Hyundai’s first approach to the rally world came as early as 1991, following Wayne Bell participation in some Australian events with a Hyundai Elantra. Bell was instrumental in getting the Hyundai brand involved in the World Rally Championship. Hyundai first competed in the WRC and APRC in 1995. Soon after, the Korean manufacturer took the decision to officially enter the WRC. They followed the same model Subaru and Mitsubishi had previously chosen, by placing an experienced European rally team in charge of development and competition. The selected team was David Whitehead’s Motor Sport Development (MSD), which had previous experience in the British Rally Championship and British Touring Car Championship.
After two years competing in the F2 category with the Hyundai Coupé kit car, in 1999 the decision was taken to step up into the top category. In this year, Hyundai released the second evolution of the Accent model (or Verna, as it was named in some countries), so it made a lot of sense to build a WRC car based on the Accent, in terms of marketing.
The design was led by MSD Chief Engineer Nick Clipson, together with Bob Bell and Mark Way. It was a very quick process that only took 9 months to design, engineer and test. The new Hyundai Accent WRC was first presented to the public in Frankfurt Motor Show in 1999, while a 3-minutes commercial was prepared to help promote the WRC car (you can see it here).
A.McRae/D.Senior, Hyundai Accent WRC, Rally Catalunya 2000, retired
Peter Stevens, who had previously done the design of the Subaru Impreza WRC, was chosen to develop the styling and the aerodynamics of the Accent WRC. The front bumper was the result of significant efforts to allow an appropriate engine and brake cooling with low drag cost, thanks to rounded design. It also contributed to downforce generation thanks to the prominent front splitter which significantly reduced the amount of air flowing under the car. On top of the bonnet, a NACA duct located on the right side allowed an independent air feed for the engine, while cooling air was removed through the central (rectangular) and right side (round) air vents.
The car also included a wide roof scoop allowed to feed fresh air into the car. For the generation of rear downforce, a double rear wing was designed. It consisted of an upper inverted wing and a lower plate, also wing-shaped, with prominent end plates to ensure no interaction between airflow above and below the upper wing.
A.McRae/D.Senior, Hyundai Accent WRC, Rally Sanremo 2000, 16th – picture by Petr Fitz – ewrc-results.com
But one of the main features of the Hyundai Accent WRC was the inclusion of a simple rear diffuser, while no other team was using at that moment in the WRC. It was obtained by simply modifying the shape of the rear bumper (under the Castrol sticker), and by adding five small strakes to channel the exiting airflow. Although it was not a very developed design, it was at least an attempt to generate some downforce by allowing air from under the car to be removed more quickly.
The tests of the car started in 1999, with Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander and Alister McRae/David Senior at the wheel, and continued in early 2000 (see this video of one of the tests).
The team selected the Rally Sweden for the competitive debut of the car. The car performed reasonably well in the Swedish stages, especially at the hands of the duo Eriksson/Parmander, who, in spite of finishing 13th, showed the car had the potential to do much better. They were able to finish in the top ten in 50% of the stages, setting times consistently below one second per km slower than the leading cars.
K.Eriksson/S.Parmander, Hyundai Accent WRC, Rally of Great Britain 2000, retired – picture by Petr Fitz – ewrc-results.com
In Portugal the Swedish duo also obtained some interesting stage results, showing that the car was able to perform in the gravel at a similar pace than in snow. Unfortunately, they were forced to retire during the second leg when they were in the 8th position. The confirmation arrived in Argentina, where McRae/Senior were 7th and Eriksson/Parmander 8th. The good result and the reliability shown by the car allowed the team to start a program to reduce the car weight, which was too elevated in some parts due to a too conservative initial design.
The modifications worked out, as in New Zealand Eriksson/Parmander obtained an excellent final 5th position, while McRae/Senior gave the car its first stage win in the selective stage of Te Akau South (31,24km), where they were able to leave their competitors more than 5 seconds behind. And the Korean cars set a top-five position in 50% of the stages, confirming the progress of the car on gravel. A third car was entered for Michael Guest and David Green as part of a driver development program in Australia, where Eriksson/Parmander got their best result with the Accent WRC, by finishing fourth and setting the fastest time in two stages.
P.Liatti/C.Cassina, Hyundai Accent WRC, Rallye Monte Carlo 2001, retired – picture by Petr Fitz – ewrc-results.com
In the tarmac however, the results were far from expectation, partly because most of the development work in the first year was oriented to gravel. In order to improve the car on this surface, Piero Liatti and Carlo Cassina joined the team in 2001, replacing Eriksson/Parmander at the tarmac events. The Italian duo took part in different tests developed in December’00 and January’01 held in some tarmac stages in the South of France. By then, the team was already focused on the development of the first evolution of the car, the Hyundai Accent WRC02.
A.McRae/D.Senior, Hyundai Accent WRC02, Rally Australia 2001, 10th – picture by Hyundai Castrol WRT
The aero was totally redefined for the new car. The front bumper was fully changed: the side air intakes for brake cooling disappeared as they were integrated into the lower, central intake, which increased in surface. In addition, two side vents were included on both sides of the front bumper, ahead of the front wheels, similar to the Peugeot 206 WRC. The new vents allowed for air removal to the sides of the car, with minimal interaction with the main, external airflow.
A.McRae/D.Senior, Hyundai Accent WRC02, Rally Cyprus 2001, 7th – picture by Hyundai Castrol WRT
The design of the air intakes and vents on the bonnet also changed. The NACA duct intake was removed, while several rows of round louvers were included on both sides of the bonnet for venting purposes. A small flat inlet was located ahead of the windscreen, possibly to cool down the turbo. The roof scoop design was also changed, into a more prominent, oval-shape scoop.
