Edox joins WRX

Time is ticking away to the start of the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship, presented by Monster Energy but, will have a whole new level of Swiss precision with watch brand, Edox, on board as the new official timing partner.

The partnership with the FIA World Rallycross Championship extends Edox’s long history of involvement with motor sport.

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As Official Timing Partner, Edox will have significant trackside branding and put its name to the fastest lap at each round of the championship. Additionally there are plans for a FIA World Rallycross-themed timepiece collection.

In welcoming Edox to the fold, Paul Bellamy, Senior Vice President of IMG Motorsports, the series promoter, said: “We are delighted Edox is joining our stable of commercial partners as Official Timing Partner.

“Edox has a rich heritage in motor sport and we are privileged it has chosen the FIA World Rallycross Championship as the ideal environment for continuing that association.”

The 135-year old family-owned company combines traditional hand-assembly with innovative materials and functionality at the company headquarters in Les Genevez.

The Chronorally collection has been developed to withstand the most extreme racing conditions and will be the assigned watch for World RX.

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Alexandre Strambini, CEO says: “At Edox, we attach great importance to the world of motor sports and to the values it represents. We have been repeatedly the Official Timing Partner for some of FIA’s prestigious competitions in the past years and we are now very proud to start this new partnership with the FIA World Rallycross Championship.”

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Ten times for Simola

It hardly seems like nine years ago the first cars roared up the Simola hill in Knysna and that, in May, the event will formally celebrate the 10th running of the event.

Created from humble beginnings as an initiative to attract renewed interest and tourism to the scenic coastal town of Knysna, the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb has rapidly evolved to become South Africa’s premier motor sport lifestyle event.

This year, from 2 to 5 May, the Simola Hillclimb celebrates its milestone 10th edition and the sixth with Jaguar occupying prime status as the title sponsor of this truly remarkable automotive extravaganza.

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Hillclimb was conceived and created by Knysna residents Ian Shrosbree, Chick Ramsay and Francis Cusens, embodying their passion for all things motoring, while addressing the need to bolster the local economy and tourism sector.

“The event came about as a result of the 2008 financial crisis,” says Shrosbree, director of Knysna Speed Festival, which owns the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb. “Knysna’s economy is based on two pillars, comprising tourism and construction, and in the aftermath of the financial crisis, both crashed.

“Francis, Chick and I decided to run the Hillclimb to attract people to Knysna who would hopefully also invest in the town. Initially, our objective was to do one event to see if there was appetite and appraise the future after that. The Simola Hill leading up to the prestigious Golf and Country Estate lent itself to the purpose admirably, and the beautiful setting has been an integral part of this event’s attraction,” he adds.

“The first Hillclimb was a great success so we mapped out our vision and strategy to make it the Goodwood Festival of Speed of South Africa that would attract international interest, and we have worked tirelessly ever since to make it SA’s premier motorsport lifestyle event.”

Thanks to the support of Knysna residents and business owners, the long-standing backing of key sponsors and partners, as well as the enthusiastic involvement of the motoring and motorsport communities, the Simola Hillclimb flourished and has grown exponentially over the years to become the must-attend motoring event of the year for competitors and spectators alike.

The inaugural 2009 event boasted a total of 47 entrants competing in a single class, with motor racing legend Sarel van der Merwe taking the title in an Ashley Masters V8. Another motor sport icon, Geoff Mortimer, emerged victorious in the wet 2010 event in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, with Wilhelm Baard stamping his authority, as well as that of the mighty Nissan R35 GT-R, on the Hillclimb the following year.

Andre Bezuidenhout - 2004 Gould GR55

Having to accommodate a burgeoning entry list, the event was split into two categories in 2012 with the introduction of Classic Car Friday and King of the Hill. Corban Slabbert took the classic car title in an Austin Mini Cooper S, while Jade Gutzeit claimed victory amongst the modern contenders in his Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R.

The 2013 Hillclimb was unfortunately cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, but it returned even bigger and better in 2014 with Jaguar coming on board as the title sponsor – a prime position it has retained.

