Powerstage Podcast had before Ypres Rally Belgium a great chance to interview Hyundai Motorsport Deputy Director and Powertrain Manager, Julien Moncet. In the interview we get answers to questions: how long Julien has worked in Hyundai Motorsport, how high he will rate this year’s Rally Finland victory, will Hyundai run this year more than three Rally1 cars in one event etc. Questions asked by Rauno Paltser.
It’s my pleasure to welcome to Powerstage podcast Hyundai Motorsport Deputy Team Director Julien Moncet. Hello Julien!
Hi! How are you?
I’m fine, thanks! How are you?
Not too bad. Not too bad. Looking forward to the next rally. We are already pushing for Ypres
Julien, before we go to WRC season 2022 talks, let’s talk about you and about how a young guy like you who was interested in airplanes, if I know correctly, got involved in motorsport?
Young guy? I’m not sure you can call me a young guy anymore because I’m 47 so depends (*laughing*)
Yeah, but I read somewhere that when you were a young guy you were interested in airplanes and watched Formula 1 with your father?
It’s true that my father was an airplane pilot. He was a pilot for the French army and then AirFrance so I had a lot of interest of airplanes definitely but on the other hand my uncle is some famous journalist in France, covering Formula 1 and all motorsport activities so I have always been in between the two and well at some point when I got my first car, I decided that I actually was more interested in cars. I had a Peugeot 205GTI which was my first car. Very nice car! Still my preferred one! I think it was, let’s say, easier to get in touch (with cars) because with airplanes I could only see them but I could not fly them, if I may say so, where’s I had my car in the garage that I could play with every day so when I did my studies actually, I went to a mechanical engineering school which was doing both, airplanes and cars but I decided that cars were more for me, also I was not sure how much airplanes pilots will be still needed in the future. You have more and more computers, it’s more and more assisted where’s with cars, so far, it will maybe change, but you still need the driver.
Correct me if I’m wrong but you came to Hyundai Motorsport in 2013 and your team was responsible for the development of the Hyundai i20 WRC engine. Tell me about this process?
Yeah, actually you are absolutely right I joined Hyundai Motorsport at the end of 2013. It was quite the beginning of our company (It was at the start of our company??). I was initially planned to be an engine development engineer but as we were missing some people to prepare for Monte Carlo, I was asked to be the engine workshop leader which was quite challenging for me because I’m an engineer, I’m not a mechanic. I know what it takes to build an engine but if you ask me to build the engine, I will need maybe 2 weeks but a mechanic can do it much faster than me hopefully.
It was challenging and we had only a few weeks before Monte Carlo and we had nothing. We barely had tools, we had no parts, no bill of material, no part list, nothing. So, it was really challenging to be ready for Monte Carlo and to prepare for the first season.
After a few years at this position, I moved to Customer Support because as you know we were doing R5 cars and TCR cars and I was in charge of the development of the first R5 engine, then the TCR engine, then I moved to Engine department manager, then to Powertrain manager when we merged electronics, transmission and engine departments and now on top of the Powertrain manager I am trying to take care of the whole team. I mean in 9 years it’s quite an achievement, yes.
A man with many roles!
Yes! It’s possible!
You mentioned the word Powertrain. What does it mean?
For us, maybe other companies have a different explanation but for us Powertrain is: combustion engine, electronics and transmission. By transmission I’m talking about the gearbox, the propshaft, the driveshaft and now what we call the transfer case with the hybrid and the differential.
You already mentioned that at the beginning of this year you were named as Hyundai Motorsport Deputy Team Director. How different is this position compared to previous positions?
*laughing* Very different. Actually, I am still doing two positions at the same time but let’s say, the team principal role requires more to think ahead and to manage the project at a higher level. There are a lot of responsibilities, I also have to answer the questions of the media like I’m doing right now. We are talking about drivers, about the project of the future, about the budget for the whole company. It’s more of a management role but for powertrain, although it’s also a management role, I’m still deeply involved in the technical side so it’s quite different. But at the end you always have to deal with people and this is maybe the biggest job to support and to follow the people in your team
It’s no secret that Hyundai Rally1 car development compared to Toyota and Ford was not at the same level because development started months later. Can you explain why the decision to start developing took so long?
Well as you said it’s not a secret. Definitely we started really late, I think at the end of 2020 was the moment we got the green light from our HQ in Korea to go ahead with the project so it was already from the beginning we were late compared to our competitors who were working on their cars I think for a few months already. OK so we designed the car, we tested. OK I think it was on the wheels on April 2021. March or April, I can’t remember exactly and then we decided that, to make things easier, to redesign the car again *laughs*. And the latest car, the car we are using now, was ready only at the beginning of December last year. Just before Monte we had to do the homologations. We had extremely short time to finish the car, to assemble it, to test it a couple of times, to homologate it and to go to Monte Carlo. So yes, we did not have much mileage with this car when we arrived in Monte Carlo. On top of that we destroyed our first test car which did not help. I think everything was against us. The time, the destroyed test car, homologation which was mid-December and Monte Carlo so we really had no mileage and we assembled the three cars for Monte Carlo during Christmas and New Year’s. Just in time! *laughs*.
