Rhys Millen was sitting on a cooler whittling away at a piece of aluminum when I first arrived at the expansive skidpad at the California Proving Grounds, owned by Hyundai, located in a desolate part of the California desert about a dozen miles east of Mojave. By the time I had walked over to the accomplished driver for introductions, he had picked up a piece of sandpaper and begun to arduously file away at the alloy's rough edges, smoothing them masterfully.
He was focused on the job, but I politely interrupted him and asked what he was making. Ryhs looked up, smiled, and then grabbed a few zip-ties and asked me to come over to the new Hyundai RMR PM580-T, destined for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in just two short weeks, raised on its air jacks just a few yards away.
It was late morning, and the blue, white and orange race car sat naked and exposed, missing most of its outer skin. Unlike last year's vehicle, a 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe race car, which set the course record at 9:46.164, the new car looks wider, lower and decidedly more sinister. My objective was to find out why.
A closer look revealed a carbon fiber monocoque tub, actually a Gen-1 Crawford Performance Engineering Daytona Prototype chassis (manufactured in November 2005), clearly visible through the custom tubing. With the exception of the pushrod suspension with coil-overs, brake ducting for the iron rotors on the outsides of the frame rails and the large aluminum radiator tilted forward to swallow fresh airflow at altitude (the blue hose, mounted just ahead of the radiator, provides a cooling spray of water), there really wasn't much else to the front end.
The most striking part of the engine bay was unquestionably the gold foil.
The rear, however, was all business as the race team had bolted one of Hyundai's Lambda V6 engines in place. While the engine started life as a naturally-aspirated 3.8-liter, it now existed as a 4.1-liter V6 forced to breathe through an absolutely massive Garrett turbocharger. A custom intake, free-flow exhaust, specialized engine management and a diet of racing fuel provide all of the proper ingredients to generate upwards of 800 horsepower. The rear-wheel drive powertrain features a sequential six-speed gearbox, with a clutch for launch. The most striking part of the engine bay was unquestionably the gold foil, its bright surface covering as much as possible in an effort to reflect the immense heat away from critical parts.
While I was utterly mesmerized by the size of the silicone hose coming off the intake side of the turbo (it's about the diameter of my thigh), Rhys had suited up in Nomex and was preparing to go. After a walk-around, he climbed into the PM580-T through an open panel in its roof while the crew positioned the front and rear carbon-fiber bodywork in place and snapped it snug. The Hyundai executives who were present seemed visibly pleased, as the lightweight shell (designed and fabricated by Rhys Millen Racing) maintains most of the production Genesis Coupe styling cues – perfect for marketing.
The lightweight shell maintains most of the production Genesis Coupe styling cues.
The fired-up V6 was quieter than most racecars, giving credit to the turbocharger that masked much of the noise. But its roar was much more apparent when its ass-end pointed at me after Millen steered it off the skidpad and aimed it towards a mocked-up, and very unchallenging, road course (Hyundai tests its civilian cars, SUVs and minivans here). I ran and joined the others in a chase vehicle as we headed over to a closer vantage point.
Millen took it easy at first, but then he really started to push it. The wail of the engine, and each subsequent pop of the blow-off, fought with the wind for dominance. I stood with the crew, probably too close to the track, waiting for him to come down the short straight. About a minute later, the orange greenhouse was visible through the Joshua trees. Seconds later, it burst out the last left sweeper at full throttle. Without lifting off the accelerator, the PM580-T whooshed by at a radar-clocked 146 miles per hour (the transmission is only geared to 148 mph flat-out). The crew appeared pleased, but it was only one good test... and there were dozens more to follow before challenging another record at Pikes Peak.
The PM580-T whooshed by at a radar-clocked 146 miles per hour (the transmission is only geared to 148 mph flat-out).
[I did eventually find out what Rhys was working on when I met him earlier in the day. It seems the first Lexan windshield was too thin and bowing inward at speed (only he could see it, as it would move back when the car would slow). Millen, a hands-on guy, made four small brackets and zip-tied each to the front cage to prevent the windshield from moving – he mentioned a thicker panel would be screwed in place before the race at Pikes Peak.]