Franco Scribante totally dominated the 2014 Hillclimb, winning both categories in his remarkable Chevron B19. In 2015 the trophies were split between Charles Arton (March Formula Atlantic) and Des Gutzeit in his wild Nissan R32 GT-R.

Due to the exceptional growth of the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, the organisers were forced to make it a strictly invitational event from 2016, limited to 65 entries for Classic Car Friday, and 84 for King of the Hill.

Dawie Olivier - 2018 Jaguar F-TYPE SVR

“Making the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb an invitational event gives us the opportunity to balance the quality and type of cars and drivers selected across the various classes, thus guaranteeing the best spectacle for the spectators and competitors,” explains Geoff Goddard, the event’s sporting director. “The rapid growth of the Hillclimb has also required we continually evolve and adapt the event to ensure it reflects the diverse nature of the entries.”

Nowhere is this more evident than in the number of classes, which started out with just one in 2009 but now climbs to 20 this year with the separation of the Single Seater and Sports Cars for the first time. This enables drivers to compete against comparable entries for individual King of the Hill titles, along with those awarded for Modified Saloon Cars and Road-going Saloon Cars/SuperCars.

Franco Scribante scored his second double victory in 2016, taking the Classic Conqueror and King of the Hill titles in two iterations of the iconic Chevron sports racing car, with Jaki Scheckter claiming the first-ever SuperCar Shootout in a Nissan GT-R.

Scribante continued his Classic Conqueror reign the following year, with the newly introduced trio of King of the Hill titles going to Andre Bezuidenhout (Dallara F180 Formula 1), Willhelm Baard in a highly modified Nissan GT-R and Reghardt Roets in a road-going version of the same car.

A record of more than 200 entry applications was received for the ninth edition in 2018, with the final standings reflecting a repeat of the 2017 winners, despite the intense level of competition. Most notably, Bezuidenhout destroyed the Simola Hillclimb record with an astonishing time of 35,528 seconds on his first outing with a Gould GR55 – a specialised Hillclimb-racing single seater.

Accommodating the large number of competitors has also been a mammoth task for the organisers, with the original 100-metre temporary open-air ‘pit lane’ simply located on the side of the road for the first event. Extensive roadside expansion and ground work over the years now provides 660 m2 of dedicated marquee-style covered pits.

Last year, the competitors clocked 1 406 timed runs up the 1,9 km Simola Hill during the practice, qualifying, class finals and Top 10 Shootout sessions – a far cry from the total of 103 runs recorded a decade earlier! Equally noteworthy is the number of automotive brands represented, almost doubling from the 25 that took to the start line originally to 45 in 2018.

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Eight competitors have become stalwarts of this event, having competed in every Hillclimb to date, comprising Willem Bower, Jacques Bower, Shane Naidu, Nico Janse van Rensburg, Rodney Green, Di Dugmore, Dave Alexander and Fred Phillips. A further 17 drivers are avid regulars with five events notched up, including famous racing drivers such as Graeme Nathan, Peter Lindenberg, Enzo Kuun, Willie Hepburn and Dawie Olivier.

And the astonishing numbers don’t end there: the number of spectators has soared from 1 500 to almost 17 000 over the three days; VIP Hospitality ticket sales climbed from 20 to 1 723; the 13 original event sponsors and partners have grown to 44; and the size of the organising team (including marshals, volunteers and support staff) has ballooned from around 100 at the beginning to more than 2 800 scheduled to assist at the 2019 Hillclimb!

The growth in media coverage has been no less impressive. In 2009, a single 15-minute TV package was aired, while last year the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb boasted 11 hours of live streaming, available to viewers around the world.

The event website (www.jaguarsimolahillclimb.co.za) has become a key asset for the dissemination of information, competitor entries and ticket sales, reaching 20 556 unique visitors and almost 30 000 returning visitors in 2018. This is supported by the extensive social media exposure on Facebook (with a reach of more than 2-million), Twitter where the Hillclimb trended in 2018 for all three days, plus the ever-growing Instagram following.

