We first spotted this Hyundai i20 rally car on the back of a trailer heading over Northern Ireland’s Glenshane Pass back in April. It was a chance sighting but a couple of weeks later, we discovered it had just received its fresh new eye-catching livery and was heading to its new home at John Mulholland Motors‘ ‘top secret facility’…
This is a Hyundai i20 rally car with a very interesting story. Remember the car that Top Gear used to tackle the 2014 Wales Rally GB? Well, this is the one! (Hence the ‘top secret facility’ gag!)
For those of you who missed out on Top Gear’s exploits, at the start of 2014, they partnered with Hyundai and came up with the bright idea of preparing a bog standard car for competition at the final round of the World Rally Championship. Sounds like fun to us!
They took a brand new 1.2 Hyundai i20 road car and converted it into a fire-breathing monster of a rally car! OK, maybe that’s a little bit of an overstatement for this pocket rocket…but they did make plenty of changes underneath the skin while maintaining reliability.
As You’d Expect, They Did This Properly…
From the exterior, the car looks anything but standard. In fact, some say it is astonishing. That’s because one of the first things that they managed to source was a set of fibreglass body panels from the Hyundai WRC team!
The road car was stripped back to the bare basics by 586 Motorsport before being fitted with a T45 Custom Cages roll cage. Then the upgrades were considered – standard road car parts would never cut the mustard at Wales Rally GB.
Reiger suspension was fitted to help cope with the ruts, bumps and jumps in Wales. A heart transplant followed, although that didn’t go to plan at first. The 1.2 litre engine was swapped with a 1.6 litre but electronic gremlins intervened.
The original engine had to be kept in situ for the time being and it was mated to a six-speed Hewland sequential gearbox. Once all the parts were put back together, including all of the necessary safety equipment for stage rallying, the car was log booked and was ready to go!
Next on the agenda was a test run around the rally stage at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Thierry Neuville provided some useful driving tips and even jumped into the navigator’s seat. Then the car headed off to its first competitive event at the Woodpecker Stages with Top Gear’s Ollie Marriage and Jack Morton.
At this point, the i20 was still fitted with its original 1.2 litre engine…so a top speed of 67mph maybe shouldn’t have been so surprising! They managed to finish the event but more power was essential. Before another test outing at the Cambrian Stages, the problems with the 1.6 litre were ironed out and the car received its much needed upgrade.
A failing clutch pack inside the alternator forced retirement at the Cambrian but this gave the team an opportunity to ‘beef it up’ before the main event. They also fitted a new crown wheel and pinion to help lengthen the gearing, making the car more drive-able. After a test session in Sweet Lamb, everything was in place for the ultimate test.
How Hard Can it Be?
Then it was off to Wales Rally GB and after three days of tough competition that included a trip into a ditch, a lost sump guard and a damaged exhaust, the crew’s steady approach netted them 42nd overall and first in class in the National Rally!
It was at that 2014 event that John Mulholland and his son, Johnnie, first laid eyes on the car. John, who started his John Mulholland Motors dealership almost 30 years ago and has franchises for Hyundai, Ford and Skoda, was intrigued. Fast-forward 18 months later and the i20 now resides in Northern Ireland after John purchased it direct from Hyundai.
“It’s like having a royal flush,” John told Pacenotes. “The Hyundai finishes my hand. I have the ex-works Seb Ogier Skoda Fabia S2000, a Ford Escort Mk2 1300 BDA and now this one of a kind Hyundai i20. They are the three brands that the business represents and from a PR perspective, it’s great to have them.”
John’s son, Johnnie, made his rally debut in the car at August’s Dogleap Stages. He is no stranger to competition, having worked his way through the racing ranks from karting to Ginetta Juniors and Formula Fords. In fact, at just 18 years of age, he already has seven years of racing experience behind him but now he is turning his attention to a different discipline.
“I’m making the transition from track racing to rallying,” Johnnie said. “Track racing is a bit dead in Ireland – you need to go to England to do it properly which makes it much more expensive. So I got my rally licence about a month ago and entered the Dogleap Rally.”
With Jeff Case navigating, he finished a very creditable 36th overall in an event that had 80 starters. Not a bad start for a rally newbie!
“I had about an hour of testing the night before the rally,” Johnnie said. “The only other time that I drove a rally car was when I took dad’s Puma from our house to work but my racing experience helped massively. And the gearbox in the car is very similar to what I used in Formula Ford.”
Johnnie doesn’t plan on entering any major tarmac rallies but he hopes to take his new mount on gravel before the end of the year.
“It would be good to get experience on gravel,” he said. “A few people have said it would be great car for the gravel.”
So this specially commissioned, one of a kind Hyundai i20 really is the only car of its type…in the world. It has given Johnnie his first taste of stage rallying and perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we see him jump behind the wheel of his father’s S2000 Skoda?
“He’ll have to do something really remarkable to get a drive in that!” John laughed. “A first class honours degree, make breakfast for me in bed every day, walk the dog, polish my car, get a part-time job and give his mum all of his money. Maybe then we’ll talk about it!”
That has to be good news for Johnnie. After all, his dad didn’t say no!
And on that bombshell… (Ed – That’s enough!)
1.6 litre engine
Hewland 6-speed sequential
Jenvey throttle bodies
T45 cage by Custom Cages
Full Hyundai WRC body kit
Words: Jonathan MacDonald Photos: Graham Curry