With Hyundai finishing the 2017 World Rally Championship with a round win at Rally Australia, second place in the drivers’ championship with Thierry Neuville, and second place in the manufacturers’ championship, senior figures of the brand’s local arm say more rallying and more motorsport is the plan moving forward for the South Korean car maker.
Speaking to RallySport Magazine at this weekend’s Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour, Hyundai Australia public relations general manager Bill Thomas said not only are there no plans to exit from WRC, but a push into other categories is something else being seriously considered.
“I don’t think there are any plans to get out of rally at all,” Thomas said.
“[From inside the brand], it’s a hugely respected and admired program, and it’s our only global motorsport program, so it’s really important to the brand.
Hyundai's success in the WRC has grown their 'N' brand. Photo: Luke Whitten
“It’s a fantastic program and it’s built a lot of awareness for the ‘N’ brand – especially in Europe, which was its real purpose.
“I think it’s going to really come into its own now though, with the first N car – the i30 N – now on sale in Europe and about to be on sale in Australia. The link then becomes more important. There’s a flow-on effect to the road car, and I think that is going to be critical.”
Although Thomas is realistic about the impact the brand’s undertaking into global motorsport has had in Australia, the PR head believes there’s still plenty to be gained by participating in high-level competition.
“I don’t think you can underestimate the power of that kind of association,” Thomas said.
“When you’re out competing in world motorsport and you’ve got a car with an ‘N’ badge on it, I think it’s great.”
Open about Australia trailing Europe in terms of outright motorsport cut-through, Thomas is confident of future success in the area, taking inspiration from a well-known and much-loved Japanese brand with a long and successful heritage of rallying.
“I think it’s still a work in progress to increase the exposure of rally in Australia, but I think it’s important that we stick with it.
“[What Hyundai is doing] sort of reminds me personally of where Subaru was back in the day when the Impreza was first launched, and they built the brand mainly around rallying.
“It was a fantastic program, and it’s not just built that car, but built that brand. So [rallying for us] is very important and not likely to go away any time soon.
Thomas believes building a strong brand, like Subaru have done in the past, is essential to the brand's motorsport success.
“[The WRC] is a really authentic championship to be in. It’s an incredibly tough sport and very competitive, and extremely difficult. It’s about proving the durability and performance of the vehicles.
“I think – even though we haven’t won a championship yet – we’re out there and competing, and that means a lot. And, as I say, it’s really going to come into its own when we have the first ‘N’ car on sale and then ‘N’ cars to follow.”
Moving beyond the WRC, Thomas is also keen to see the Hyundai and ‘N’ brands expand into alternative categories and series.
“I guess there’s other potential [too],” Thomas told RallySport Magazine.
“There are other championships open, and it might be that we look at something like the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), but I don’t know if anything’s being done in that area. It’s a possibility I suppose, but it’s certainly not anything that’s being planned at the moment.
“We do have a few plans together for Targa – maybe some tarmac rallying, maybe some production car racing – but, at this point, we’re not committed to anything, we’re just studying various ways to amplify the brand.
“I think motorsport’s always great for getting that authenticity and the spirit of competition right, and even if it’s not a hugely watched championship – even if the numbers aren’t big in terms of the reach of any particular championship – you’re still there competing in front of people who matter and people who know what performance cars are all about and who love to compete. So I think it’s important for us to study that kind of activity.”
The international touring car championship in another category that’s piqued Thomas’ interest, with the recently revealed Hyundai i30 N TCR – set to challenge the likes of Alfa Romeo, Audi, Ford, Honda, Kia, Opel, Peugeot, Seat, Subaru, and Volkswagen in the series from 2018 – another avenue the local PR chief is keen to investigate.
“The TCR [too] is a growing category that’s a cost effective, extremely popular, and very competitive championship.
The Hyundai i30 N TCR is all new.
“Personally, I’d like to see us look at getting an i30 N TCR car here in Australia – just for events and testing and trials. I mean, it’d be great to look at that, but there are no plans for it at the moment.
“But TCR is an ideal championship for the i30 N. For me personally, it’s just great to be competing. You don’t need to win everything. If you’re out there having a shot at it, then that’s what matters the most.”
As for a dream scenario… Thomas admits if he controlled the budgets at Hyundai, we’d see an i30 N TCR competing in next year’s Bathurst 12 Hour “for sure”.
Conceding defeat however, Thomas says, “But I’m answerable to very many senior managers who need to make those decisions.”
Due to go on sale in Australia in early 2018 – after originally being earmarked for a late 2017 local launch – the road-going Hyundai i30 N will be offered in two variants: a standard N and a Performance Package.
The brand-new turbocharged Hyundai i30 N is bred from their motorsport endeavours.
Both will employ a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine to turn the front wheels only, however the entry-level model will offer 184kW of power to the flagship car’s 202kW. Torque is equal between the pair at 353Nm, with an ‘overboost’ function raising the bar to 378Nm.
A six-speed manual transmission will be the only gearbox option at the time of launch, although an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic is under development and is due to follow down the line.
Along with a best 0-100km/h figure of 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h, other key highlights for the i30 N include a variable exhaust system, automated rev-matching, and an electronically-controlled and -adjustable mechanical limited-slip differential (depending on the variant selected).
Pricing is yet to be officially announced, however, look for it to start at around Volkswagen Golf GTI territory – meaning somewhere near $41,490 (before on-road costs) – and top out at just under the $47,990 Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance Edition 1.
David Zalstein is a freelance motoring journalist based in Melbourne. He’s an avid car enthusiast, as well as a big fan of all things motorsport.
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