3 things you should know

...ABOUT STRAP­PING INTO A TCR CABIN

Wheels (Australia) - - Feature / I30 N Road Vs Track -

one HOT SEAT

The seat is bolted low to the floor, which limits vi­sion, but since you won’t be en­coun­ter­ing any round­abouts on the track, that’s not a big deal, and the COG ben­e­fits. The steer­ing col­umn-mounted dash dis­plays revs, gear se­lec­tion, speed, and lap times for ego stroking ... or a re­al­ity check.

two DON’T TOUCH

The old race-car in­struc­tion was in force here: “Don’t fid­dle with stuff!” Wa­ter and oil are primed at the press of a but­ton be­fore the en­gine is fired up. The big red switch is for the on­board fire-sup­pres­sion sys­tem, while the big stick is the hand­brake which is used for launch con­trol.

three FANCY FEET

The pedal box is ad­justed to the driver’s frame. Each pedal is hinged from the floor. Get­ting the most out of the brakes re­quires sig­nif­i­cant force and is a proper work­out. While the seat po­si­tion is fixed, the steer­ing col­umn is lifted from the road car and thus ad­justs for height and reach.

Hyundai Aus­tralia’s of­fi­cial N tech guru Geoff Fear got wind of our plans and has snuck into the garage to watch. He rec­om­mends wind­ing all the i30’s driv­e­train set­tings to kill, but keep­ing sus­pen­sion in its soft­est mode. He says the ex­tra com­pli­ance will al­low the car to roll onto its outer tyre, and get the rub­ber to ‘hook up’ eas­ier. Fear has over­seen count­less devel­op­ment and test­ing miles of the i30 N at this very track, so I’m not about to ig­nore his ad­vice.

On the road, the i30 N is one of the most ac­ces­si­ble and fun per­for­mance cars around. I’ve felt more com­fort­able pushing the Korean hot hatch on pub­lic roads than some­thing like a GT-R Nismo. How­ever, when pre­sented with a race track the se­cret to a quick lap is pa­tience.

On the rel­a­tively tight Wakefield Park, the i30 N is a hoot, how­ever like any front-drive hatch speed man­age­ment is vi­tal to man­ag­ing the grip on of­fer. It’s easy to bar­rel into a cor­ner with more ve­loc­ity than the front treads are pre­pared to deal with.

While it’s no porker, the i30 N road car’s 1429kg is much more ap­par­ent on the track. Brakes and tyres are pun­ished and past their best af­ter only a hand­ful of laps. Though Hyundai’s five-year war­ranty for the i30 N cov­ers track use, the car was never in­tended to suf­fer ex­tended cir­cuit abuse, so it’s time to give it a breather, peel into pit lane and squeeze into some Nomex.

AL­THOUGH it starts life as a ba­sic i30 body-in-white, it’s clear the TCR ver­sion is a much tougher beast. A low­ered ride height plus the foursquare stance of flared arches cut an in­tim­i­dat­ing fig­ure even in the stark white paint used for test­ing. Each wheel is shod with 18x10-inch slick Miche­lins but un­for­tu­nately there are no tyre warm­ers on hand for the day, so the re­spon­si­bil­ity for get­ting the rub­ber up to work­ing tem­per­a­ture is all mine.

“Don’t worry about weav­ing, your best friend heating up the tyres will be the brake pedal. Just slam it,” is the ad­vice given by Nathan Mor­com, the car’s reg­u­lar pi­lot, be­fore send­ing me out on track.

With vi­sions of spear­ing off at the first turn run­ning through my mind, I spend my ini­tial lap heed­ing Mor­com’s in­struc­tion. Ac­cel­er­ate. Brake. Ac­cel­er­ate. Brake. Gen­tle at first, but then with in­creas­ing fe­roc­ity.

The mo­not­o­nous process al­lows me to re­cal­i­brate my brain to the brake-pedal force needed to max­imise the TCR car’s stop­ping power.

Discs are enor­mous: 380mm ven­ti­lated steel units up front, clasped by four-pis­ton calipers, while the solid rear discs are 25 per­cent smaller at 278mm. Mor­com, who spent two sea­sons in Su­per2 af­ter win­ning the Aus­tralian GT En­durance Cham­pi­onship, likens the TCR car’s brak­ing abil­ity to that of our home-grown Su­per­cars.

As my con­fi­dence builds, more com­mit­ted brak­ing at­tempts re­quire al­most all the force I can muster through my leg. Even with the belts fas­tened to make it feel like my ribs are crack­ing, a force­ful stop is like the hand of God slap­ping me on the back, forc­ing me for­ward in the seat. Even my most am­bi­tious stomp­ing of the brake pedal can’t cause the front tyres to lock, even de­spite no ABS.

It’s on my third lap of the Wakefield cir­cuit I re­alise that some­thing is a bit … off. While there’s noth­ing me­chan­i­cally wrong with the car, there’s some­thing my brain can’t quite com­pre­hend. Aren’t race cars meant to be fear­some beasts, ready to bite your head off and spit you out at the small­est provo­ca­tion, and tamed only by an elite few with rare tal­ent? It seems that cliché doesn’t ap­ply to Hyundai’s racer, which is en­cour­ag­ing me to push harder and carry more speed.

