“Is this anybody’s first time on a racetrack?” Hyundai N Technician Geoff Fear asks from atop the pit wall of Wakefield Park Raceway. It’s a question I’ve only ever seen inspire sheepishness in participants of track days before, yet when a third of the crowd of 128 drivers gathered in front of Fear shoot a hand towards the sky, they do it with glee.
There’s a buzz of celebration in the group. Not a big ego or bad attitude in sight. Everyone is just thankful to be there – first time or not – and so they should be. This isn’t your regular track day; this is the inaugural Hyundai N Festival.
It's a simple premise: take the two greatest words in the English language – ‘free’ and ‘racetrack’ – and combine them to form an unforgettable experience. The brainchild of Hyundai Australia, N Festival is a free (yes, free!) track day offered by the manufacturer for owners of its N models to experience their cars on a circuit.
“This is an idea we’ve come up with in Australia,” Hyundai Australia's Guido Schenken told CarAdvice. “I know a lot of the other (Hyundai) markets do organise events for their owners, but… we’re the only N Festival.
“As far as I’m aware, we’re the only manufacturer to throw a free track day for their owners.”
N Festival marks the next step in Hyundai’s commitment to its N badge and rebranding efforts as a serious player in the sport-compact category (as if the awards and accolades weren’t enough).
Blitzing the 50-60 cars expected to attend, the day commenced with a group photo of the 105 that turned up parked end-to-end – the trail of Ns spanning all the way from turn five to turn eight of the Goulburn circuit. To put that number into perspective, it means that roughly 1 in every 20 i30Ns sold across Australia was present at the event held some two hours south of Sydney. Talk about a dedicated fan base.
One attendee and their N even made the trek from Queensland and was rewarded with a brand new set of Pirelli P-Zero tyres for their trouble.
Split into groups divided by driver experience, the air was filled with the burbles and crackles of i30N hatches and fastbacks making full use of ‘N Mode’ setting as they lapped the 2.2km circuit.
A full spectrum of the models were on display, ranging from stock-standard and lightly-modified street examples, all the way to Hyundai’s very own World Time Attack Championship and Targa Tasmania race cars that took passengers for hot laps throughout the day.
All drivers were provided with timing equipment and the option to have instructors ride along to help improve their lap times; a testament to Hyundai truly wanting owners to get the most out of their investment and also removing any doubt the i30N’s warranty for (non-competitive) track driving is marketing hype.
“We’re really excited to introduce (our customers) to the world of track racing,” said Schenken.
“That’s what the N models were designed to do.”
And he’s right. Out on the black stuff, the i30N feels every bit the part. It’s compliant yet sporty enough to keep baiting you into thinking you’ve almost found the limit, only to reveal you’re not even close. In factory form, it’s a great car for someone wanting to learn to drive on a racetrack.
Variable driving modes and the ability to customise individual settings in the differential and shock absorbers translate to very tangible differences in the N’s demeanour. The car can be taken from a relatively pedestrian drive to a lift-off oversteer extravaganza with the push of a button. This degree of adjustability gives drivers a way to modify the handling of their vehicle to suit their ability and slowly dial in faster, more aggressive characteristics as they themselves improve.
It really is a match made in heaven for someone learning to drive on a track. Oh, and that electronic differential is so good it should be illegal. I’m still in a bit of a state of disbelief... front-wheel drives should not be able to do the things this car can do.
Off the track, Geoff Fear hosted ‘N Tech talks’ underneath an i30N raised on a hoist for those interested in learning about the technology powering the cars around the track outside.
Hyundai’s RM16 concept car and Drift Bus were on display for the 250 people in attendance to see up close. A row of stalls displaying performance aftermarket parts and race wear also gave an insight into how the brand sees the N’s spirit and potential.
If you couldn’t make it on Sunday, don’t fret. While the 2019 N Festival was the first of its kind, Hyundai Australia has big plans for the event that involve taking it to different states and tracks, and may be even looking at similar events that are not reserved for N owners.
“I think we might try and rotate around Australia,” Schenken stated. “Probably next year we’ll look at Victoria and possibly Queensland the year after. We want to share the love with all our owners around Australia.
“N Festival would be a single, yearly event. Then we may also look at doing some other track days with owners whether they are a hundred percent Hyundai or combined.”
With this inaugural N Festival run as somewhat of a trial for the concept to gauge its reception, CarAdvice asked if the event had lived up to Hyundai Australia’s expectation and warranted another.
“Our hope was always that it’d make a big impact and this would be the first of many festivals to come,” said Schenken.
“Based on the reaction we’ve got and the turnout, we’re definitely going to make it happen in 2020.”
by Liam Murphy