The exposure provided by motoring and lifestyle media has also played a crucial role in driving the remarkable success of the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb. A total of 112 journalists, bloggers, photographers and videographers attended last year.

Pit lane 2018

Not surprisingly, the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb continues to be recognised as one of the top sporting events in the country. In 2015 it won the ‘Best Tourism Activity’ category and was a ‘Proudly Knysna’ nominee at the Sanlam Knysna Awards.

The annual SA Sports Industry Awards saw it acknowledged as a finalist for the ‘Best Live Experience’ for three years running (2015 to 2017), as well as in the Cutting Edge Sport Award in 2016. The same year it was nominated as a ‘Motorsport Event of the Year’ by the International Historic Motoring Awards in the UK.

Continued praise has been received from the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists, being selected as a finalist in 2015 and 2017 for the Colin Watling Award that recognises significant contribution and achievement by a non-competitor in motor sport.

Most recently, the Hillclimb earned the 2018 Environmental Award from Motorsport South Africa for its efforts to enhance environmental awareness and protection.
“The past 10 years have been challenging but extremely exciting and rewarding, and we are delighted to have achieved our goal of making the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb South Africa’s truly premier motorsport lifestyle event,” Shrosbree says. “We want to continue building on that foundation to make it the third best-known Hillclimb in the world after Goodwood and Pikes Peak.”

Three go for one

Good news for World Rallycross fans is there will three Hyundai i10 Supercars in action this year with the Finnish GRX Taneco team headed by double World Rally Champion, Marcus Gronholm.

The team will retain its two permanent drivers – Niclas Grönholm and Timur Timerzyanov – who will be accompanied by development driver Reinis Nitišs for several outings. The trio will chase trophies with a 2019 version of the team’s Hyundai i20 Supercars.

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GRX Taneco successfully debuted it’s Hyundai i20 Supercar last season and after 12 rounds claimed fourth in the World RX Teams’ standings, with Niclas Grönholm finishing seventh and Timerzyanov 10th in the Drivers’ championship.

“We knew that our first season with a new car would be tough, but we exceeded our expectations in 2018 and throughout the winter break we have been working hard to improve our i20 Supercars and take the next step in 2019,” said GRX Taneco Team Principal Marcus Grönholm.

“With this project we are thinking long term and I am happy that we have the same great core team with us, and the same driver line-up that can continue their work and fight for the leading positions in the championship.”

The team recently completed its first test session of the year in Southern France where they evaluated the first set of updates for the Hyundai i20 Supercar.

“This will be the first time I will drive the same car for a second consecutive season and I will start it with a good knowledge of the i20 Supercar. The base performance was already there and we have worked on tweaks around the car to shave off crucial tenths of a second. The 2019 season (April 05) is just around the corner and I’m really looking forward to the first round at the new track in Abu Dhabi,” said 22-year old Niclas Grönholm.

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Triple European Rallycross champion, Timerzyanov said: “Rallycross is my passion and I believe in it, so naturally I am thrilled to start my sixth season of World RX and to do a second year together with GRX Taneco. This season will offer more opportunities for privateer teams, meaning that we also have a bigger chance to show our supporters good results and great action for the fans. It is just 10 rounds, so there will be no sandbagging and everyone will be trying to claim the podium positions.”

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Team Manager, Jussi Pinomäki added: “I think the competition this season will be very, very close and this year will prove to be an exciting one for drivers and spectators. Last year we built a good base to work from – all of our technical staff have remained on-board, both Niclas and Timur know the car well, and I am confident that with this package we’ll be able to fight for top positions.

“For further improvements we have also added a third car for several rounds with Reinis as our development driver, to help us gain data and continue the car’s evolution.”

