As has been rumoured in recent weeks, Hyundai is poised to return to the World Rally Championship with an all-new car, based on its latest i20 model, which was unveiled at Paris Motor Show on Thursday (27 September).

Following its withdrawal from all motorsport and particularly the WRC, back in 2003, Hyundai has held the long-term goal of setting up an in-house WRC team to return to the pinnacle of international rallying. That base, which would be situated in Europe, would be used to develop a performance rally car, resulting in the WRC i20's debut in Paris this week.

The company's involvement in the sport began in 1998, when it competed in the F2 class of the WRC for two seasons. In 1999, the team announced it would step up to the top class at the turn of the century, rallying a fully-developed WRC car based on the three-door Accent, which competed until 2003. Current World Rally Cars are based on 1.6-litre production models, featuring dramatic aerodynamic enhancements, 4x4 systems, turbochargers, sequential gearboxes and other high-tech additions, and the WRC i20 has subsequently been engineered to overcome the extreme terrains and weather conditions that are a feature of the series.

"The World Rally Championship is recognised as one of the most dramatic sporting series on Earth," Mark Hall, marketing director at Hyundai Motor Europe, commented, "It's a spectacle filled with excitement and dynamism the perfect embodiment of the Hyundai brand. The WRC also offers the most technologically-diverse challenge for an automotive manufacturer. Our participation will demonstrate Hyundai's engineering excellence and durability, and will also help to enhance our passenger vehicles in future."

Prior to this week's announcement, Hyundai has contented itself with sponsoring sport rather than competing in it, backing the likes of UEFA and FIFA and their premier football tournaments, and being the exclusive automotive sponsor of F?d?ration Internationale de Ski (FIS) ski jumping competitions. However, there was an itch that needed to be scratched and, as senior vice-president and COO of Hyundai Motor Europe, Allan Rushforth, explained, Paris provided the ideal backdrop to unveil the new WRC challenge.

"The Paris Motor Show is one of the major events on the European automotive calendar, so it is fitting that we have chosen this event to premier three major new vehicles," he explained, "Each demonstrates an important element of the Hyundai brand, and together they reaffirm our commitment to Europe and its citizens both today and in the future.

"The 'new generation' i30 three-door is the newest member of our truly European i30 family. With the rally-ready i20, we are prepared to take on the most technologically diverse challenge for an automotive manufacturer, proving our engineering excellence and helping to inspire future passenger car models. Finally, the ix35 Fuel Cell is a clear demonstration of Hyundai's commitment to a sustainable future, which embraces viable, zero-emission powertrains."