It all started in April 2017, at last year’s Grand Prix of Long Beach — Bryan Herta, former IndyCar racer and current team owner with two Indianapolis 500 wins to his credit, mentioned at a luncheon with executives at Hyundai that if the company ever decided to return to motorsports in the U.S., Herta would be interested in joining up with them.
“A few months ago,” Herta said, “they reached out to us and said they had a project we might be interested in.”
Herta was interested, and the result was unveiled Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show. Bryan Herta Racing will field a two-car team in the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge’s sophomore TCR class, beginning March 23-25 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, with five more doubleheader weekends scheduled through the final race of the season Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Watkins Glen International Raceway in New York.
The new TCR class, which stands for “Touring Car Racing,” migrated from Europe last year to the Pirelli World Challenge and this year to IMSA Continental Tire Challenge. The TCR cars are built at a factory facility and sold to teams in a race-ready condition, with very few modifications allowed.
TCR cars are typically smaller and less powerful than GT3 and GT4 cars, and they’re cheaper to buy and operate.
The TCR that Hyundai is racing carries the European designation of the Hyundai i30 N, which is bound to confuse U.S. fans since Infiniti had an I30 model for four years. The Hyundai i30 is built and sold in Europe, and it has been since 2007. The current third generation of the i30 is sold here as the Elanta GT, so as to why Hyundai can’t or won’t rename the car, no one at the Chicago show could explain. The “N” added to the i30 is Hyundai’s new performance-model designation, used on the just-introduced Veloster N.
Herta’s drivers are accomplished PWC veterans — Mark Wilkins, who brings a lot of front-wheel-drive experience from Kia’s since-canceled PWC program, and Michael Lewis, who has been driving several models, mostly Porsches, in PWC races with considerable success. Lewis is the son of Steve Lewis, founder of the Performance Racing Industry trade show and magazine, and owner of 9 Racing, a USAC midget team that helped launch the careers of racers like Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Stan Fox, Jason Leffler, J.J. Yeley and Kenny Irwin Jr.
Greg Gill, CEO of the Pirelli World Challenge, said he was “delighted” to have Hyundai makes its return to racing here with his season. The company competed in Global Rallycross until the end of 2014, then pulled the plug on Rhys Millen’s factory program. Hyundai races overseas in the TCR class — the cars used there and the ones being sent to Herta are built by Hyundai Motorsport in Germany — as well as the World Rally Championship.
By the end of the season, Gill says, expect to see five manufacturers in the TCR class -– Hyundai, Audi, Volkswagen, Honda and Alfa Romeo.