How Hyundai brought the car swap challenge into the 21st century

The iconic car swap between motorsport stars is well known, and Hyundai has put a fresh twist on it by placing together two of its leading drivers to experience each other’s rally hybrid and all-electric touring car machinery. Here’s how they got on

Over the years the motorsport world has witnessed its fair share of machine swaps as drivers and riders explore different disciplines. Think seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton and MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi famously experiencing their respective 2017-specification Mercedes W08 and 2019 Yamaha MotoGP YZR-M1 machines at Valencia’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo in 2019. Or back in 2003 when Williams F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya exchanged his FW24 with four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon’s ‘rainbow warrior’ Chevrolet Monte Carlo at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Montoya would ultimately enjoy an almost-nine-year sojourn in NASCAR, which began four years after the PR stunt.

The concept also included 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button and seven-time Bathurst 1000 winner Craig Lowndes swapping a McLaren MP4-23 and a Holden VE Commodore to tackle the hallowed Mount Panorama circuit in 2011.

This year Hyundai has embraced this idea but given it a modern twist as motorsport continues its transition into an electric and hybrid-powered future. The South Korean marque is among many manufacturers in the automotive industry investing in developing more sustainable technology for its vehicles by using the power of motor racing as its test bed.

Hyundai is among three manufacturers, alongside Cupra and Alfa Romeo, represented in the all-electric FIA ETCR eTouring Car Cup, launched in 2021. This project runs alongside its ongoing commitment to the World Rally Championship, which boasts new-for-2022 Rally1 hybrid regulations, using hybrid vehicles powered by 100% sustainable fuels.

To showcase its latest offerings, Hyundai challenged two of its factory drivers to swap offices for the day at Belgium’s Zolder circuit for a special demonstration during a round of the ETCR series. WRC driver Thierry Neuville jumped behind the wheel of Hyundai’s all-new Veloster N ETCR car, while ETCR pilot and tin-top ace Norbert Michelisz climbed aboard Neuville’s i20 N Rally1 hybrid.

First of the duo to take the plunge is 2019 World Touring Car Cup champion Michelisz – a self-confessed WRC fan. The Hungarian takes the wheel of the i20 N, with Neuville placed in the unusual position of co-driver. The i20 N started life as an underdeveloped and fragile rally car, but Hyundai’s expertise has since turned this into a four-time rally winner, following triumphs in Sardinia, Finland, Belgium and Greece, where it recorded a history-making first WRC podium lockout for the marque earlier this month.

PLUS: How team orders could make Hyundai's historic Acropolis Rally a Greek tragedy

Neuville gives Michelisz some pointers ahead of getting in the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 car

Neuville gives Michelisz some pointers ahead of getting in the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 car

Photo by: Hyundai Motorsport

The i20 N Rally is powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged internal combustion engine paired with a 100kW control hybrid unit, designed by Compact Dynamics. When engine and hybrid are engaged, the car is capable of producing 500 horsepower in short bursts. Hybrid boost is deployed by the use of the throttle pedal, while further boosts are unlocked through energy regeneration under braking. Drivers are required to regenerate 30 kilojoules of energy before another boost is granted that will be used the next time they touch the throttle pedal.

Unlike its previous iteration, the four-wheel-drive i20 N features a five-speed gearbox and 15% less downforce created through aerodynamics. The sophisticated centre differential of old has been replaced by simpler front and rear differentials.

“I was really looking forward to this because from a very early age rallying was something very interesting,” enthuses Michelisz. “I follow the WRC, and of course I know the drivers there so it was a great experience and great pleasure to try something new, but even more to try the i20 N Rally1. It’s an unbelievable car.

"Many people underestimate this sport from the outside, but after this experience you realise that it’s something unique" Norbert Michelisz

“The plan was to do some laps of Zolder, but the car had the gravel set-up so I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the end Thierry was a big help, he helped me with the approach, reference points, and I realised very early that I can build the confidence to push.

“The basic things are very similar. In the rally car it was about putting the car straight and then you can go back on throttle, and like this you can be efficient and not overheat the tyres. Of course, you do a bit more sliding but the philosophy to be fast is more or less the same.

“I always had a huge respect for them [rally drivers] because for me they are doing an amazing job, and they are doing it by feel many times. It’s something unique and something very different to what we are doing. I had some idea about how to approach this but at the end of the day sitting inside the car and having him [Neuville] beside me you gain even more respect.”

Both drivers hope to land competitive outings in each other's cars to complete the swap

Both drivers hope to land competitive outings in each other's cars to complete the swap

Photo by: Hyundai Motorsport

Then it’s time for Michelisz to act as teacher while five-time WRC championship runner-up Neuville takes the wheel of the Veloster N ETCR machine. While Neuville has successfully raced an i30 N TCR car, and even enjoyed a win in the TCR Germany series in 2019, driving a full-electric race car is a new experience.

The rear-wheel-drive Veloster N ETCR is powered by four Magelec-produced electric motors with two fitted to each rear wheel, which work independently. Power is provided by an 800V, 65kWh battery system manufactured by Williams Advanced Engineering. At its peak, the car – which weighs in at 1800kg, 500kg heavier than the i20 N Rally1 – can produce 500kW, which equates to 670 horsepower. Power is delivered through a single-ratio gearbox, which means there is no gearshift to be operated by the driver during the short, sharp rallycross-style knockout circuit races that make up an ETCR round.

