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.
What’s happened to the four-wheel-drive Volkswagen Polo R, the model that was supposed to link the road and rally programmes? We had the Polo R WRC, but that was front-wheel drive.
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.