- Luca Engstler clinched the TCR Malaysia title with a race to spare in his Liqui Moly Team Engstler run i30 N TCR, and finished the season with five wins from six races
- While Dani Sordo dominated overall at the Rali Serras de Fafe in an i20 R5 both Hyundai Portugal supported crews begin their national campaigns with top-ten results
- Customers begin their national seasons in both the UK and Ireland, with only late punctures halting a podium run by Tom Cave on the Cambrian Rally.
While one i30 N TCR team completed a winter series in Asia with some well-deserved silverware, i20 R5 crews began their own title chases in their national championships on the stages of Europe.
Engstler clinches TCR Malaysia title
Luca Engstler clinched the TCR Malaysia championship title with a race to spare at the series’ final round at the Sepang International Circuit (February 23-24). Having won each of the first four races of the season the young German sealed the title in Race 1 of the finale weekend. Despite taking the fastest lap of the race Engstler reached the chequered flag in second. However, with his main rival for the title failing to finish the result was enough to make him uncatchable ahead of Sunday’s Race 2.
The last race of the season proved the dominance of Engstler and the i30 N TCR in the championship’s maiden season. Thanks to a storming start from fifth on the grid he was in the lead already before turn 1. He went on to take a dominant victory – once more taking fastest lap in the process – winning by over 13 seconds to score a fifth victory from six races to start his 2019 season at the wheel of a Hyundai.
The Liqui Moly Team Engstler i30 N TCR line-up for the weekend was completed by Michael Soong, who took a pair of eighth places from the two races.
Araújo begins title defence on the pace in Portugal
Armindo Araújo began the defence of his Portuguese national championship title at the Rali Serras de Fafe (February 22-23). The undisputed star of the rally proved to be Dani Sordo. The WRC driver made a guest appearance in a Hyundai Motorsport run i20 R5, winning all but one stage to take the overall victory by over a minute. However, Araújo was on the pace throughout the event also. He and co-driver Luís Ramalho picked up the only top time not claimed by Sordo and were second fastest on another three occasions. Unfortunately, the pair suffered a minor issue on the Saturday morning, dropping them out of the top-five overall to finish seventh overall.
The result put them one place behind their new Hyundai Team Portugal teammates Bruno Magalhães and Hugo Magalhães. Making their competitive debut in the i20 R5 the pair was in the top-ten on every stage on an extremely competitive rally that featured 29 R5 entrants. They missed out on a debut top-five by only 2.7 seconds.
Hyundai customers were also represented by two Racing 4 You crews, with drivers Paulo Meireles and Manuel Castro. Meireles finished 11th overall, while Castro completed the event in 14th place.
Hyundai customers start the season in Ireland
This year’s Irish Tarmac Rally Championship started with the Galway International Rally (February 9-10), with three i20 R5 customers crossing the start ramp for the event.
Following podium finishes in both the UK and Ireland in 2018 Meirion Evans returned to the wheel of his i20 R5 for the event alongside co-driver Jonathan Jackson. Meanwhile drivers Manus Kelly and Aaron MacHale were both making their i20 R5 debuts.
Both newcomers improved their times steadily throughout the weekend, adapting to the i20 R5 as the rally progressed. Though he was slowed slightly by a minor issue on the middle loop of three stages Kelly narrowly missed out on a top-ten result in class, finishing 12th of the R5 runners. Evans and Jackson backed up their 2018 performances by leading the Hyundai contingent throughout, starting with finishing the opening run seventh fastest. Another top-ten time to complete the event confirmed the duo in 11th overall.
i20 R5 proves pace on Cambrian stages
There were also three i20 R5 on the start line for the British Rally Championship at the Cambrian Rally (February 16). On the stages the trio was led by Tom Cave and co-driver Dale Bowen. Making his return to the wheel of an i20 R5 after a strong showing at Wales Rally GB to close 2018 Cave was the fastest man overall on two occasions and looked set to take second place to begin his 2019 championship challenge.
However, two punctures on the final stage first dropped him down the overall order, and then forced him to retire, unable to make it to the ceremonial finish to claim a final result.
His poor luck left Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson to again be the highest finishing Hyundai customers. They took the same car as they used in Ireland – converted by their team to gravel specification in the intervening week – to seventh place overall.
Running as part of the National B Cup category on the rally the third i20 R5 – that of Alan Carmichael and Claire Williams was also on the pace – until they were forced out of contention during the afternoon loop of stages.
The dominant manner with which Luca Engstler won the TCR Malaysia title with a race to spare once again proves the potential of the i30 N TCR. Our customers had a great first season with the car in 2018, and the results over the last few months show that this year will be another successful time on the track when the season begins in Europe. We now have customers starting their domestic rallying campaigns, and while some teams and drivers are still adapting to the i20 R5 they have immediately shown good speed on the stages, which promises great things in the season to come.