Inside the electric Hyundai weapon that could be rallying's future
Upon losing his factory drive in the World Rally Championship, Hayden Paddon set about devising an electric car that could thrill on the stages. The head-turning Kona EV built by Paddon's own team with support from Hyundai New Zealand does just that
Concerned by the future direction of rallying and its ability to connect with manufacturers, 2016 Rally Argentina winner Hayden Paddon has embarked on a voyage of discovery.
In 2019, the Kiwi former Hyundai WRC driver began developing an all-electric Hyundai Kona rally car with his 10 person team in New Zealand. The sole goal is to prove the concept of high performance all-electric rallying and perhaps provide a future platform for the discipline.
Here is an in-depth guide to a car that could provide some answers for the future of rallying.
Powertrain and transmission
The Kona has a flexible configuration where up to four Brusa BLDC Motors can be used, producing a top end output of 800kW (four motors), generating up to 1100Nm of torque. In rally spec, two motors are deployed producing 400kW with a continuous power of 260kW-280kW.
“If you take range out of the question and wind the power up on it then it’s equivalent to a Rally1 car,” Paddon explains. “To make it work over a longer distance, you can’t have the power wound up that high.
“What we’re trying to do is to have a Rally2 equivalence. Performance-wise, we know it’s faster. We’re talking about a second a kilometre compared to an equivalent Rally2 car. But we’ve got to get the range out of it.”
The Kona has a straight-cut gearbox in the front and rear, connected to a paddleshift. Differentials are computer-controlled, but a traditional limited slip diff is still in use.
Suspension and Tyres
Near 50:50 weight distribution on Paddon's Kona makes for an unusual suspension geometry
Photo by: Hayden Paddon
Dampers have undergone changes, although the base design is similar to contemporary rally cars. But the balance front-to-rear is different as the car’s weight distribution is almost 50:50, which impacts rear damper set-up.
“The geometry is different and it is almost set up the opposite way to what we would normally do,” Paddon says. “It’s all a bit back to front!”
The four-piston caliper air cooled brakes have been carried over from the i20 Rally2 without modification, along with Pirelli’s current tyre range.
“Eventually tyres will evolve,” he says. “We find that we’re not using the sidewall so much or leaning, because of the low centre of gravity, so you could maybe run a softer tyre and get more grip.”
A prototype 23kWh battery currently powers the Kona, which will be replaced this year by a 54kWh version developed by STARD. It’s expected to produce a range of 50km (30 miles) in rally mode, a distance equivalent to most WRC stage loops.
“Once we get that battery in the car, we are starting to look at a range comparable to the combustion rally car,” Paddon explains. “Generally between refuels you wouldn’t find too many loops that are more than 50km. If we can hit that target and be within Rally2 performance, then it becomes a question of charging.”
The car has been designed so a battery change could be completed in eight minutes. Paddon believes this “might be the easiest and most practical way to do a full rally” until the point that battery range and charging speeds improve.
The Kona has been built for durability, with Paddon reckoning everything was "overengineered"
Photo by: Hayden Paddon
Paddon admits that budget constraints meant the Kona has been built to be durable. Body panels are a mixture of steel and composite fibre, fitted to a steel bodyshell based on the Kona road car. At 1500kg, it weighs in 250kg above a Rally1 car.
“With a bigger budget you could design stuff to be more lightweight and stronger, but we’re not in a position to break a whole lot of stuff,” says Paddon, who reckons a 100kg weight saving is “pretty easily” achievable. “We represent Hyundai New Zealand, so we had to come out with something that was strong and reliable. Everything is probably over-engineered.”
One of the criticisms of electric power among motorsport fans is its distinct lack of sound compared to a combustion engine rally car. To combat this, Paddon’s team is developing a sound module to mimic a far more traditional noise.
“We have a mechanical system that’s working pretty good,” he says. “It’s not the right sound yet, but we have volume and reliability. We did a demonstration in Australia and we had people come up to us and ask if it was a combustion car. They didn’t believe it was a full electric car!”
To help ease the stigma around EV cars, Paddon and his team purposely set about trying to create an attractive rally car. Working with Canterbury University in New Zealand, a challenging compromise on aero has been devised to produce the significant downforce required but limiting drag – “as ultimately it takes efficiency away from the battery” – was also a priority, Paddon explains.
“We’ve stuck our neck out a bit with this car,” he says. “There are some people that don’t want to like EVs, so we wanted it to look good.”
Unsurprisingly, Paddon says the Kona is a blast to drive
Photo by: Hayden Paddon
While Paddon has driven myriad rally cars over the years, he believes the Kona is perhaps the most exciting.
“It’s phenomenal, it’s the best car I’ve ever driven in that respect,” he adds. “Even though it is quite big and heavy, the drive is nimble and agile. It responds so well not just on the throttle but, because the centre of gravity is so low in the car, it feels absolutely planted. Because of all that, you can carry more speed and throw the car around more.
“For me, it is more exciting. Elements of sound and entertainment are missing from the outside, but there’s a lot of potential there.”
Drivetrain Four-wheel drive, can run up to four electric motors
Peak power 800kW with four motors, 400kW in rally spec (two motors)
Battery 23kWh prototype battery, due to be upgraded to 54kWh
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