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Namyang Executives’ Perspective on Why Hyundai Is in the WRC

The reasons why the Hyundai Motor Company is participating in the WRC are clear: the competition adds to the brand’s name recognition and high-performance image, and the technological know-how from the motorsport industry can be conveyed to the brand’s mass-produced vehicles.

Ever since the Hyundai Motor Company’s return to the WRC in 2014, several positive developments within the brand have stood out, one of which has been covered in the prior issue’s feature article, ‘Hyundai Houses WRC Techs For Better Understanding On Their Products’ Here, internalization refers to the process by which technological innovations are adopted from external sources. It is, understandably, one of the many benefits of running a WRC team.

But despite such benefits, WRC teams are a burden to the participants—they are costly to run and require much human resources. The Hyundai Motor Company’s dedication to the franchise has been nonetheless steady; in addition to technology internalization, participation in the WRC also contributes to the brand’s name value and high-performance image in the global market.

But these benefits would not have been attained had it not been for the consistent R&D efforts of research engineers at the Namyang R&D Center. They are the ones who developed the race cars when the WRC participation became determined; they are the ones who brought the know-how learned there to the development of mass-produced vehicles. Indeed, they are the main agent of the “virtuous cycle” of technological internalization, bringing the cutting-edge technologies from motorsports into our everyday cars. These behind-the-scenes contributions became clearer once we interviewed the executives of Namyang such as Vice President Joo Sung-Baek of the Engine Development Center, or Senior Vice President Kim Moo-Sang, who supervises the brand’s chassis development. Following the discussion in the prior article about technology internalization, we discussed with these two executives the many reasons for Hyundai’s continued dedication to the WRC.

Head of Engine Development Center Joo Sung-Baek’s Perspective: “Our Engines Have Become So Much Better Since We Joined the WRC,” Joo Says.

Vice President Joo Sung-Baek has been deeply involved in the powertrain development for both WRC race cars and mass produced cars.The GV80 uses AI to learn the driver’s usual following distance, acceleration, and response time.

Q. Could you begin by defining what “internalization of motorsport technology” means?

Internalization isn’t simple adoption of cutting-edge technology; I wouldn’t call it adaptation either. The internalization process begins from a recognition of a problem in a mass-produced engine. Then we wonder if motorsport technology can serve to fix that problem—for various reasons we cannot simply adopt the technology 100% as is, but certain elements or aspects of the technology can serve as an inspiration. The final optimized fix may not look all too similar to the original tech on the surface, but the value of that inspiration obviously cannot be discounted. Simply put, technology internalization refers to a process by which technology from external sources is used to solve existing internal problems.

This internalization isn’t only about technology, though—we also underwent a kind of human resources internalization. Our research engineers have simply become better. In the past, we found it difficult to internally develop high-performance engines, but now we find the procedure run-of-the-mill. The perspectives of the engineers have also changed significantly. We’re not so conservative anymore in solving problems. We have become more aggressive and creative, trying to flexibly expand our views rather than being confined to tweaking the status quo. This “HR internalization” made it much easier to apply our newfound know-hows in the motorsport industry to our mass-produced vehicles.

Q. From the engine development perspective, why is the Hyundai Motor Company participating in the WRC?

Two biggest reasons: technology internalization and solidifying the high-performance image. In the simplest terms it’s an investment in technological R&D. Given that original mission, it’s obvious why we are working to internalize motorsport technology. And one area in which those efforts are visible is engine development.

The engines for WRC race cars are relatively high-power compared to those for mass-produced vehicles. The same goes, naturally, for the i20 Coupe WRC Rally Car, developed from scratch by the Hyundai Motor Company, including the powertrain. A victory earned by such a model in a high-stakes competition like the WRC speaks well of the brand’s technological capability. The high-performance image is born, contributing to marketing. It’s not just an image, of course, because some of the learned know-hows in the process do get translated to the development of the mass-produced engines. Particularly, the know-hows for engine durability—which is a paramount concern in the harsh terrains of the WRC—are prime targets for mass-production application.

Know-hows in producing race car powertrains are translated to the development of mass-produced vehicles.

Q. Race cars and mass-produced vehicles differ by nature, though. How are these differences accounted for during technological internalization?