GRX newcomer Nitišs said: “I’m happy to be back in World RX, even though it’s not a full-season programme. Together with Jussi Pinomäki I have claimed two Euro RX titles and I know the people working in the team – everyone is professional, dedicated and passionate. Part of my season will be spent working together with the engineers and team behind the scenes, or testing car updates. But be assured, when I’m racing you can expect no giveaways.”

Multi-platinum selling artist Sean Paul will perform live at the Dayinsure World RX of Great Britain, the UK leg of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, presented by Monster Energy.

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The British event, round four of the World RX championship, is the centrepiece of the SpeedMachine Festival at Silverstone from May 25-26. The multi-faceted SpeedMachine brings together an array of motorsport activity, street food and entertainment.

SpeedMachine returns to Silverstone following its successful debut on the FIA World Rallycross Championship calendar last year.

Paul, the Jamaican-born rapper and producer, whose hits include Mad Love, Temperature and Get Busy will headline the entertainment on the evening of Saturday, May 25 with a number of additional guest appearances to be announced soon.

“To have someone of the calibre of Sean Paul as the headline performer for Saturday night at Silverstone underlines SpeedMachine’s status as a must-visit festival of motor racing and entertainment,” says Paul Bellamy, Senior Vice President of IMG Motorsports, the promoter of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, presented by Monster Energy.

Passion all the way

The 18th Passion for Speed international race meeting at Killarney International Raceway, sponsored for the first time this year by G-Energy, was a roaring success in every sense of the word.

The huge crowd at the circuit’s first major event of the 2019 season was treated to ultra-close racing, heart-stopping drama, and a feast of magnificent machinery both old and new, accompanied by a superb soundtrack of deep-chested American V8 rumbling and high-revving Italian exotica, on an (almost) perfect Cape summer’s day.

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The Fan Walk during the lunch break was one of the most successful yet as spectators thronged the KFM Straight to get up close and personal with the Extreme Supercars and big V8’s, as well as their drivers.

But the leader of the pack, in more ways than one, was Charl Arangies’ Stradale Motorsport Aston Martin V12, resplendent in new blue livery, and a firm favourite with the fans. Arangies put the car on pole for the G&H Extreme Supercar races with a screaming 1min 09.484 qualifying lap, almost a second quicker than Franco Scribante’s 3.8-litre Porsche 997 Turbo – a car so highly tuned that his pit crew had to throw blocks of ‘dry ice’ (frozen carbon dioxide) into the radiator air intakes to keep the engine from overheating on the grid.

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Race 1 was a lot closer, however, as Scribante chased the Blue Beast all the way to the line, posting the fastest time of the race (1min 10.919) on the last lap as he closed in to finish just 0.743sec adrift. Third was local hero Marcel Angel in the Autohaus Angel Ferrari 458.

Race 2 ended in the closest finish of the day after Scribante got a superb start and led every lap except the last one. Arangies showed him a wheel more than once and finally made a successful pass in the very last corner, posting a 1min 10.499 final lap to win by just 0.077sec, with Angel a lonely third.

Race 3 was split by red flags after Faizel Coetzee put his BMW M3 into the Wall halfway between the Kink and Rose Foundation corner, hard enough to destroy the car, leaving it and a field of debris in the middle of the track.

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Coetzee walked away unhurt but it took a while to clear the circuit, during which time Scribante (who was leading at the time) was disqualified for a procedural error. When racing resumed Arangies romped away to win by more than 10 seconds from Angel with Craig Jarvis (Panacea Ferrari F430) third.

Former Formula 1 Powerboat world champion Peter Lindenberg (Shelby Mustang) and Jonathan du Toit (Chevy Nova) dominated both Pre-66 Legends of the 9-Hour and Little Giants races, putting up two superb dices that ended 0.360sec and 0.661sec apart respectively, with Lindenberg (just) ahead in both cases.

Genial Dutch driver Michiel Campagnie finished third in both races in an enormous 427 cubic inch-powered Ford Galaxie, with Trevor Tuck the first of the Little Giants and fifth overall in his Alfa Giulia.

