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Aussie joins Hyundai rally bid

Foreign accent: Hyundai's new WRC challenger is ready to tackle the big guns from Japan.

Australian driver Michael Guest has joined Hyundai as the South Korean car-maker steps up to the rally big time

18 Jan 2000

YOUNG Australian driver Michael Guest will step into one of the Hyundai factory's all-new Accent WRC machines in selected rounds of this year's World Rally Championship.

Details of an expanded Hyundai attack were announced in Britain this week, including team sponsorship by oil giant Castrol, which backed the Toyota team until its sudden withdrawal at the end of last year.

Guest, however, will again be backed by the Winfield tobacco brand, which was created in Australia.

Hyundai narrowly missed winning the 2-litre manufacturers title in last year's series and is moving into the outright category with a 12-event program which does not include Rally Australia in November.

Full details of the Hyundai attack were announced at the Autosport International motor racing show in Birmingham, England, this week.

Guest will spearhead the newly created Hyundai Driver Development Programme and has clearly been earmarked for bigger things by the South Korean car-maker.

"The Hyundai Driver Development Programme is designed to provide a stepping stone for emerging talented drivers, from national or regional rallying to the highest pinnacle of the sport, the World Rally Championship," said a Hyundai statement.

"The HDDP will allow such drivers to be nurtured and gain valuable experience of the sport under the guidance of a works team." Winfield also backed Guest, a former Australian Group N champion, in a limited program with Subaru last season.

The Newcastle driver will be assisted throughout the year by fellow Australian Wayne Bell, who drove for Hyundai in 1998.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for me, as well as those who follow me," said a delighted Guest at the announcement.

"It means that at last there is a mechanism in place to allow aspiring drivers with potential to make it to the top level." Hyundai's two star drivers in the Castrol-backed Accents will be the experienced Kenneth Eriksson, 42, who won the 1986 Group A World Rally Championship, and Scotsman Alister McRae, 28, the younger brother of former world champion Colin McRae.

Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team principal David Whitehead said testing of the new Accent was going well and the car would make its world debut in the Swedish Rally starting on February 10.

Whitehead said Guest's first event would be the Portuguese Rally, which starts on March 16 in Oporto.

"For some time the FIA has been trying to encourage teams to run development cars, so emerging talent can be nurtured," said Whitehead in London.

"With Michael Guest, we saw a perfect opportunity to do just that." Hyundai joined the WRC in 1998 contesting the Formula 2 class for two-wheel drive cars, but the new WRC Accent will take on the big guns of world rallying - the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Subaru Impreza WRX and Ford Focus.

The Accent has a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine producing more than 300 horsepower coupled to a state of the art four-wheel drive system.

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