There’s no trac­tion con­trol – this is still a proper racer – but the car sup­ports you in the pur­suit of speed, in­stead of fighting it. Even with 257kw and 460Nm thanks to a larger turbo, beefier in­ter­nals and a rac­ing ECU, Hyundai’s TCR car is never go­ing to win a power war, but it’s a de­cent step up from the road car’s 202kw and 353Nm, and cer­tainly po­tent enough to prompt the slick tyres into wheel spin with a vi­cious prod of the ac­cel­er­a­tor.

A more pro­gres­sive ap­pli­ca­tion sees the front-drive racer just grip and go. The front axle is more than ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing both power-de­liv­ery and steer­ing du­ties thanks to the fit­ment of a more ag­gres­sive front dif­fer­en­tial, as the i30 shoots from the apex with no protest from the wheel.

Steer­ing the i30 TCR doesn’t re­quire fore­arms like tree trunks, due to an elec­tri­cally as­sisted rack and pin­ion set-up which, while me­chan­i­cally sim­i­lar to what is found in the road car, fea­tures a mas­sive change to the steer­ing ra­tio. Turn-in is al­most neu­rotic, thanks in part to the ul­tra-quick rack – just a sin­gle turn lock-to-lock – mean­ing pre­ci­sion and fi­nesse are es­sen­tial when work­ing the Al­can­tara-clad wheel. The pow­er­ful com­bi­na­tion of slick rub­ber and clearly func­tional aero­dy­nam­ics means the car is able to main­tain mid-cor­ner speeds the road vari­ant could only dream of. The nose of the car darts to­wards apexes with manic in­tent, the large front split­ter and rear wing keep­ing it hun­kered down.

In the trans­for­ma­tion from road to race, the i30 N’s sus­pen­sion hard points and lay­out haven’t been changed, but the com­po­nents are all beefed up. Un­der the front arches is a Macpherson strut set-up, with coil springs and gas-filled dampers (the team were test­ing both Öh­lins and Su­pashock units on the day), while a four-arm multi-link axle com­bi­na­tion un­der­pins the rear. Gears in the six-speed Xtrac se­quen­tial are shifted with­out a clutch, us­ing steer­ing wheel­mounted pad­dles, each change of ra­tio ac­com­pa­nied by a sharp BANG from the ex­haust.

It’s a hot day, so driv­ing the TCR car is a pun­ish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Bril­liant, but pun­ish­ing. Just a cou­ple laps in and I’m drip­ping with sweat. Time to hand back the reins, and pon­der how Hyundai’s German en­gi­neers trans­formed a body-in-white road car chas­sis into a racer with the most ge­nial at­ti­tude.

Ac­cel­er­a­tion claims are noth­ing ex­cep­tional in race-car terms, but it’s estimated a TCR car will crack 100km/h from a stand­still in ap­prox­i­mately 5.2 sec­onds thanks to a fiendishly com­plex launch process. Wheels per­for­mance-tested the i30 N road car last year, mea­sur­ing a 6.4-sec­ond sprint to 100km/h.

Over a sin­gle lap of Wakefield Park, with Nathan Mor­com driv­ing, there is a 10-sec­ond gap be­tween the road car and racer. But per­haps more in­ter­est­ingly, a mere mor­tal like me is able to get closer to the pro­fes­sional bench­mark in the TCR car than the road car.

This largely comes down to the set-up of the TCR car, which just wants you to go faster, en­cour­ag­ing more commitment with ev­ery lap, where the road car fights back, wav­ing that white flag named un­der­steer when it isn’t treated with the fi­nesse of a pro­fes­sional.

When the data is down­loaded from the car, it’s clear I’m not go­ing to earn a race seat any time soon – Mor­com is a full six sec­onds down the road from me. But for broader con­text, my best time af­ter a hand­ful of laps is on par with Warren Luff’s bench­mark fig­ure in a 997-gen Porsche 911 GT3.

It’s all well and good let­ting a rac­ing-crazed journo loose for a cou­ple of laps, but the real test for the Hyundai i30 N TCR will be on the track, against a full field of com­peti­tors that are all froth­ing at the mouth in a ra­bid hunt for vic­tory. As we went to print, HMO Cus­tomer Rac­ing’s Will Brown had won two of the three races from the open­ing round of TCR Aus­tralia, and nabbed a podium in the other. Not bad at all.

GEARS ARE SHIFTED US­ING WHEEL-MOUNTED PAD­DLES, EACH CHANGE AC­COM­PA­NIED BY A SHARP BANG

Ev­ery­thing needed to turn an i30 into a TCR racer is from the of­fi­cial Hyundai parts cat­a­logue, in­clud­ing the poly­car­bon­ate screen

i30 N road car’s built in the Czech Repub­lic. TCR racer is built in Ger­many by the same team who makes the i20 WRC car

Pro­duc­tion-based en­gine is sealed for 5000km, limited to 257kw/460nm

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