The locally based Midas Clubmans category was responsible for the biggest entry (42 cars) the fiercest racing and the biggest crash of the day, a dramatic multiple pile-up in Malmesbury Sweep on the last lap of Race 1 that left Johan Pretorius’ VW Polo on its side after flying across the circuit and nearly landing on top of Mansoor Parker’s BMW.

The results were taken as at the end of lap seven, with Niyaaz Modack’s new three-litre Audi S4 ahead of Michael le Sueur’s 1.8-litre VW Golf and Clint Renaard’s two-litre Golf.

Race 2 was less destructive but just as hard-fought, with Modack leading home Danie van Niekerk’s Wingfield Motors BMW, ahead of Rennard and Le Sueuer- who was less than four seconds behind the leader.

Both Pre-74 Sports Prototype and Trans-Am races went down to the wire – the first after the lead changed no less than seven times in 10 laps – but the eventual winner in each case was local driver Steve Humble’s Opel-powered Harp Motorsport Mallock 14B, followed in Race 1 by Mark du Toit from Zwartkops in a Daytona (essentially a Cobra with a roof) and Rui Campos’s 3.8-litre Porsche 911 RSR. Humble took the lead on lap five of Race 2 and held on to win from Peter van der Spuy (3.8-litre Porsche 911 Carrera RSR Turbo) and Du Toit.

The 30-minute South African TT series race for Pre-66 Le Mans and Pre-68 Sebring Sports and GT cars turned out to be a big disappointment for the Lindenberg family as the 5.8-litre Daytona Paige and her father Peter were to share expired right in front of the pits after just three laps.

The race then became an epic battle between the Ford GT40s of Swedish visitors Kennet Persson and Jan Kling, and Michiel Campagnie in a Chev Corvette. Given that the ‘Vette is based on a street car and the GT40 was designed specifically to win at Le Mans, Campagnie did well to split the two Fords until the classic GM coupé failed on lap 18.

Kling also dropped back in the closing stages, coming home third behind Persson and Mark du Toit (Lola T70 Spider), although all three finished on the same lap.

Franco Donadio in his Cosworth-powered Ford Escort MK1 and veteran Wankel engine tuner Dave Kopke (Mazda R100) were the stars of another superb tussle in Race 1 of the Millstock Pre-1980 and Pre-1990 Invitation Cars. Donadio ran out the eventual winner by just 0.337sec, with Robin Forbes’ 5.7-litre V8 Stingray third.

Sadly, the Kopke rotary didn’t come out for Race 2; Mark Uytenbogaart and his Ford Mustang set the pace until the Pony Car went lame on lap six. Donadio then got into it with Richard Quixley (Datsun 240Z), who also led for two laps before dropping down to third on the final lap behind Donadio and Eric van der Merwe (Porsche 944 Turbo).

There was more V8 thunder in the Masters and Makita Supercars races, where Fabio Tafani and Richard Schreuder set the pace in Race 1, finishing less than a second apart with Mark Ridgway third.

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Ridgway then moved up after running second for the first half of Race 2, to grab the lead from Tafani on lap five – only for the race to be red-flagged on lap seven, handing the win to Ridgway from Tafani, Paolo Cavalieri and Rob Warrington, while Ryan and Steve McCarthy pulled off a superb 1-2 in the Makita Supercar category in each race.

The Historic Single Seaters reminded fans and drivers alike how brave racing drivers had to be in the bad old days – the 1930s MG Specials not only didn’t have roll bars, they didn’t have seatbelts either! Victory, however, went to British driver Richard Smeeton in a Foglieti F1, followed home in Race 1 by Des Hillary in a Dulon and Pat Dunseth in a Merlyn Mk25 – and in Race 2 by Dunseth and Hillary.

(supplied by Killarney International Raceway)

Loeb tackles the ‘Monte’

Sebastien Loeb re-ignites his rally career today as part of the starting line-up for the Rallye Monte Carlo in the Hyundai team with regular navigator Daniel Elena alongside him and in an event they have won seven times previously.

