You’d have seen and read a lot on the World Rally Championship on these pages the past few days, Steve Sutcliffe’s blast in the Citroën DS3 World Rally Car and ride with Kris Meeke the undoubted highlight.
As someone who’d never properly attended a WRC round, or any kind of rally come to that, ventured into the Welsh forests to see what all the fuss was about. I was not disappointed.
I’ve respected but never immersed myself in rallying, save for watching the highlights of the Burns-McRae-Mäkinen-Sainz-Grönholm vintage on TV, and firing up Colin McRae Rally on the Playstation.
Up close, it was everything I thought it would be – and everything John McIlroy describes in his blog – truly spectacular, and a real spine-tingling experience in being able to get so close to these machines as they whizz past at high speed.
There’s a ‘but’ coming. My biggest gripe with the WRC is the fact there appears to be little or no links to the road car programmes anymore. Driving into Wales, every other car was an Subaru Impreza or a Mitsubishi Evo, not a VW Polo or a Citroën DS3. That’s because you can’t get anything remotely similar in looks or performance to the machines.
Yes, I appreciate the world has moved on from the likes of the Evo and Impreza for the road, as it has for the cars competing on the stages. But while the WRC show has become a championship dominated by hot hatches, a scan of the Autocar Top 5 hot hatches list reveals not a single model with rally roots.
This is the champion team we’re talking about here; the road car relevance of VW’s rally involvement is already looking like going the way of Citroën’s, which in the best part of a decade of dominating the sport thought the best way of honouring champion Sébastien Loeb was with a ‘C4 by Loeb’, a set of stickers and new wheels for the C4 hatch. Hmm.
Hyundai is at least bucking the trend with its WRC entry. The rallying i20s bear the logo of the firm’s newly established N sub-brand, which is tasked directly with creating and linking sporty road cars with the WRC effort.
Michel Nandan, Hyundai Motorsport team principal, told me this strategy is right at the heart of what Hyundai is in the WRC for in the first place, and there is attachment of road car engineers from Hyundai within the motorsport team.
I await the fruits of this with interest. A successful race programme can still do wonders for a road car if the link is tangible and obvious, and hopefully a successful hot Hyundai i20 for the road could inspire VW and others to see the merit in doing the same.