Atkinson, who drove for the Subaru WRC team from 2004-2008, joined the Australian media at last week's Monte Carlo rally in Monaco, where he is part of Hyundai's rally program and a Hyundai Australia ambassador.
Atkinson has been helping the Korean company’s rally development program in 2013 and will take the driver’s seat for Rally Australia in September this year, while also appearing as part of the Hyundai crew for other stages.
Speaking with CarAdvice in Monaco, Atkinson said Hyundai’s ever-improving range of cars created a “natural progression to go into motorsport”, adding that WRC was a great platform to showcase a brand.
“I think the key to WRC is the closeness to the cars. You look at Formula One and as much as it’s a brand presence, I think WRC gives something [else] as you have a similar car on the road. If you want to show performance potential, WRC is an awesome platform.”
He admitted that his former team, Subaru, sold a lot of cars (such as the WRX and its STI sibling) based on its rally credentials - success Hyundai is aiming to replicate as it develops more sports cars.
He also insisted that Subaru’s rally involvement helped strengthen its safety credentials, which led to increased sales of other models that weren’t directly linked to the company’s rally program.
Hyundai expects to spend the 2014 WRC season learning and testing its i20 WRC racing cars, aiming for a championship-contending season in 2015.
The Korean brand recently announced plans for its 'N' brand of cars - a performance division that will act in the same way as Nismo to Nissan's Nismo and Subaru's STI.
CarAdvice suspects it’s only a matter of time before Hyundai starts to bring out serious performance cars to leverage its rally involvement. Atkinson tends to agree.
“I think it gives them that pinnacle to aim for. You’ve seen the N brand being created, that’s going to lead to performance cars down the track. I don’t know whether one day they will come out with an AWD car. If you look at WRC and what’s happening, that’s a potential way forward.”