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Hyundai Motorsport goes into its sixth season in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) with two other crews also well versed in the demands of this classic rally. Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul took the team’s only Monte-Carlo podium in 2016 finishing third, just one place behind Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jreger-Amland whose second place represents the Norwegians’ best result at the event to date.

One of the most iconic and demanding events on the calendar, this year’s Monte will feature a fresh route with up to 40% of the stages remodelled compared to 2018. Yet, the unique challenges of the rally will remain with late evening stages, unpredictable icy and snowy conditions and complex tyre strategies all combining to offer a punishing start to the new season.

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All three crews will have had the opportunity to test the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC ahead of Monte, albeit with differing preparation time. Neuville and Mikkelsen got behind the wheel ahead of the WRC season launch in Birmingham at the beginning of January and the past weekend, while Loeb, who participated in the Dakar Rally in South America, also had a test prior to recce. The team has sought to offset the reduced pre-event test time by doing a thorough seat-fitting for the nine-time world champion during a recent visit to its Alzenau factory.

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The event begins this evening, 24 January, with a ceremonial start in Gap acting as a prelude to two night stages, each just over 20 km in length. It will be a baptism of fire for all crews as battle commences for an all-new season.

Friday’s itinerary covers 125 km of special stages on new routes, before the final two days return to more familiar settings. If crews can successfully negotiate the opening three days, the legendary Col de Turini awaits on the final morning. Huge crowds will gather at the summit to watch the WRC cars as the rally builds to its crescendo with a final Power Stage against the mountainous pass of Col de Bra us.

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Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul:
Neuville said: “We are revved up and determined to get the 2019 WRC season off to the best start possible. The tricky, demanding nature of Rat/ye Monte-Carlo is well documented. The combination of tarmac roads with unpredictable snow and ice conditions makes it a rally like no other. It is an event I enjoy. We’ve built up competitive pace in recent seasons, even if the results have not really been there. There will be lots of strategies at play, especially with tyres, and we will need to be absolutely precise with our notes.”

Crew Notes: Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jreger-Amland:
Mikkelsen said: “Here we go again, starting a new championship with two of my favourite events in a row: Monte-Carlo and Sweden. Anders and I have worked hard over the winter to learn from our first full season as a Hyundai Motorsport crew, as we aim to build a consistent and strong assault for 2079. Monte-Carlo is always a special rally, and a very difficult one to begin the year. I have often been quick in this event, having taken two podiums.”

Crew Notes: Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena:
Loeb said: “Rallye Monte-Carlo is one of our favourites. Daniel, my co-driver, is Monegasque, so it’s his home rally for him, while it is also something of a home event for me as all of the stages are in France.

“Conditions can affect the road a lot at Monte, whether it’s full tarmac, snow or ice.

“The most complicated thing is to find the right rhythm and not to fall into any traps: there is every possibility of finding ice plates as the temperature drops overnight. You always have to adapt to the changing and unpredictable conditions. I have always been quite good in these circumstances. This year will be a particularly special one with a new team and a new car.”

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Team director Andrea Adamo: “We begin a new season in a refreshed state of mind and looking ahead to what promises to be another exciting, competitive championship. Monte-Carlo is the perfect place for battle to commence. Our objective and desire are to be in the fight for the manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles this year. To do that we have to take each rally as it comes, making sure we get absolutely everything out of ourselves on each kilometre of every stage. There’s no room for complacency or error, so we have to be rigorous, we must be focused and we have to work together as a team to deliver for Hyundai at the highest level of world rallying.”

Aiming for the top

With very little time between finishing the marathon Dakar event and strapping himself into a Hyundai i20 Coupé for the start of the Monte Carlo Rally, Sebastian Loeb is going to be a busy man and a core element of the Korean manufacturer’s chase for the title.

Hyundai Motorsport is unequivocal about its intentions to compete once again at the front of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), with its sights set on the manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles.

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The team finished as runners-up in 2018, for the third time in a row, having taken the title fight down to the wire. In one of the closest, most hotly contested seasons in recent years, a three-way battle was only concluded at the season finale in Australia.

