With little more than a week left before the first race of the season, Hyundai Motorsport has outlined its intentions to compete once again at the front of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), with its sights set on the manufacturers' and drivers' titles.
The team finished as runners-up in 2018, for the third time in a row, having taken the title fight down to the wire. In one of the closest, most hotly contested seasons in recent years, a three-way battle was only concluded at the season finale in Australia.
Hyundai Motorsport has stated its intentions at the Autosport International show in Birmingham in the Unitek Kingdom, where the team was introduced and conducted interviews with the media. One of the arrows in the Hyundai WRC quiver for 2019, Sébastien Loeb, was absent at the event due to his participation in the Dakar Rally in South America.
Running a revised crew line-up and with an extended calendar of 14 rounds in 2019, Hyundai Motorsport will aim to revisit the competitive form that helped it score three victories and 11 podium finishes last season.
With WRC's regulations remaining stable, the team has been able to evolve the technical foundations of its rally winning Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. All aspects of the car have been rigorously assessed in order to perform consistently across all terrains in the coming season. A brand new event in Chile will join the existing events on the world tour.
Andrea Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport's new team director who replaced Michel Nandan at the end of 2018, said the targets for Hyundai Motorsport in its sixth season are clear:
"Our objectives for WRC remain the same as they have been for the past years, namely to fight for the manufacturers' and drivers' titles. This is important for Hyundai and our N brand. The WRC is incredibly competitive and the other teams will want to approach the new season with the same winning mind-set. We have to make sure we're delivering and performing at our best at all times."
Three Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars will compete in each of the 14 rounds on the calendar in 2019. Last year's runners-up in the driver's and co-driver's championship, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul, will be joined by Norwegian crew Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jaeger-Amland in all events, while the seasoned WRC champion Sébastien Loeb will compete in 6 of this year's races.
Loeb, nine-times WRC champion who will drive his first event in the Hyundai i20 WRC in Rallye Monte-Carlo, has signed a two-year contract for 2019 and 2020 with Hyundai Motorsport. Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio - twice podium scorers last season - will take part in eight events, starting at Rally Mexico.
"We have used the opportunity of the winter break to recharge our batteries for another assault on the WRC titles. We showed a lot of promise last season and gave it our best shot but, for various reasons we could not sustain our challenge. We recognise that consistency is an important area of improvement for our team, as well as creating strength in depth across all crews."
Mikkelsen said he was ready to put "a difficult 2018" behind him and approach a new season with renewed purpose and attack.
"Although the results were missing last year, we learned a lot about the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC and I feel we are better prepared for 2019."
"We are entering a brand new season but our targets remain the same - to be competitive at each round we tackle. I was pleased with how things went last year, scoring two podiums and regularly inside the top-five. We will be doing more WRC events in 2019, starting from Mexico, so I am hopeful we can begin the season fighting at the front. Hyundai Motorsport has become a very special team to me, and I am delighted to continue our working relationship into a sixth season."
"I am pleased to be joining such a great line-up of crews for my first season with Hyundai Motorsport. It is clear to me that the car was a competitive package in 2018, which enabled the team to fight for the championship titles right to the very end. Thierry has improved a lot in recent years and is a genuine title contender. He is fast on every surface, which is important. Andreas, too, has proven his speed. Dani is the guy I know best in WRC, as we were teammates in the past. It promises to be a great season. I hope I can get up to speed with the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC quickly and show competitive pace."
Hyundai Motorsport continues to rely on the support of its proven partners, including title sponsors Shell and Hyundai Mobis. Running under the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team banner for 2019, the team has also added new partners to its program with Open Location Platform company HERE Technologies, and international watch brand Jacques Lemans.
"We have all the ingredients to win in WRC. There is nothing lacking compared to our rivals. We are right up there in terms of our engineering capability. We are arguably the strongest in terms of our crew line-up - Thierry, Andreas, Dani and Sébastien are all top-level drivers. I am confident we have the package to win,"