Hyundai chooses Huttunen after development driver shootout
Jari Huttunen has been selected for Hyundai's driver development programme and will contest a programme of WRC2 rounds in a i20 R5 next season.
The 23-year-old edged Emil Bergkvist, Gus Greensmith, Karl Kruuda, Pepe Lopez, Pierre-Louis Loubet, Rene Mandel and Kalle Rovanpera for the prize after impressing representatives from the Frankfurt-based team on two test stages – one asphalt and one gravel – earlier this month.
Huttunen, who won WRC2 on only his second four-wheel drive outing at Rally Finland in July, said: "It's obviously a huge honour to be selected as the winning candidate for the Hyundai Motorsport driver development programme.
"There were a lot of very talented drivers involved, with more experience than me, so to be chosen is a nice surprise. To be able to draw on the support from such a successful team will allow me to focus fully on my driving and training and continue to improve my performance behind the wheel.
"Though I only had a short time in the New Generation i20 R5 at the test I quickly felt comfortable and was able to push, even in the difficult conditions.
"Now I can concentrate on preparing over the coming months. I'm really excited for the year ahead."
Hyundai Motorsport team manager Alain Penasse praised the standard of all eight drivers, but he said Huttunen's pace with such limited four-wheel drive experience had made the difference.
Penasse said: "What stood out about Jari was his determination. With only a few starts in an R5 car he had less experience than many of the other candidates, but was immediately competitive and consistent in the New Generation i20 R5 on both the tarmac and gravel stages.
"He is a clearly a very talented driver, and has enormous potential as a rally driver. With the support of the Hyundai Motorsport driver development programme we are confident he can continue his rapid progress in the sport next season."
Before then, Huttunen will have to focus his attentions on next week's Rally Liepaja, the final round of this year's European Rally Championship, where he faces a winner-takes-all race against three other drivers for the Junior U27 title.
Would re-signing Loeb for the WRC be a mistake for Citroen?
Loeb feels he is still quick enough for WRC