Hyundai Motorsport has stated its intentions at the Autosport International show in Birmingham recently, where the team was introduced.

Running a revised crew line-up and with an extended calendar of 14 rounds in 2019, Hyundai Motorsport will aim to revisit the competitive form that helped it score three victories and 11 podium finishes last season.

With WRC’s regulations remaining stable, the team has been able to evolve the technical foundations of its rally winning Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. All aspects of the car have been rigorously assessed in order to perform consistently across all terrains in the coming season. A brand new event in Chile will join the existing events on the world tour.

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Andrea Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport’s new team director who replaced Michel Nandan at the end of 2018, said the targets for Hyundai Motorsport in its sixth season are clear: “Our objectives for WRC remain the same as they have been for the past years, namely to fight for the manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles. This is important for Hyundai and our N brand. The WRC is incredibly competitive and the other teams will want to approach the new season with the same winning mind-set. We have to make sure we’re delivering and performing at our best at all times.”

Three Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars will compete in each of the 14 rounds on the calendar in 2019. Last year’s runners-up in the driver’s and co-driver’s championship, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul, will be joined by Norwegian crew Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jaeger-Amland in all events, while the seasoned WRC champion Sébastien Loeb will compete in 6 of this year’s races.

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Loeb, nine-times WRC champion who will drive his first event in the Hyundai i20 WRC in Rallye Monte-Carlo, has signed a two-year contract for 2019 and 2020 with Hyundai Motorsport. Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio – twice podium scorers last season – will take part in eight events, starting at Rally Mexico.

Neuville says: “We have used the opportunity of the winter break to recharge our batteries for another assault on the WRC titles. We showed a lot of promise last season and gave it our best shot but, for various reasons we could not sustain our challenge. We recognise that consistency is an important area of improvement for our team, as well as creating strength in depth across all crews.”

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Mikkelsen said he was ready to put “a difficult 2018” behind him and approach a new season with renewed purpose and attack. “Although the results were missing last year, we learned a lot about the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC and I feel we are better prepared for 2019.”

Loeb added: “I am pleased to be joining such a great line-up of crews for my first season with Hyundai Motorsport. It is clear to me the car was a competitive package in 2018, which enabled the team to fight for the championship titles right to the very end.

“Thierry has improved a lot in recent years and is a genuine title contender. He is fast on every surface, which is important. Andreas, too, has proven his speed. Dani is the guy I know best in WRC, as we were teammates in the past. It promises to be a great season. I hope I can get up to speed with the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC quickly and show competitive pace.”

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“We have all the ingredients to win in WRC. There is nothing lacking compared to our rivals. We are right up there in terms of our engineering capability. We are arguably the strongest in terms of our crew line-up – Thierry, Andreas, Dani and Sébastien are all top-level drivers. I am confident we have the package to win,” says Adamo.

Road Review – Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

The Mitsubishi Pajero has been an evolution of longevity with tweaks and upgrades almost an annual occurrence in between major styling revisions – the latest version of the Pajero Sport coming less than a year after the major revise of 2017.

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However, it was not all that long ago while standing with a Mitsubishi engineer in the sand dunes on the West Coast he emphatically dismissed my question about the Pajero getting electronic switching between two and four-wheel drive, stating “… our customers are dedicated off-road enthusiasts and demand the manual method…”

Oh yes Mr Bob Dylan, how the times have changed.

Now sporting that electronic switching and driving through an 8-speed automatic gearbox, the Pajero has shifted massively left-field to join the ranks of the luxury SUV class, often a phantom zone filled with very expensive and highly capable vehicles living out their lives never having served the purpose for which they were designed.

As an off-roader, the Pajero has a formidable history with 12 Paris-Dakar wins under its belt including seven consecutive titles – this going back to its first victory in 1985. However, the story starts long before then when Mitsubishi introduced the world’s first passenger vehicle with full-time four-wheel drive, the PX33, in 1933.

