It’s not often that beer and sporting success go hand in hand. However, wind back the clock to Rally Mexico 2014 and this popular beverage played an unlikely, yet vital cameo in saving Hyundai from the heartbreak of throwing away a first World Rally Championship podium at the final hurdle.
The moment is among motorsport’s strangest stories and has earned a rightful place in WRC folklore. This year Hyundai celebrates its 10th season since it made the bold decision to return to the WRC, where it has since become a force in world rallying. It’s a milestone Hyundai is keen to mark with special branding adorning this year’s i20 Ns. While the marque heads to Mexico with 100 WRC podiums (25 wins) and two manufacturers’ titles under its belt, its success can be traced back to a critical bottle of Corona lager that avoided heartbreak, and the quick-thinking Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul.
“I mean the WRC has had a lot of stories but that one was definitely a special one,” Neuville, who has contested every round of Hyundai’s latest WRC spell to date, tells Motorsport.com. “At the time it was a new manufacturer coming into the championship. For me, after I had a good season with Ford, I signed for a new manufacturer and scored its first podium thanks to a bottle of beer, it was a nice headline. It was one of the great moments to remember in the history of WRC.”
Hyundai wasn’t a new name in WRC parlance in 2014 but this was very much a new dawn for the car maker in rallying’s top flight. Its previous foray into the WRC included success in the short-lived F2 class in the late 1990s, where it recorded a best result of championship runner-up to Renault with its Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson-driven Coupe Evo 2.
It then progressed to WRC’s top tier in 2000 with the Accent WRC car but in almost four seasons, two fourth-place finishes (Australia, 2000 – Eriksson) and (Great Britain, 2001- McRae) were its best results. Hyundai subsequently ended its arrangement with its British partner Motor Sport Developments (MSD), which developed the car, during the 2003 season. It wasn’t until 2012 that the brand announced plans to return in 2014, with the i20 designed and developed by a new factory team set up in Alzenau, Germany.
The trip to Mexico’s brutal high altitude rough gravel stages in 2014 was only the third outing for the new i20 and had come off the back of a difficult start to Hyundai’s second spell in WRC. A disastrous double…
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