When Rhys Millen debuted the new Hyundai Genesis Coupe at the season's first Formula Drift event at Long Beach, not all was what it seemed. When the factory-supported drift program was announced in February at the Chicago Auto Show, it was still in its formative stages. The original press release noted that the car would be powered by a stroked and turbocharged 4.1-liter version of Hyundai's Lambda V6 cranking out 550 hp. However, Hyundai didn't give final approval for the drift program with Millen's team until mid-January, at which point work began in earnest.
The car shown in Chicago and later at the press introductions for the Genesis Coupe was a stock car with modified bodywork to show what the race car would look like. As it turns out, the three month span between program approval and the Long Beach event wasn't enough time to get a brand new car and powertrain ready. A reader sent us a tip letting us know that the car that ran in California did not, in fact, have a Hyundai engine installed. Read on to find out what happened.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc
As the opening event in Long Beach approached, Millen and his team came to the realization that the new engine wouldn't be ready in time. This is where the Formula D rules came in handy.
Unlike NASCAR, where every car is virtually identical, the rules governing drivetrain modifications in Formula D are far more lax. That's why you'll see such oddities as a Lexus IS running a Chevy small-block or a Scion tC with a NASCAR engine under the hood. Drifters mix and match all manner of hardware, although most of the teams are independent and don't have manufacturer backing. That's where Millen and his association with Hyundai is different.
It's not unheard of for race teams or manufacturers having difficulty with performance or the timing of their programs to go elsewhere for help. Perhaps the most recent example was in 2004-05 when Chevrolet, which had been struggling with the performance of its in-house developed IRL engine, decided to scrap it and go with a re-badged Cosworth engine. Cosworth, of course, had long been associated with arch-rival Ford.
Which brings us back to the present. After we got the anonymous tip about the non-Lambda engine, we contacted Hyundai who put us in touch with Millen. Millen told us that when it became obvious to the RMR crew that the new Lambda V6 wouldn't be ready in time, they opted for Plan B. Instead of delaying the launch of the car, the decision was made to proceed with a different engine until the Lambda was ready. The closest thing they could find in terms of size was a Nissan VQ35.
According to Millen, he made the decision not to inform Hyundai of the change and he takes full responsibility. Millen said that the crew is working full speed to get the Lambda engine ready and expects to have it in the car within the next two to three events. That means it should be racing by either the New Jersey event on June 6 or the Las Vegas round on July 10.
We also talked to Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor about the situation. Trainor told Autoblog that Hyundai is happy to be working with Millen's team and given the short time frame and limited budget for the program, the decision to launch the car with the Nissan engine was totally understandable. Trainor took some of the responsibility for the delay, as a result of pulling Millen away from his race shop to participate in launch events for the road car.
In spite of not being informed by Millen about the engine change, it doesn't appear that Hyundai is too upset about the situation. "We look forward to Rhys getting the Hyundai powerplant in the car, Trainor told us, "we're excited to be running the full drift season, and we're happy we've got one of the top drivers campaigning the new Genesis Coupe."