Nandan: “Loeb and Grönholm, my dream team!”

There is no summer vacation for Hyundai Motorsport team and it’s members. Instead of basking in the sun, they’re working hard on the project that could further revitalize the World Rally Championship, especially if Hyundai manages a competitive start of next year’s campaign. We saw the i20 WRC tested on tarmac recently and plenty more tests are scheduled for the upcoming months. Even though there are no clear signs of these activities yet, Hyundai is set to embrace the full marketing potential of this project, which means we can expect a very interactive and approachable team next year.

Originally, I wanted this Q&A to be about the test drivers team as well as team principal Michel Nandan, but drivers were out of reach this time – and for a good reason, they have a very specific set of tasks and duties within the team, so Mr. Nandan was the one to take on all the questions of this brief interview. Team still maintains it’s “too soon” policy on certain topics, but is also confident that 2014 should not be just about learning but also some solid results as well.

Finally, I must say I admire the choice of drivers for the team… it would really be a dream team!

The best thing about the i20 WRC in its current state?

For me the best thing about the i20 WRC at present is the fact that in all the testing we’ve carried out so far we didn’t encounter any major problems with its mechanical components. Of course we had some issues along the way – typical of a car in a development phase – but nothing that cannot be solved by our technical team.

What areas still need improvement?

We have still some work to do in all the key areas of the car such as the engine, the suspension, the transmission and the behaviour of the car itself. However, we have a good base to work on we are at a very good stage of our development.

The main difference compared to the WRC car you’ve worked with during your career (can keep the names of the cars off the chart for obvious reasons)?

As you know the WRC cars I’ve worked and developed during my career belong to a different era and were complying with different regulations compared to the i20 WRC and the current WRC cars. They had different engines, different transmissions and the regulations at the time gave more freedom to the manufacturer. I can find some similarities as far as the dimensions and the behaviour of the car are concerned but it’s difficult to make a real comparison.

What will Hyundai bring to the WRC in your opinion, with regards to the announced “new approach to WRC”?

Actually the ‘new approach’ doesn’t refer to the WRC in general but to Hyundai’s participation in the Championship. It means that we are tackling the WRC with a completely different approach compared to Hyundai’s previous participation in the WRC in the early 2000’s. As I already mentioned in a previous interview, the decision to return to the FIA World Rally Championship is a strong commitment from Hyundai Motor Company and it’s part of the brand’s global promotional strategy.

Do you think unbeatable teams are just a myth? Can Hyundai hit the ground running in 2014, in your opinion?

Our plan for 2014 is to learn as much as we can while we are competing. It will be a learning year for the team and our aim will be to collect as much data and feedback as possible from the rallies to prepare for the future. We are not expecting to be victorious from the outset because we have only just started the project but we are firm believers in ‘learning while doing’ so we will aim to steadily build up the competitive level of the team and car throughout our debut season. Of course we want to finish rallies, get good results and – as a personal wish – I would like to get some podium finishes as well!

Drivers are hot topic in the WRC and of course everyone would like to know the names of Hyundai’s 2014 lineup. Instead of names, can you disclose what would be ideal drivers in terms of experience, age, etc.?

To be honest I’m not considering any specific age range but I’m looking for drivers with a good background and knowledge of the WRC events, who are fast and whose feedback can help the team to improve and develop the i20 WRC for the future.

Some rumours suggest that Hyundai is looking to feature one so-called pay driver – can you share any more info on that matter?

I can only tell you that we’re looking for good drivers – that’s it!

If you could bring any of the former and now retired WRC drivers to Hyundai, who would you pick?

Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm: my dream team!