The manufacturer that surprisingly has motorsport at its core
It’s not every day you see a brand-value pyramid during a road car launch where the word ‘motorsports’ appears at the very top. Sure, you might expect this from Ferrari, Porsche or Aston Martin. But for a Hyundai Elantra? Yup. And here’s why…
When Hyundai launched its Word Rally Championship program in 2014 with the i20 WRC, it coincided with the launch of its N Brand. The ‘N’ stands for both Namyang, home to Hyundai’s global R&D Centre in South Korea and for the Nurburgring, the fabled racetrack that is home to its European Test Centre.
Another big step came in 2015, when Hyundai hired Albert Biermann – formerly the head of BMW’s famous M Division and responsible for the likes of the E46 M3 and E39 M5. He’d started out at BMW in 1983 as a humble suspension testing engineer but rose through the ranks to become VP of engineering at M Division.
Handed a surprisingly free rein, given the size of this Korean manufacturing giant, his brief was to make Hyundai’s series of N cars more exciting versions of its regular machines. Very soon its first product, the i30 N hot hatch, earned more than its expected share of sales and so he was encouraged to produce more.
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Gabriele Tarquini, BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR
Photo by: WTCR
Since then, Hyundai has expanded its N-brand products to include the funky Veloster, i20, Kona and Elantra models. Alongside the WRC – where it has won back-to-back manufacturers’ championships in the past two seasons – its motorsport involvement has centred on touring cars, primarily the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) – winning titles in 2018 with Gabriele Tarquini and Norbert Michelisz in ’19 using the i30 N model.
In America, another TCR program has also enjoyed huge success with the two-time Indy 500-winning team Bryan Herta Autosport running the Veloster and – this year – the new Elantra.
Team owner and former Indy car winner Herta says: “It was really exciting for us to be a part of the worldwide track debut of the Elantra N TCR car at Daytona International Speedway, and to have the car deliver its third win in just its third race at Mid-Ohio was great. We’re leading the drivers’, teams’ and manufacturers’ championships – so a lot of good things have been going on this year.”
#98: Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR, TCR: Ryan Norman, Parker Chase, #33: Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR, TCR: Mark Wilkins, Harry Gottsacker
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
#98: Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR, TCR: Ryan Norman, Parker Chase
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
But what of the future? While TCR’s global platform is allowing Hyundai to run multiple programs in different regions, its profile is limited to fans of touring car racing. Meantime, the new Pure ETCR series is already allowing the brand to highlight its electric products, a big part of the marque’s future, with hydrogen also being a major alternative power source in which it is invested.
Is there a chance Hyundai could raise its ambitions to a wider-scale series – on a similar level to its world championship rallying involvement – on the racetracks?
“We’re obviously in discussions with Hyundai about the motorsports landscape," says Herta. "As you say, in the pyramid, motorsports is at the top for the N Brand. For us that means bringing these everyday, fun-to-drive racecars in to different categories as more N models appear. As a race team, every year we’ve grown beyond what we started with and, as well as supporting customer cars, we’d like to see growth next year too. I’d love to see even more Hyundais out there.”
Bryan Herta, Bryan Herta Autosport
Photo by: Bryan Herta Autosport
#77: Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Veloster N TCR, TCR: Michael Lewis, Taylor Hagler
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
Hyundai might be competing on a modest rung of IMSA’s ladder but it’s also significant that it was the title sponsor of its ‘home’ event at Laguna Seca (where it swept the podium) earlier this month. Add into that equation that Biermann has been quoted as saying his ultimate goal is to produce a mid-engined N car that could rival a Porsche – which itself will be entering IMSA’s top level competition in 2023 – and it sets your mind wondering.
Herta’s take is this: “It’s a growing car company, and it’s taking on all the big players in terms of car sales not only on the racetrack.
“It would make sense eventually to see Hyundai participating in other types of motorsport and we’d certainly want to be a part of that. We see ourselves as Hyundai’s North American racing partner and we want to go racing wherever it makes sense for them to race.
“Racing is a technology development center, and, for example, the ETCR platform that they have now in Europe fits in well with Hyundai’s electric alignment going forward. I think hybridization still allows you to race in a lot of other categories though, and those opportunities are growing. Then I think you’ll see the EV portion grow over time as the ICE takes a smaller role, along the path to an all-electric future. That’s going to be a gradual process.”
As well as its ETCR car, it also recently revealed a two-door sports car powered by a 690-horsepower (500-kilowatt) hydrogen powertrain (below).
Jean-Karl Vernay, Hyundai Motorsport N, Hyundai Veloster N ETCR
Photo by: Pure ETCR
Even before the WRC and TCR title successes, in 2015 Hyundai unveiled an N-branded fantasy car for the Gran Turismo video game – envisioned at the time for 2025 – that appears not a million miles away from the emerging IMSA and FIA World Endurance Championship LMDh designs!
It won’t be any time soon, but how cool would it be if something like that comes to pass for real?
Hyundai N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo concept
Photo by: Nikolaz Godet
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