Partnered: See What It's Like To Be a WRC Hyundai Team Manager For A Day

See What It’s Like To Be a WRC Hyundai Team Manager For A Day

By Steve Bolton
November 12, 2019

Just a couple of days before Hyundai secured their first-ever WRC Manufacturer championship title, we had a chat with Alain Penasse, Team Manager for Hyundai Motorsport. Following a recent victory and a third-place at Rally de España, the team locked in their 18-point advantage and were declared the winner when the final leg of the season, the Australian Rally, was canceled due to the devastating fires raging in the area.  Alain shared with us some of what the team goes through to make sure drivers, and vehicles, are the best possible shape to secure a win.

Speaking of vehicles, the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is based on the road version Hyundai i20 N Coupe, but with a few differences. The horsepower is increased to 380 HP, with a 6-speed sequential transmission and four-wheel drive. That power plant enables the WRC car to 100 Km in less than four seconds. Rally Australia has 25 special stages and plenty of challenging road surfaces, so a lot of preparation goes into getting the cars ready, it can be a grueling schedule.

Steve Bolton: Alain, can you take us through the process of prepping the WRC car for a race?

Alain Penasse: “The preparation days in front of the race are a big difference from the real race days. At the start of a normal race day, we always have a morning meeting with all the team- all the engineers, all the management just to define a strategy for the day. Everyone shares the technical specifications of what they would like the cars to have, so there are no real secrets between the drivers and the team. We also discuss the different types of tire options that are available and what would be the good choice for the day considering the weather conditions.

With modern satellites, it’s possible to have images from the stages so we try to follow along as close as possible to see what happens with our cars, what happens with the competitors. In between the stages, the engineers are talking with the drivers to see if they don’t want to adjust any settings on the car to give it more feel or to make the car more competitive.”

SB: It seems like you guys work around the clock on a race day.

AP: “Most of the time, it’s a full 12-hour day. But for some rallies, you’ll get out of bed at 3:30 in the morning and then you get to bed at midnight. So that’s about 18, 19 hours. Those are some of the most challenging days in WRC. On the most luxurious day, you would get out of bed at 7 o’clock and maybe go to sleep at 9 o’clock in the evening.”

SB: Compared to other forms of racing, such as IMSA, what are some challenges you face in WRC?

AP: “You have the weather, you have the tires, you have limitations to what you can do on changing technical parts. We have a certain limited number of tires and the road conditions are changing all the time. In the morning, it’s not the same condition as in the afternoon.Temperatures are different, humidity is different. All these elements, play a role in how you are going to strategically plan the day. We try to get as much information as possible about all these parameters in order to select the best possible settings for the car.  They can be very different because the stages are spread over many different countries.”

SB: How do you think Hyundai being in WRC affects how consumers view the brand?

AP: “People all over the world identify themselves with a brand or a club or whatever. Because as you know, we are, group animals. Six years ago, the goal of Hyundai getting into rally racing was to make the brand younger. Because at that time six years ago, they were convinced that it was mostly elderly people who were buying a Hyundai car, so their aim was to create a more dynamic brand. Then they brought the brand to WRC. It was an idea to get access to younger people. And in fact, you see six years later younger people are driving Hyundai cars. People are empathizing more with the younger brand today than six years ago.”

SB: Now that the season is coming to a close what has been the toughest stage?

AP: “The most complicated race to do is still the Rally Monte Carlo since it’s the first one. The weather conditions are horrible, the ice, the wet surfaces. You have all sorts of things in the mountains and you never have the right tire choice or the right setting for the car, so everything is a compromise. It’s always a challenge to find the best compromise and to make sure that the drivers feel as confident as possible when they have to go on the road.”

SB: What rally stage is the most fun?

AP: “Well even though it’s complicated, I still love Monte Carlo, but the best jumps in the world are in Finland. Chile is one of the nicest rally stages and has some of the best food.”

SB: Any thoughts on next year for Hyundai in WRC?

AP: “The goal is always to be world champions. We are leading in the Constructors Championship before the last race, so that is a great place to be. Also, we will have quite a strong driver’s line up for next year, and we should be able to have a good fight for the world championship.” (*Interview conducted before Hyundai were declared Manufacturer Champions)

 SB: You worked with rally Legend Sebastien Loeb, what surprised you most about him?

AP: “Even if the guy is nine times world champion, he is easy to work with, and this was the biggest surprise because you always think that these people when they have been having success, that they start to be quite difficult in what they want and so on. But with Sebastien, that is not the case. He’s such a down to earth person.”

SB: Is there a specific memory from the season you have of Sebastien?

AP:“Well, the first Rally in Monte Carlo, and that is Sebastien’s favorite as well. He was just coming back from a race in South America and so that meant his first time in the car would be Saturday. The plane ended up was delayed, so he ended up coming to the test with a few hours of sleep. In the end, after all these distractions, he still finished fourth.”

SB: If you had to choose the hardest part of your job, what would it be?

AP: “Oh, the hardest part is sometimes you have to tell people things that are not the things that they want to hear.”

Photos courtesy of Hyundai Motorsport & Will Broadhead

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