The Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team heads to the northern Portuguese town of Oporto this week, to take part in the third round of the 2001 World Rally Championship - which will mark the debut of their second generation world rally car, the Hyundai Accent WRC2.

The Rallye de Portugal is particularly appropriate launch date for the Accent WRC2, as it marks exactly three years on from Hyundai Motor Company's first appearance in the World Rally Championship, with the two-wheel drive Hyundai Coup?, and it's first competition outside the Asia-Pacific region.

The Korean marque's involvement over those three years has augmented considerably, enabling the team to step up from two years competing in the F2 class to the second year of running Hyundai's World Rally Car. Last year saw considerable success with the Hyundai Accent WRC and 2001 will see the team building on that success, using the Hyundai Accent WRC? and the information gained during the 2000 season.

Following recent testing, both team drivers, Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae, are optimistic about the car's progression and improvements. Kenneth Eriksson is excited about the potential of the Accent WRC2.

"Overall, the car is definitely a step in the right direction. The first car was a very good package, as we showed both last year and in the first two events of this year but this new car will help us close the gap to the other, more established cars even further. It definitely has the potential to become a winning car and it would be really good to be able to be fighting for podiums towards the end of the year, " said the Swede.

Alister McRae is of similar belief, " I agree with Kenneth, it is certainly a big step forward, particularly on rough gravel as the suspension travel has increased and this helps to improve the chassis' behaviour, which was very good to begin with. The engine response has also improved, which should again make the car more competitive and move us even closer to the front of the field. "

Nick Clipson, Chief Engineer, believes the Accent WRC2 package is a major step forward for Hyundai and the team; "I'm satisfied we've made significant improvements in all areas of the car," said Clipson. "During the recent test we were able to spend more time fine-tuning the car to the drivers' liking over a variety of gravel surfaces that we expect to see in Portugal, with no significant problems."

Despite leaving the snow and ice of the first two events of the season behind, the Rallye de Portugal looks as if it will be somewhat unseasonable. Having experienced an excessive amount of rain during the last few months, much of the rally route no longer resembles the typically dry and dusty gravel that crews have grown to expect of this rally, and may, as a result, be the source of problems for the organisers. Many expect mud, rather than the traditional dust, to be the main problem faced by drivers this year.

Despite this, Portugal is the first 'normal' rally of the season compared with the two, more specialised winter rounds that preceded it.

According to David Senior, co-driver for Alister McRae, "the weather will be an enormous consideration as there has been rain in Portugal almost solidly since the beginning of the year. If the stages are wet, the softer topsoil could be washed away, leaving the bedrock exposed and as a result, the roads could become some of the most slippery in the championship.

"Also, about 40% of the stages this year are reversed which effectively makes them new for everybody and in such wet conditions, could prove quite interesting."



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