“What a great experience,” beams Neuville. “It was interesting, it’s a new experience for me with a fully electric car and on a race track as well. The format looks really interesting and the competitions are only three or four-lap races and are quite intense. It seems as though it [full electric power] is better adapted to circuit racing, as for rallies the infrastructure is completely different.

So could there be a career swap on the horizon? Neuville admits he would be open to contesting an ETCR race: “I have done TCR races before, but maybe in the future I will join an electric race as well.”

Michelisz, still in awe of the skills required to be successful in rallying, reveals that he would also like to try a rally in the future. “I am not on the level of them [WRC drivers] but my plan was to always try it,” he says. “Of course I’m quite busy with the double programme in WTCR and ETCR but I really hope in the future I will have a possibility. Then again it has to be the right set-up. It’s a dangerous sport and you have to respect it.

“You really need to do a lot of preparation and you need to put a lot of effort into making the right decisions and having a good set-up, which is not easy. Many people underestimate this sport from the outside, but after this experience you realise that it’s something unique.”

But for now Neuville and Michelisz will focus on the familiar worlds of rallying and touring car racing.

The similarities begin and end at the paint job between the rear-wheel-drive electric Veloster and four-wheel-drive hybrid i20 N

The similarities begin and end at the paint job between the rear-wheel-drive electric Veloster and four-wheel-drive hybrid i20 N

Photo by: Hyundai Motorsport

shares
comments
Sordo’s 2023 WRC plans remain unknown as he rules out full campaign
Previous article

Sordo’s 2023 WRC plans remain unknown as he rules out full campaign

Next article

WRC New Zealand: Everything you need to know

WRC New Zealand: Everything you need to know
The key steps on Rovanpera's romp to a history-making WRC title Plus

The key steps on Rovanpera's romp to a history-making WRC title

With only cameo roles played by legendary Sebastiens Ogier and Loeb, Kalle Rovanpera ushered in the new hybrid era for the World Rally Championship by becoming its youngest champion. Here's how Toyota's Flying Finn crushed the competition, led by Hyundai's departing star Ott Tanak

WRC
21 h
How trailblazer Kalle Rovanpera has ripped up the WRC record book Plus

How trailblazer Kalle Rovanpera has ripped up the WRC record book

At the tender age of 22, Kalle Rovanpera is redefining what’s possible to achieve in rallying and inspiring a new legion of fans as a result. The newly-crowned World Rally Championship title-winner and his peers reflect on his ability and the start of his success in the top tier

WRC
Nov 26, 2022
How Hyundai and Neuville gatecrashed Toyota's homecoming party Plus

How Hyundai and Neuville gatecrashed Toyota's homecoming party

Thierry Neuville signed off the 2022 World Rally Championship season with his second win of the season in Japan after Toyota rival Elfyn Evans suffered a late puncture. With Sebastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanpera also delayed by punctures and incidents, it opened the door for Neuville and Ott Tanak to record Hyundai's second 1-2 of the season in Toyota's own backyard

WRC
Nov 14, 2022
The message a WRC stalwart sent which its new king couldn’t answer Plus

The message a WRC stalwart sent which its new king couldn’t answer

Sebastien Ogier might be the outgoing World Rally champion, but it didn’t stop him reminding everyone of the skills that made him an eight-time world champion. As victory at Rally Spain led Toyota’s charge to a titles clean sweep, it did pose a question to newly-crowned champion Kalle Rovanpera which he could not answer

WRC
Oct 24, 2022
Autosport gets to grips as a WRC co-driver Plus

Autosport gets to grips as a WRC co-driver

The majority of headlines may focus on the exploits of drivers in the World Rally Championship, but the challenges facing their co-drivers are no less demanding. Autosport got in the passenger seat with Toyota Gazoo Racing to find out just what it takes to succeed

WRC
Oct 6, 2022
How Rally New Zealand encapsulated record-breaking Rovanpera’s WRC title charge Plus

How Rally New Zealand encapsulated record-breaking Rovanpera’s WRC title charge

Kalle Rovanpera’s coronation as the new World Rally Championship king had been a long time coming, only to be postponed by hiccups in Belgium and Greece. But at Rally New Zealand the “Full Send” Finn demonstrated exactly how he's been able to rewrite the rallying record book as he stormed to victory to become the youngest ever world champion

WRC
Oct 3, 2022
How a Toyota lifeline reignited Lappi's WRC career Plus

How a Toyota lifeline reignited Lappi's WRC career

Motorsport can be brutal at times. One moment a driver can be the next big thing, but it can spiral in the other direction so quickly. Thankfully, sometimes drivers receive second chances. And Esapekka Lappi has taken his World Rally Championship lifeline in both hands

WRC
Sep 28, 2022
How team orders could make Hyundai's historic Acropolis Rally a Greek tragedy Plus

How team orders could make Hyundai's historic Acropolis Rally a Greek tragedy

Thierry Neuville led a maiden Hyundai 1-2-3 in the World Rally Championship, as the previously soft i20 N became a battle-hardened Greek warrior at the Acropolis Rally. But with team orders in play between the winner and Hyundai’s title protagonist Ott Tanak, could the result come back to haunt the team?

WRC
Sep 12, 2022