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The immensely capable off-roader – that has appeared in short, standard and long-wheelbase formats – is often grossly underestimated but I am not truly convinced by this latest 7-seat format.

Not that the seating configuration interferes with its ability, but purely a personal dislike for the format – the two rearmost seats are just for tiny tots and take up valuable luggage space, with those removable regularly gathering dust in a garage.

Obviously, there are intrepid travellers who really need that seating space at the back and, naturally, the provision is there for them, but it reduces luggage space to 193 litres. With the rear seats folded flat this increases to 813 litres.

With this latest iteration – and a contender in the Auto Trader SA Guild of Motoring Journalists Car of the Year competition – the designers improved the Pajero Sport’s safety by adding ISO-FIX child seat anchors and added a seventh air bag for the protection of the driver’s knees.

The Pajero Sport’s styling is described as ‘distinctive’, ‘energetic’ and ‘striking’. Vehicle design and styling follows trend patterns across all brands whether or not the actual designers like – or care to admit – it and completely in spite of what the marketing brochure says.

Viewed from the side, the shark nose of the Pajero may be great in terms of its improved departure angle but it loses something, I believe, the older and squarer vehicles had going for them – namely the fact the driver could see both front corners, knowing there was nothing ahead of them to worry about.

The current design ticks all the necessary boxes in terms of improved aerodynamics and the saving in fuel that comes with more slippery shape, around 8,1 l/100 km compared to the figures from earlier versions that hovered around the 9,0 l/100 km mark.

LED driving lamps with auto levelling and DRLs, including a headlamp washer for the 4WD version, are standard features, while a LED high-mounted rear stop lamp on the tailgate provides additional safety.

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In line with its Pajero heritage, it boasts double wishbone coil springs with a stabiliser bar in the front and multi-link suspension with stabiliser bar in the back. The quiet drive, thanks to its strong ladder-frame design, which absorbs all levels of NVH, gives the new Pajero Sport a big sedan car-like ride and handling.

Another massive advantage is its turning circle of just 11,2 m (as opposed to between 11,6 m and 12,2 m for some other premium SUVs).

Soft-feel leather seats make the long haul a pleasure and provide ample support when going donga-diving and the driver seat is electrically adjustable. The second row of seats offers a 60:40 split with tumble, reclining and sliding function with a centre armrest and cup holders.

The third row of seats folds flat into the floor to minimise intrusion into the cargo space when not in use.

Passenger comfort is improved with a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with paddle shifts, rear park distance control with a rear-view camera, dual automatic air-conditioning with rear passenger temperature controls and an electric parking brake.

Other standard features include a keyless operating system with electronic start function, multi-function leather steering wheel with audio and cruise control, Bluetooth with hands-free voice control and foldaway electric door mirrors incorporating turn indicators.

Standard built-in safety features include Active Stability and Traction Control (ASTC), anti-lock braking, EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution), BAS (Brake Assist System), Brake Override System and seven air bags (Driver, Driver’s Knee, Passenger, Seat and Side Curtains). Hill Descent Control and the new electronic Off-Road Mode Control add additional safety benefits.

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The latest version is still powered by the 2,4-litre MIVEC turbo-diesel engine producing 133 kW at 3 500 r/min and 430 Nm of torque at 2 500 r/min, driving the wheels through its 8-speed automatic transmission with Intelligent Shift Control.

As an example of good things that keep getting better, the latest version of the Pajero Sport is just that bit more refined without losing its core abilities – and taking this vehicle off the beaten path is worth every minute as it tackles just about any obstacle in its path with aplomb.

On the road, it drives and handles like a sedan with the advantage of the extra view from the raised seating position. It has less body roll in tight corners than one might expect and the steering is both true and provides excellent feedback to the driver.

I am not entirely convinced an 8-speed gearbox is absolutely necessary, although this spread of ratios does help with both fuel consumption and overall noise reduction.

It is the kind of car that deserves a lot more time than we had while it was in the test fleet.

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