Indeed, mass-produced vehicles are sold worldwide to indistinct individuals, so versatility in dealing with various drivers and conditions is the key there. Our mass produced engines are built under a goal to last 300,000 kilometers, and our faith in this goal is reflected in our renowned 100,000-mile warranty in North America. Meeting such a high standard requires us to evaluate the engine in several different aspects as well.

But the race car engines are simpler, at least in terms of the objective—we have to meet the threshold RPM, and we have to manage the engine load. That’s it. Durability is second to performance under the WRC rules, so we seek to meet only the 7,500-km durability threshold. Short-lasting but maximized power is what we want here, so we don’t spare the special high-end materials to get even a marginal performance improvement.

Needless to say, you don’t want that approach for mass-produced vehicles. Using high-end materials will likewise result in performance increases, but not in an efficient proportion to the resulting price increase. That’s why you don’t simply adopt the tech; you “internalize” it, meaning, you selectively bring in the motorsport know-hows, like high RPM and load management, into the mass-produced lines, trying to keep the engine durable without raising the costs too much.

WRC-born technologies such as cooling, combustion, stiffness enhancements, and low-friction technology have been translated into mass-produced engines.

Q. Any real examples of motorsport technology internalization in mass-produced engines?

The overboost function—which improves on the responsiveness of acceleration when the gas pedal is pressed—is a good example. It’s an internalized version of the high-tech turbocharger control technology from WRC race cars. While working on race car engines, we developed a technology for a temporary overboost—‘temporary’ in a sense that it only lasts to the point at which durability is harmed. This experience served us well in developing the overboost function for our mass produced vehicles. There’s one more that comes to mind… high-performance turbo engines are high-power and therefore likely to suffer from engine knocks. So we had much experience working with cooling and combustion technologies that seek to prevent knocking, which likewise helped in preventing the same in our mass-produced vehicles.

Many examples can be found in technologies for durability as well, like rigidity enhancements for the cylinder head and the cylinder blocks, design optimization of the cooling system, and optimization of the cylinder head gasket. Race car engines require high RPMs to deliver high power, so the coolant and the oil temperatures become very high, overloading the bearing, the crankshaft, and the valve train. Again, our experience in dealing with these issues helped us make our mass-produced cars more durable. Oh, and there is one other example. We recently applied the low-friction technology from race cars to mass produced engines, which resulted in a fuel economy increase.

Hyundai cars’ engines have noticeably improved since the brand’s participation in the WRC.

Q. As a research engineer, do you feel that the performance of Hyundai’s mass-produced cars have improved significantly since the brand joined the WRC?

Yes. Technology internalization really helped with the engine performance. The turbo-engine in particular is at least on par with, if not better than, our competitors’. Above all, our durability standards are very rigorous, to the point that no competitors’ engines can pass through them unscathed. You have to say that the participation in the WRC marked a turning point in the company’s engine development.

Senior Vice President Kim’s Perspective: “Internalization of WRC’s Chassis Technology Led to Some Really Dynamic Sensibilities.”

Head of Chassis Tech Unit Kim Moo-Sang says that internalized chassis technology from WRC cars can deliver fresh sensibilities to the consumers of the brand’s mass produced vehicles.

Q. From the chassis development perspective, why is the Hyundai Motor Company participating in the WRC?

Seeking new dynamism would be the short answer here. The word ‘dynamism,’ here, implies appealing to the sensibilities of the thrill-seeking drivers, which would naturally require the development of thrilling, high-end, fun-to-drive cars. Obviously, these cars would be equipped with high-end chassis as well, which are what we’re trying to develop.

The WRC participation is also about marketing, too, an association of the brand with the high-performance image. In a hypothetical scenario, a consumer mesmerized by the feats of a Hyundai WRC race car may consequently seek a high-end Hyundai model for himself. And the model he will try out in the showroom will have the internalized technologies from WRC vehicles. That’s ‘dynamism,’ isn’t it? That appeal will help Hyundai’s brand image and lead to better sales figures.

Internalization of chassis technology is not about simple adoption of high-end race-car parts. It’s about finding inspiration from motorsport technology’s know-hows.

Q. . In terms of the chassis, what’s the biggest difference between WRC race cars and mass-produced cars? How are these differences accounted for during technology internalization?

Race cars change their chassis settings every race to fit the course characteristics. Mass-produced cars, for obvious reasons, cannot do that, so their chassis have to encompass various settings and driver preferences. It’s simple to put it this way: race car chassis are very much specialized, whereas mass-produced chassis are more generalist.