K.Eriksson/S.Parmander, Hyundai Accent WRC02, Rally of Great Britain 2001, 6th – picture by Petr Fitz – ewrc-results.com
In the rear, the main modifications were the redesign of the end plates, with a new, thicker shape, and the increase in the space between the two wings, to increase their efficiency. The rear diffuser remained unchanged.
The new car was launched at the Grahams’ distillery in Porto, preceding the TAP-Rallye de Portugal 2001, on which it made its debut. During the launching, Chief Engineer Nick Clipson declared that “the external shape of the car had been refined in the wind tunnel, to make the car more efficient by reducing the drag and improving aerodynamic stability. Balance was better between front and rear in terms of down force“. The new car also included a lighter chassis, an improved engine, longer suspension travel and an electronically-controlled front active differential.
In spite of the treacherous conditions in the Portuguese stages, due to heavy rain, the car performance improved over the event, allowing both drivers to set impressive times at the end of the rally, where they finished 6th (McRae/Senior) and 7th (Eriksson/Parmander). The lack of reliability punished the teams in the next gravel events, in spite of the good results at the start of Rally Argentina (McRae/Senior) or Cyprus, where Eriksson/Senior were in the second position after the first three stages. Also, in New Zealand the Swedish duo finished the first leg in first position, after consistently being fourth most of the day and setting the fastest time in the Whaanga Coast stage (29,52 km), the first for the Accent WRC02. But they were benefited from the tactical decision of the leading competitors, who slowed down in the last stages in order to find a clean route in the second leg.
A.McRae/D.Senior, Hyundai Accent WRC02, Rally of Great Britain 2001, 4th – picture by Petr Fitz – ewrc-results.com
In order to take an external opinion with great experience, Juha Kankkunen joined the team. After his first test in Finland with the car (which you can see in this video), he and Juha Repo made their debut at the wheel of the Accent WRC, as nominated drivers (in the place of McRae/Senior). A mechanical failure forced them to retire after having completed the first leg in the 10th position, as the leading car of the team.
The work done by the team finally improved the car’s reliability by the end of the 2001 season, allowing McRae/Senior to be 4th at the Rally of Great Britain, while Eriksson/Parmander finished in 6th position. Even though it was the best result of the season, the decision had been taken and for 2002 the driver line-up was completely renewed. Armin Schwartz / Manfred Hiemer and Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets were recruited to compete in all events, while Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo would participate in some gravel events.
The second evolution of the car arrived at the Tour de Corse in 2002, and it was named as Hyundai Accent WRC03. It included lighter components, improved suspension geometry and steering as well as a new turbo. In terms of aero, the changes were oriented to improve engine cooling, which had caused several issues during the previous season. The front bumper was redesigned: the shape of the central air intakes was modified, and the total surface increased, which resulted in higher airflow and reduced intake temperatures. Also, internal ducts were redesigned to allow a better flow of air through the intercooler and radiator, as well as to cool the brakes more efficiently.
According to Nick Clipson, “the further work in the wind tunnel resulted in a refinement of previous cooling system to improve efficiency, with benefits resulting in the intercooling and engine air intake temperatures.”
F.Loix/S.Smeets, Hyundai Accent WRC03, Tour de Corse 2002, 9th – picture from wrc-online.net
The increase in airflow entering the engine bay required of an increase in the air removal capacity, for which additional vents were installed at the center of the bonnet, inside the existing vents from the previous evolution.
J.Kankkunen/J.Repo, Hyundai Accent WRC03, Rally Australia 2002, retired – picture by Hyundai Castrol WRT
In order to better prepare the new car specifically for the tarmac events, a six-day test was developed in the area of Tarragona, Spain in February 2002, one month before the car debuted in the Tour de Corse. But the first events (Tour de Corse and Catalunya) showed there was still work to be done on the tarmac. The good results came in the tough gravel events of Cyprus, Argentina, Greece and Kenya, where the team was able to consistently collect points for the manufacturer’s trophy.
Unfortunately, the designer of the car since the start of the program Nick Clipson left MSD for personal reasons in May 2002 and was replaced by Graham Moore (ex-Prodrive), who had joined the team only three months before as Senior Development Engineer.
The best result of the 2002 season was obtained in New Zealand, with Kankkunen/Repo 5th and Loix/Smeets 6th, and the four points collected, together with the eight position of Loix/Smeets in Great Britain, placed the team in a brilliant final fourth position in the 2002 Manufacturers Championship (ahead of Mitsubishi and Škoda), after two seasons finishing sixth.
A.Schwartz/M.Hiemer, Hyundai Accent WRC03, Rally Cyprus 2003, 7th – picture by Petr Lusk – ewrc-results.com
For 2003, the main sponsor (Castrol) did not renew its sponsorship contract and the team had to face significant budget limitations. Development and testing were restricted (to the point that there were no interseason tests), and also the staff had to be reduced. Chief engineer Graham Moore quit the team in August, and he was replaced by Graeme Garvin, former MSD rally engineer.
The results were impacted by the budget reduction. The best performances were obtained with the seventh position of Swartz/Hiemer in Cyprus, their 8th position in Monte Carlo and the 8th position of Loix/Smeets in Australia.
F.Loix/S.Smeets, Hyundai Accent WRC03, Rally Australia 2003, 8th – picture by Petr Lusk – ewrc-results.com
Unfortunately, a few days after the Australian event, the team resigned from the Championship. It was a sad end for a team that had shown constant improvement (especially in the aero side) and potential for podium results, with an adequate budget.