*laughs* Yeah, I agree totally. Do you agree with me when I say that the main problem of the first part of the season was reliability of the car? Many rallys with small problems.
Yeah, I think this is clear. We had a lot of issues. Not always the same issues. And that has forbidden us to get some better results. In every race we had issues. Ok in Monte Carlo it was expected because we were not ready. We were just happy to have the three cars at the start line, that was the main target and then yes, we had a few issues here and there that unfortunately cost us a lot of points but hopefully it will be like the last two rallies, touching wood, we hadn’t had any drama, so I hope now we can really focus on performance.
But there were also rallies to celebrate, let’s say. A double podium in Croatia, Ott and Martin’s won in Sardegna. Did those results prove that the team’s development plan is on the right track?
Yes, for sure we were always thinking that we can make it. We all now internally what was the situation end of last year and how difficult it has been but we are here to win and our target was this. Actually, the first podiums came quite quickly which was quite encouraging and we had some kind of positive gradient, as you say, with Croatia, Portugal, Sardegna so we know the base of the car is not completely wrong, that we have a good starting point but for sure we need more development.
In Estonia of course, Ott and Martins fans were waiting for a great result.
But in Estonia, result wise it was, let’s say, pretty OK but the speed wasn’t there to fight against Toyota but the car did not have any big problems. Was this a turning point?
Yes, definitely. I think for Estonia we managed to sort out most of our main reliability issues and yes, I was expecting as well to see a better performance in Estonia. We know that Ott is very fast on this kind of rally. It’s his home rally on top of that. The test was reasonably good so we thought we’ll have better pace than what we had and yes, it was really disappointing for us. And that’s why when we came to Finland, we were thinking the opposite, that ok it will be the same. We were 2 minutes off the pace in Estonia and in Finland we managed to, Ott managed to win. Ok we had a pre-event test between Estonia and Finland where we worked a lot on the car. I mean the car between Estonia and Finland, except for the setup and a few things, were mostly the same, so we have been surprised two times. In a bad way in Estonia and in a positive way in Finland.
Before we move on to Finland. Was it your first time in Estonia?
How did you like Rally Estonia overall?
I really enjoyed it to be honest. I like the place, the people, all the spectators are really crazy about rally and they really enjoy it. I think it’s very organized rally, quite modern in many aspects. The organization was really nice and on top of that we had a chance to do a truck race with the other team principals which will be a good souvenir forever. So, I really enjoyed it. I would have preferred to win the rally but this is how it is. Maybe next year
OK we already mentioned Rally Finland but the Rally Finland win was the Win that Hyundai waited for from 2014 and Ott and Martin, I think, did something unreal to win at Toyotas home roads. How proud are you of this win as a team leader?
Yes, we are very proud of this win. We have never won in Finland. Our first rally was Monte Carlo in 2014 and since then we barely managed a few podiums, we have never been really performing in Finland and yes you are right, it is also Toyotas home because their factory is a few minutes away from the rally. But yes, the fact its Toyotas home is not really important for me, it’s really the fact that we won in Finland. We always go to Finland thinking: “Arghh this year will be bad again” so we just showed that, ok it was a very hard fight and a long battle until the end, but we showed that we can trust ourselves, it’s possible and we should not be afraid of the others. I think for us it’s very nice, it could have been anywhere else but it’s very important for the team because after the disappointing results in Estonia we were really wondering how the next races will look like so for the whole team it has been again like a boost. It’s very important, it’s always nice to win but it has been a difficult season for us so far and it helps a lot the troops.
We talked about that Estonia and Finland were linked rallies and there was not so much time to test something but did you bring any updates to the car in Finland compared to Estonia?
I’m not sure how much you are aware of what linked rallies mean but it means that some parts like transmission and everything has to be the same. You have to use exactly the same parts from the previous rally. So, a few things we could not change. But yes, nevertheless we worked on dampers and we worked on engine mapping. These were the main two items for Finland
Hyundai has now 22 wins in WRC. If you’d have to rate this Rally Finland win, how high would you put this win?
*laughs* Its a difficult question. Aaaaaaaaaaaaam
OK first win is also special!
Yeah, Yeah. I think the first win was the most important for the brand.
Definitely in top3 I think?
But maybe I would put it only 3rd on the Top3 because I think the first win was something really special. It was our first year. I think Sardegna was also important in a way this year, for the whole team so yeah, let’s put it second.
What’s the next thing that Hyundai is planning to develop? Is the plan to make the car more smooth to drive because the drivers are complaining about balance problems. What’s the next step?
Yeah of course we are looking at the development of the car, you know in rally we are always developing the car. We also have a system of homologations and jokers so we cannot do what we want, when we want, but definitely we are looking at the car handling problem and all the other aspects that we know we have to work on. I’m still an engineer as well and we have much more ideas than what our resources and time, money and homologation allow. So, we have to prioritize what is most important. We have a few ideas but definitely we are always trying to prove the handling of the car. We are always listening to the driver’s feedback. If they are not happy with something, we try to understand why, what can we do about it and when can we solve it. Not everything is easy and sometimes it takes weeks or months before we can bring some answers but we are taking this very seriously.
