To the Nth de­gree...

CAR (UK) - - Our Cars -

The dark-horse hot hatch is leav­ing our long-term stable – but not be­fore we meet its world cham­pi­onship tour­ing car sib­ling. By James Tay­lor THIS IS THE last re­port on life with our i30N long-term test car, and it re­ally is a fond farewell; you know a car’s do­ing some­thing right when your mood lifts ev­ery time you climb into the driver’s seat. But I never imag­ined I’d find my­self get­ting into the pas­sen­ger side along­side tour­ing car rac­ing leg­end Gabriele Tar­quini. Let alone that I’d be do­ing so to learn a cir­cuit be­fore climb­ing into the driver’s seat of his Hyundai i30N TCR race car. Turn­ing into a funny sort of day, this. A few weeks be­fore our i30N Per­for­mance is due to leave, I’m sat in an iden­ti­cal car in the pit­lane at the Cir­cuito Tazio Nu­volari in northern Italy. The only dif­fer­ence is that the steer­ing wheel is on the other side, and Tar­quini is sat be­hind it, push­ing the switch for track-friendly N mode and dis­abling the ESP.

The ex­pe­ri­enced Ital­ian was re­cruited by Hyundai as lead test driver to de­velop a rac­ing ver­sion of the new i30N for the bur­geon­ing TCR global tour­ing car rac­ing class, with test­ing be­gin­ning in spring last year. And then the i30N won the first race it en­tered, in Tar­quini’s hands.

‘The road car was al­ready fin­ished when I first drove it,’ he ex­plains, ‘but I was very happy when I did – I knew we had a good base to work from.’

A slow-ish warm-up lap and then he’s straight on it, not to show­boat, but to give me the most ac­cu­rate idea pos­si­ble of brak­ing points at full pace, and gear choices, which are broadly the same in the road car as the racer. As you’d ex­pect, he makes ev­ery­thing look in­spir­ingly easy: ‘It’s all in the tim­ing. You must brake late, carry on with the brakes un­til apex, then when you re­duce the steer­ing come back on the power pro­gres­sively.’

We swap seats, and of course my tim­ing’s not quite as good as his, like a hobby mu­si­cian on stage after a mae­stro, but I’m im­pressed with the i30N. This is the first time I’ve driven one prop­erly on a track and sud­denly it all makes sense; N mode’s adap­tive damper set­ting, far too firm for the road, makes for just-so body con­trol on track, and the heavy­weight steer­ing brings a sense of rock-solid sta­bil­ity un­der brak­ing. In the spirit in which it was con­ceived, the i30N’s war­ranty cov­ers track­days. Best get to a cir­cuit as soon as pos­si­ble.

Then it’s the step up to the i30N TCR. It looks fan­tas­tic, all pur­pose­ful square stance, out­board aero flicks and ag­gres­sively cam­bered rear tyres on show through its ope­nended box arches.

I’m belted into a su­perbly com­fort­able car­bon race seat in front of a moulded fac­sim­ile of the road car’s dash­board, a blank space where the in­stru­ments would or­di­nar­ily be and a dig­i­tal read-out mounted on the ex­posed steer­ing col­umn in their place. The ped­al­box and floor-mounted bal­last on the empty pas­sen­ger side say rac­ing car, but it’s still clearly an i30 shell, still a road car be­neath the tune-ups. TCR rac­ing is all about cost-ef­fec­tive, pro­duc­tion-based cars, and this racer is ac­tu­ally far closer to our long-ter­mer than it is to the car­bon­fi­bre WTCC spe­cials the new for­mula su­per­seded.

Drop from the in-built jacks, press the starter but­ton and a res­o­nant burr fills the whole car, the stripped-out cabin alive with noise and vi­bra­tion. Thumbs up from the team, pneu­matic pad­dleshift en­gages first, hill-start revs in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a rac­ing clutch that turns out to be no less friendly than the road car’s, head for pit­lane exit, and floor it.4

Mr Tar­quini runs through econ­omy, boot space and cupholder lo­ca­tion

If you’re go­ing to try a cheeky move up the in­side of a rac­ing leg­end, thisis the mo­ment...

Hyundai’s war­ranty in­cludes track­days, but not a wholerace se­ries

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