 6th. Hyundai (17pts) 14

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

2000 WRC World Rally Car 6th. Hyundai (8pts) 14

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar