Is Hyundai plotting to take on Ferrari, Peugeot and Toyota at Le Mans with a radical hydrogen-powered hypercar?
The South Korean company has hinted that may be the case as it prepares to launch an all-electric performance hero car for its N line-up. Included amongst the details of its new i30 Sedan N model was an unprompted and unrelated quote from Thomas Schemera, Executive Vice President of Hyundai, about a “tease that it will participate in another endurance race” with a unique racing car.
“Pairing hydrogen and battery power could open up very interesting future options for Hyundai in motorsports and beyond,” Schemera said. “Hydrogen can be used as a range extender or power booster. We have the technology available and I’m quite confident that we can make this happen.”
There are only limited options for Hyundai to go high-profile endurance racing with a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, with Le Mans the most obvious candidate outside of a return to the Nurburgring 24-hours. Le Mans has long been seen as the next great challenge for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV), with battery electric technology not yet at a point where it could compete for 24 hours of racing. HFCV convert compressed liquid hydrogen into electricity to create power, which means they can be refueled in similar times to a petrol car; albeit with a unique fueling system.
Hyundai has already begun track-testing HFCV, partnering with Forze Hydrogen Racing, a team of student engineers and designers, to build a prototype racing car powered by a pair of fuel cells.
Despite the deliberate tease, Hyundai isn’t ready to reveal its full plan just yet. When asked if Le Mans was on the agenda the company’s spokesperson said: “Details will be announced in a not-too-distant future. Please stay tuned.”
However, the online video showcasing the release of the new i30 Sedan N featured a more detailed conversation between Schemera, Albert Biermann (Head of Hyundai R&D) and Till Wartenberg (Head of N Brand and motorsport) that shed even more light on their plans for the company.
Standing next to the all-new Ioniq 5, the trio discussed the potential for the car’s new ‘e-GMP’ platform that is already capable of producing enough performance to keep up with current petrol-powered sports cars; in the Kia EV6 GT (which is also built on the e-GMP platform) it makes 430kW of power and 740Nm of torque and runs 0-100km/h in just 3.5 seconds.
“For the last six years we’ve driven with internal combustion engine, now it’s time for a change,” Schemera says on the video.
Biermann then opens up on the idea of building a new N model on the electric architecture.
“I think with e-GMP we have a very substantial platform to bring sustainable driving fun to our enthusiasts on the road and on the track,” he says. “I think after some N-specific treatments it would be tonnes of fun to drive around the Nordschleife with an N vehicle based on e-GMP. I can see many, many corners where our combustion cars might have some trouble to follow our e-GMP car.”
There have already been rumours that the Ioniq 5 will get an N variant, but the Ioniq 6 is set to launch in 2022 and that will reportedly be based on the company’s sleek Prophecy concept, so Biermann isn’t revealing what shape the new model will take, saying: “Which upper body should we use? We have choices.”
Biermann then takes it a step further and discusses the possibility of combining HFCV and EV powertrains for racing.
“We have hydrogen technology,” he says. “I think the combination of hydrogen [and] battery electric e-GMP is a very sustainable, enjoyable N driving even in endurance racing.”
The video ends with an animation of a HFCV powertrain surrounded by an i30 Sedan N body racing the existing TCR cars on the Nurburgring. This is likely just an illustration to tie in with the i30 Sedan N, as the upcoming racing car will almost certainly be based on either an Ioniq model or be a bespoke car.
Hyundai was linked to the LMDh class in 2020, but the tightly controlled regulations around those cars means Le Mans Hypercar, or an experimental ‘Garage 56’ entry are the more likely candidates if the South Korean brand really is headed to Circuit de la Sarthe.