But they are both car chassis in the end, so they share the common requirements of good chassis—run fast, rotate well, and stop well. If that’s the only thing we cared for, we might as well have applied all the high-end chassis parts and technologies to our mass-produced ones, but doing so is impossible. That will make our mass produced cars prohibitively expensive. And what’s more, race cars don’t care for rider comfort, but for mass-produced cars comfort is an important standard. Both are reasons why we are very selective in motorsport technology internalization. I wouldn’t say we adopt the technology outright. We more so find inspiration from it, and the work begins from there.

After motorsport technology internalization, high-performance mass produced vehicles undergo a long process of fine tuning.

Q. Any examples of WRC’s chassis tuning tech applied to the brand’s mass-produced vehicles?

Yes—you can see one in action at Nurburgring, our test-bed circuit for the High-performance N Brand. After the chassis receives technology internalization, the models with the new chassis go through a long process of fine tuning to make them faster, more fun to drive, and simultaneously more comfortable. The culmination of these efforts is the ECS, which stands for Electronically Controlled Suspension. Just as race car chassis are physically tuned for the course characteristics, so the ECS electronically controls the suspension, adjusting it to match the predicted road conditions.

The High Performance N Model is equipped with the ECS, which is, I have to say, what maximizes the fun of driving the N. The ‘Fun to Drive’ philosophy of the N encompasses the three model identities of ‘Corner Rascal,’ ‘Race Track Capability,’ and ‘Everyday Sports Car.’ The ECS is what realizes these identities under the hood. Again, it’s not an 100% adoption of the WRC race car chassis tech, but these Fun-to-Drive identities are definitely reflective of the inspiration given by our WRC experience.

Q. What are your most memorable examples of motorsport technology internalization?

I fear it might be a little esoteric, but there’s one example about chassis rigidity. Chassis rigidity is an important prerequisite to precise and agile driving. The axles to which the wheels and the tires interlock have a massive influence on the said rigidity. Every step of the way—from setting the axle specifications to determining the locking structure and the molding shape—our experience in race car designs was massively helpful. Our mass-produced chassis are now strong enough to withstand the strong side forces one would expect in racing circuits. In another example, in the early stages of R&H (Riding and Handling) development, we utilize the variable geometry steering knuckle structure we use on race cars as reference to more quickly and efficiently set the suspension’s kinematic characteristics.

The brake system is also a beneficiary of motorsport technology internalization. For powerful braking, the brakes themselves are obviously important, but the cooling system is an important contributor. WRC race cars therefore insert a cooling duct in between the front bumper and the brake disc, which helps with the cooling. This same principle was applied to the i30 N and the Veloster N, in the form of a cooling duct or an air guide, respectively. Thanks to this technology internalization, the two N models can maintain superior braking performance for long even in harsh racing conditions of circuits.

The efforts of the research engineers, who themselves were the beneficiaries of motorsport technology internalization, are reflected in high-quality mass-produced vehicles like the Veloster N.

Q. The last ten years have seen dramatic performance increases in the Hyundai cars’ chassis. Would you attribute this success to the technology internalization from the brand’s WRC experience?

It definitely helped a lot, absolutely. But technological proficiency isn’t the only factor here. In the past, we didn’t have to think about max speeds or consider high-speed turns while designing our chassis. But the WRC participation changed all that. We were subjected through trials and errors, and in the diverse experiences that followed, our eyes were opened to the exciting potential of race-car technologies. Now, even when we are not directly thinking about race cars or attempting to internalize a certain technology, we just have wider perspectives that ultimately lead to higher-quality vehicles. So it’s not just technology. It’s also about people.

As the executives Joo and Kim make clear, the reasons behind the Hyundai Motor Company’s dedicated participation to the WRC are clear. The know-how from the race cars that succeed in the tracks of WRC circuits inspire the changes in the mass-produced vehicles that provide exciting customer experiences. Such efforts are already showing positive changes throughout the brand: the dramatic growth of the engine and chassis performance, globally recognized by the renowned automotive organizations and media, are but a few examples. As long as the Hyundai race cars grace the WRC circuits, these positive trends will only continue.

As a sequel to this ‘executive perspectives’ article, the HMG Journal will next meet the participating engineers for their perspectives on chassis and engine technology internalization.