We can all agree that 2020 has been pretty messed up, but perhaps the coolest thing that had to get shelved this year was Hayden Paddon’s attempt to compete in Rally New Zealand with an all-electric Hyundai Kona rally car. Because New Zealand has been extremely cautious about the coronavirus pandemic, the country has seen very few cases compared to the rest of the world, but as a result the WRC round there was cancelled, and we don’t get to see this electric monster run this year.
Built specifically with the compact Rally New Zealand stages in mind, Paddon teamed up with STARD, the University of Canterbury, Yes Power, and Hyundai New Zealand to make this project happen, and the result looks totally bitchin. I never expected to say that about a Kona, but here we are. This thing rules. STARD is a no-brainer for this project, as that company has already developed the electric rallycross machines for Projekt E in the FIA World Rallycross.
This, however, is no rallycross car. This is meant for full-bore competition with top-class WRC racers. On full electric power. How is that possible? Well, for one thing Paddon’s Kona can pack up to 1072 horsepower from a quartet of electric motors. In WRC-ish trim, however, the team are aiming for around half that with just one motor on each axle. The idea here is to run half a day on a full battery pack, then swap the whole thing out in just a few minutes for a freshie.
The car was supposed to be done in April, but obviously things were pushed back a bit. Now the aim is to compete in next year’s Rally NZ to put it to the real test, and Paddon hopes to be competing for the overall win in 2022 against the big boys. It’ll make its competitive debut in regional rally within the next few months as a way of testing the car’s mettle before the big 2021 challenge.
“The car is faster on paper than an ICE rally car, it has better weight distribution and it’s more reliable as there are fewer moving parts. The potential with the technology, electronics and design of the new car is endless - it is simply a new era of rallying that has new limits,” Paddon told Autosport.com. “The sport of rallying needs to evolve and quickly before it gets left behind. And EVs are the solution.
“The EV package is capable of over 800kW but we have focused on building this car to have comparable power to a current ICE rally car and aim for it to be winning rallies against normal ICE cars from 2022,” the Kiwi added. “A lot of work needs to happen between now and then, and we’re confident that EV technology is going to work in a normal rally environment.”
All-in the Kona EV rally car weighs about 1400 kilos, which is just a smidge over 400 pounds heavier than your average gasoline-powered WRC competitor. This isn’t the first time that an electric stage rally car has been launched, as Opel gave us the Corsa e cup, prepared for ADAC competition last year. However, with just 136 horsepower onboard, the Opel is no match for this lightning bolt of a Hyundai crossover, and would have zero hope against a modern WRC racer.
WRC has been a bit slow to react to the electric revolution, but has recently approved rules to make all cars hybrid from 2022 forward. Every WRC entry at that point will include a 100 kW electric motor for an extra power boost on stage, as well as full electric drive on non-competitive transit stages. Hyundai and Paddon have determined that this change is neither soon enough or goes far enough. Jump into the deep end of the pool with both feet, I always say.
Back when the plan was first discussed with Top Gear Magazine, Paddon indicated that he wasn’t interested in competing in an electric-only championship. He wanted to prove the technology in the hottest crucible of motorsport possible. “We don’t want an electric car for an electric championship. We want to showcase this against current cars, to show electric can be fast, cool and hold its own. Motorsport should be any car against any car. We want to help change people’s perception. For that you need their attention, and for that you need to take it where people are already watching.”
I’m here for it.