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by David Zalstein

When given the opportunity to ‘review’ a 2016 Hyundai i20 WRC car – albeit from the passenger seat – where do you start? Well, like any other review: with some context.

Plastered in blue and red Hyundai Motorsport/Shell Helix livery, the number 4 Hyundai i20 WRC car of New Zealand World Rally Championship (WRC) ace Hayden Paddon is hard to miss. It’s even harder to ignore when Paddon has just launched the thing off a dirt jump at around 190km/h.

Off, quiet, and sat static in the welcome shade of a large Hyundai marquee set up in the middle of a looped section of Rally Australia’s well-known and well-loved 6.44-kilometre Wedding Bells stage, the 2016 Hyundai i20 World Rally Car looks menacing.

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In Australia – and more accurately Coffs Harbour in New South Wales – for the final round of the 2016 World Rally Championship, the #4 Hyundai i20 WRC took Paddon to a fourth-place Rally Australia finish, helping the 29-year-old Kiwi wrap up his third year driving for Hyundai Motorsport with fourth position in the driver’s championship – behind both four-time WRC World Champion Sebastien Ogier and Hyundai Motorsport teammate Thierry Neuville.

All business and purpose-built to take on the 2016 season’s 13 rallies spread across the globe – from Mexico and Argentina to Poland, Finland, Sweden, Great Britain, and Australia – the Hyundai i20 WRC is one serious bit of kit.

Priced at around 450,000 euro ($650,000), the 2016 i20 WRC is based on the second-generation i20 light car not sold in Australia.

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As per World Rally Championship specifications, it, like others in its class – such as the Volkswagen Polo R WRC – is powered by a turbocharged direct-injection 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine.

Limited by a 33mm air restrictor, the wee turbo-four outputs 224kW of power at 6000rpm and 400Nm of torque at 5000rpm.

Doing their part is a full-time four-wheel-drive system, a six-speed sequential gearbox with paddle shifters, and two mechanical differentials – one front, one rear.

Other ‘standard equipment’ includes hydraulic power steering, adjustable dampers, an FIA-approved welded multi-point roll cage, a hydraulic handbrake, and a Brembo brake package comprising four-piston calipers and 300mm ventilated discs (355mm for tarmac rallies).

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Keeping everything on the ground – for gravel rallies anyway – are four 7×15-inch wheels, wrapped in 215mm-wide, 60-aspect Michelin LTX Force tyres.

With the help of reinforced steel and composite-fibre body panels, the i20 WRC weighs in at 1200kg minimum, and 1360kg with driver and co-driver on board.

That means, while the World Rally-spec i20 is around the same weight as a road-going second-generation i20 five-door, at 4035mm long and 1820mm wide, it’s the same length but 86mm wider than the car it’s based on. Its 2570mm wheelbase is also identical to the road car – but, at 1610mm, its track is about 90mm wider.

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Speaking to CarAdvice at a media event following the conclusion of Rally Australia 2016, Hyundai Motorsport GmbH public relations manager Thomas Villette revealed that it’s only really the chassis and door handles (inside and out) of the original i20 that are carried over from the road car to the rally car.

“The rest are parts that are really high-performance related,” Villette said.

“The seats are made of carbon-fibre, and we don’t even buy them, we actually make them, and we designed them from scratch. And also, we modify the lights, and the actual shells for those are made of carbon-fibre.

“The rest of the loom is all new and made for racing because working in higher temperatures, or lower temperatures in some cases, you have to make it water proof.”

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Up front, the i20 WRC sports a ventilated bonnet, an ‘i20’-emblazoned front intake, a single tow-hook, and a roof scoop – no air conditioning here.

Pumped front and rear guards not only look tough, they also allow for plenty of suspension travel.

At the rear, a huge dual-plane rear wing dominates the view, while a single dump-pipe-style exhaust neighbours a sole rear tow-hook. To ensure damage from various rocks and debris is limited, and to guard vital components when coming down off those massive jumps, all WRC cars carry hardcore underbody protection.

All four doors can be opened, the standard glass windows are replaced by lightweight plastic items, and the rear seats have been binned in favour of dual helmet bags, a spare tyre, and an FIA WRC-spec GPS tracker. Custom door liners are also added, with the rear pair fitted with nets full of first-aid equipment.

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Having been lucky enough to ride alongside Australia’s Chris ‘Atko’ Atkinson in the Hyundai i20 WRC three-door back in 2014, you’d think I wouldn’t be too shocked or especially impressed by the 2016 car – or by Hayden Paddon’s skills behind the wheel. But, as we roll up to stage start and Paddon initiates launch procedures, I’m quickly reminded that these WRC drivers are nuts.

It’s difficult to assess any car wholly from the passenger seat, but what I can tell you is this: gravel or not, these things are fast.

Able to hit 100km/h from a standstill in approximately 3.9 seconds on the way to a top speed of around 200km/h, WRC cars are not for the faint hearted. That said, what never ceases to amaze is the level of controllability they seem to impart to those steering them.

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Freely chatting to me about various topics, Paddon occasionally takes one hand off the wheel to gesticulate – this while travelling at serious pace on a loose surface mere millimetres from trees.

The agility and response from the car is astonishing.

With soft suspension, every input, no matter how minor, is immediately and graphically translated into an action by the car. Adjust the steering, dab the brakes, prod the throttle, lift off the throttle, it all has an impact, and the car responds to each and every change and subtle manipulation.

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Grip is the other thing that astounds.

Mentally, logically, you know the car is on gravel and that gravel is slippery. Yet, while the car never stops sliding, the grip is there whenever Paddon needs it, and the car clearly communicates the situation going on beneath it, directly to the driver’s hands and bum.

In a flash, our two hot laps with Paddon are over. Our interview in the car is over. And sadly, that means, for another year, Rally Australia is over.

Not everyone gets the chance to interview a rally driver, and even fewer will ever get the opportunity to do it while being in a rally car, on a rally stage. Thus, I am extremely grateful to Hayden Paddon and the team at Hyundai Motorsport as well as the folks at Hyundai Australia for making at least one kid’s rally dreams come true.

Well, mostly true… Perhaps I could drive next time?

2016 Hyundai i20 WRC images by David Zalstein.

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