So, the plan is to use the Jokers that are allowed for this year also?
Of course. You have jokers for the chassis, jokers for the engine, jokers for the electronics. The plan has always been to use all of them.
So, drivers can feel that next year the car will also be comfortable to drive?
I hope so. Comfortable is something, for me what is important is the car to be fast because I know in the past when I was working on different teams, we managed sometimes to have a comfortable car but the car was just slow *laughs*. And sometimes we managed to have a car a bit more difficult to drive but it was faster so I think we have to find the right balance
At least it looks to me, if I think about Rally Finland, that the engine side is pretty ok. At least the top speed was the highest?
Yes, but we know that we have a longer gear ratio than the others and the engine is likely the most powerful. On the longest straight we have in Finland, definitely we have an advantage. Still, it does not mean that we are not working on the engine to make it more comfortable, as you say, to drive. Engine drivability is also very important, we are working a lot on this and the engines are frozen mostly which means they are the same as end of last year but still we can improve the drivability
Hyundai moved the test base to Finland. Can you share to our listeners how much the team has tested there and are you planning to go there again this year?
Yes, I think it was a good move from us because in the past we were only using a proving ground next to our facility in Alzenau but it’s only asphalt so it’s good to have an alternative with gravel and fast gravel, it was nice. Unfortunately, I think we haven’t had the opportunity to use it as much as we would have liked, the winter has been quite long and our calendar was quite tricky already but yes, we plan to use it again in the future.
Toyota is running 4 cars in events and in Greece M-Sport is running 6 cars. Is there a chance that in some rallies this season we will see more than 3 Hyundai i20N Rally1 cars?
*laughs* Well I don’t know what they do but yes, I would like to have more cars on rallys, this is definitely something important as well if you look at the championship because you can take points from the others. But honestly speaking, I think you will not see a 4th car this year.
The third car is shared between Dani Sordo, who has delivered two podiums already this year, and a young Oliver Solberg. Let’s be honest, Dani is like a perfect team player and he basically delivers every time. Why does the team use him in so few events?
Well it’s a very complex problem. Without getting too much into details, we have agreements with the drivers, as well what they are available to do, what they want to do. What I mean by “what they want to do” is where they think they can do well. We have to look at the championship of course and as well that Oliver is part of the new generation. You know in rally it’s always important to keep an eye on the new generation. It takes time to bring new guys to the highest level so I think it’s important that we give him (Oliver) more mileage, more confidence with the car. If you look at the championship right now, to be honest, we would need a miracle to (win the championship) … From a mathematical point of view, it’s still possible, but we would need a lot of help from Toyota to win championships (this year). We really need to think about the future now.
Yeah, I agree that it’s more or less mathematical. Let’s talk about Oliver. He hasn’t had the best debut season and he has struggled in the last three events. What should he focus on?
For sure he is in a difficult situation that I can understand. At the beginning of the season the target for him was to get some mileage, some experience and to finish the races. There was no more expected of him and now for sure, we are past the midseason point and he’s in between two worlds. Try to show some performance and to bring the car to the finish. For young drivers it’s important. Let’s say it’s difficult but for sure we are still considerate with his capacities. It was important for us after the crash in Finland to get him into the car as fast as possible so he was driving already the pre-event test this week and to move forward. What to expect from him now? Of course, to finish the rally, that would be the main target really
I agree, those young drivers like Oliver need the teams support to find his confidence again.
Yes, we will see after.
The next rally is Thierry’s and Martijn’s home rally in Belgium that they won last year. How did the test go and how confident are you before the tarmac rally. Is the car better than in Croatia?
Well in Croatia the performance was actually not that bad so it gives us some confidence and the pre-event test was quite positive so we have some optimism. On top of that we know that Thierry and Martijn are very good in Ypres. If you remember last year, it’s a rally they really love, they enjoy it. I think our expectations are quite high. Definitely I would not target anything less than a podium but I think we can target the win. Maybe I’m too optimistic but let’s see *laughs*.
That’s a good target!
Yeah *laughs* . It’s always the target to win but sometimes you are a bit more optimistic than realistic. A few months ago I was asked which rally do I see as a potential highlight of the season and I’ve always said Ypres so I hope I was not wrong *laughs*
I hope so too! I have to ask Julien, what is your personal goal for the end of the year. Is it to finally get rid of the “deputy” in front of your title and become Director of Hyundai Motorsport or something else?
The final goal is to win as many rallies as we can.
Yeah, but that’s the team’s goal not your personal goal *laughs*.
Yeah, but as well for me is very important
Yeah of course.
I mean the decision is not mine. I’m focusing on doing my job, having the best possible results with the team and then I think my bosses will decide to continue or not but if there is a possibility then why not continue without the “deputy” *laughs*.
Yeah, I agree. Thank you, Julien, for finding time in your busy time schedule and all the best wishes for you and the team for the rest of the season
No problem! Thank you very much and hope to see you soon!
Listen to Julien Moncet interview in Powerstage Podcast –
Photos: Hyundai Motorsport