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Hyundai gearing up for WEC hypercar programme, WRC long-term future unclear

The Korean car maker appears set to enter sportscar racing’s top-flight in the future

Hyundai logo

Hyundai logo

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Hyundai looks set to join the World Endurance Championship’s Hypercar class and race at the Le Mans 24 Hours within the next three years. 

The South Korean manufacturer, Motorsport.com has learned, is gearing up to develop an LMDh hybrid prototype for a programme that is likely to encompass the GTP category in the IMSA SportsCar Championship. 

What is not clear is the timing of a move that has been facilitated by the two-year extension of the LMDh and Le Mans Hypercar rulesets in both the WEC and IMSA until the end of 2029.

Sources suggest that an LMDh developed at Hyundai Motorsport in Germany could begin racing as early as 2026, the final year of the current set of technical regulations in the World Rally Championship in which it has fielded a factory programme since 2014.

Hyundai Motorsport president and team principal Cyril Abiteboul would not confirm that a prototype programme is under evaluation, only that the marque is “exploring different categories” and has a desire “to make it clear our ambition in this sport”, when asked about speculation linking Hyundai to the WEC.

The former Caterham and Renault Formula 1 team boss suggested that an announcement by the Hyundai Motor Group, the world’s third largest car maker by sales, in which it will lay out its plans for the WRC and the longer-term future will come in due course. Motorsport.com understands this could be as soon as September. 

“There will be announcement in due course by the relevant person,” he told Motorsport.com when asked about Hyundai’s future motorsport plans at last weekend’s Rally Poland.

“I haven't said that specifically we have some things to announce. The first thing that we will announce, but we want to do it in the proper way is our plan in WRC.”

He added that it is also “planning to clarify” its future ambitions.

Hyundai Vision GT

Hyundai Vision GT

Photo by: Gran Turismo

A 2026 entry in either the WEC or IMSA or both would suppose that development of a Hyundai prototype and the internal combustion component of its hybrid powertrain is already up and running. 

It is understood that Hyundai has identified French constructor ORECA as its chassis development partner: an LMDh must be based the spine of one of the still-born next-generation LMP2 prototypes that were originally due to arrive in 2023 when the licences for ORECA, Dallara, Multimatic and Ligier to produce P2 machinery were extended in early 2020.

ORECA already has experience in LMDh: it has provided the core of the Acura ARX-06 and Alpine A424 that respectively race in IMSA and the WEC. Hyundai would most likely produce the LMDh engine in-house like its WRC powerplants.

Motorsport.com has also learned that Hyundai is in contact with Chip Ganassi Racing, which will part company with Cadillac at the end of the 2024 campaign. 

Ganassi has a base in Germany from which it runs the WEC programme and a deal with the US racing giant would allow Hyundai to compete in two series with the same team.  

Hyundai has long had an interest in entering the sportscar arena, possibly under the banner of its Genesis luxury brand. 

It is known to have taken a place on some of the relevant FIA technical working groups, including the one exploring the introduction of hydrogen in the WEC, currently scheduled for 2028.

Hyundai is understood to have real interest in racing in the WEC and at Le Mans using hydrogen and has had fuel-cell car, the Nexo SUV, in production since 2018. 

It appears that a conventionally-fuelled LMDh could be precursor to a switch to hydrogen when the next WEC/IMSA rules cycle begins in 2030.

What does this mean for Hyundai’s WRC programme?

Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

It is unclear if a move into sportscar racing will affect Hyundai’s involvement in the WRC. Although, talk of a WEC programme sparked rumours in the Rally Poland service park that Hyundai could leave the WRC.

However, given its capacity in the automotive sphere the brand could conceivably run programmes in WEC and WRC.

Should Hyundai opt to leave the WRC, an exit before 2026 – the final year of the current regulations - would seem a strange call for several reasons. It’s commitment to the WRC was further outlined earlier this year through a project to effectively homologate a new i20 N Rally1 car to be introduced next year.

This plan was scrapped amid uncertainty of the WRC technical rules after the FIA proposed changes for next year, which resulted in a U-turn after manufacturers strongly opposed the move. Now regulations are staying in place until the end of 2026, a fraction of the 2025 car project has been salvaged and is expected to be implemented next year, through the use of homologation jokers.

Since joining Hyundai, Abiteboul has been a key player in instigating change in the WRC to improve its appeal and return on investment for manufacturers. This year the FIA and the WRC Promoter have revealed visions for the future that includes several initiatives to improve the championship’s promotion and footing.   

When asked about Hyundai’s future following the FIA’s U-turn, Abiteboul said: “We will keep on implementing our plan for this year and next year and focus on work for the longer term which is 2027. We are really keen on understanding the direction of the sport from a business and a technology perspective so we can see what it looks like for us.

“Obviously, I would not deny that having pushed the sport in this direction it would look strange that we don’t maintain our commitment in the sport.”

The FIA plans to reveal new technical regulations for 2027 and beyond in December which the world motorsport governing body hopes will provide stability and relevance to not only keep the current marques, but attract new manufacturers.

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