With the dust still settling on last weekend's 2014 World Rally Championship (WRC) Rally Australia event in Coffs Harbour, CarAdvice got the chance to jump in the co-driver's seat with Australian Hyundai Shell World Rally Team driver Chris Atkinson for the experience of a lifetime.
The Hyundai i20 WRC is based on the road-going i20 three-door, albeit worth over a million dollars and built to the latest WRC specifications. This means four-wheel drive and a turbocharged 1.6-litre inline four-cylinder engine with outputs of 200kW at 6000rpm and 400Nm at 5000rpm.
The engine features a 33mm air restrictor – an FIA regulation – and a bore and stroke of 84mm and 72mm respectively.
A six-speed sequential transmission helps deliver power to the wheels and only requires the use of a clutch pedal for full launch starts.
The car is also equipped with mechanical front and rear differentials, MacPherson struts with adjustable dampers and a hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion steering system.
For tarmac, the i20 WRC is fitted with 355mm ventilated Brembo disc brakes and four-piston calipers all round and wears 18x8-inch wheels. Gravel events, such as Rally Australia, require smaller 15x7-inch wheels and equally reduced 300mm brake discs.
Measuring 4030mm long, 1820mm wide, and sitting on a 2525mm wheelbase, the i20 WRC weighs an FIA-enforced minimum of 1200kg and around 1360kg including driver and co-driver.
For comparison, the road-going Hyundai i20 is available in three- and five-door body styles, weighs between 1121kg and 1211kg, and is 35mm shorter and 110mm narrower than its pumped up WRC cousin. Its 2525mm wheelbase is identical.
Oh, and it’s front-wheel drive-only and is powered by a 73.5kW/136Nm naturally aspirated 1.4-litre petrol four-cylinder with a smaller bore (77mm) and longer stroke (75mm).
Suited – and helmeted – up, we’re strapped into the co-driver’s seat normally occupied by the very brave, or very silly, Stephane Prevot, with a smiling Chris ‘Atko’ Atkinson to our left.
A brief start up, the nod from one of the team’s mechanics and we trundle out of the makeshift service garage set up in the middle of what was a public spectator point only a day earlier.
We reach the inclined start line, Atko engages the rally car’s launch control, tachs up some revs, holds, holds, and then bang.
The car’s front end lifts while its back end squats into the ground as all four wheels struggle to find grip on the dusty gravel roads of what was a critical section of Rally Australia’s 9.23km Wedding Bells stage.
We rifle up the road with visual and aural inputs flooding the brain.
Slides, jumps, landings, trees, trees, trees, another jump, flat out in sixth gear at 187km/h down a straight. Excitement combines with fear and trust as Atko sporadically takes one hand off the wheel to gesticulate while explaining the course.
Top speed is maintained through a left-hand sweeper and another kink. More trees, a tighter right, a short straight, six green yellow-topped portable toilets, a left hander with all sorts of angle and we’re done … for lap one.
Lap two is just as intense and hard and fascinating as the first, all the while Atko chats away and has a laugh – properly senior stuff this.
How good is it? Well, Troy Bayliss, a mate of Atko’s and a guy who has three Superbike World Championships under his belt, told CarAdvice immediately after his two hot laps with Chris: “That was the best thing I’ve ever done on wheels”.
We couldn’t agree with him more.
Images by David Zalstein.