Hayden Paddon Reveals Hyundai Kona EV Rally Car

Hayden Paddon Reveals Hyundai Kona EV Rally Car

In a move sure to hack off purists everywhere, Kiwi rally ace Hayden Paddon has built a vicious electric racing machine that takes its basis from Hyundai’s Kona small SUV, but has the firepower to blow infamously powerful Group B rally cars out of the water.


The chassis, design, engineering, aerodynamics, suspension, steering, cooling, and electrics were all completed in New Zealand by Paddon’s team. While there was an element of factory backing to the project, the Kona EV rally car was built by a squad of just seven people – no truckload of engineers here. Dubbed Paddon Rallysport, the team is small but dedicated, and the eponymous driver who leads the squad said he wants it to compete internationally by the end of the decade.

Hyundai Kona EV Rally Car

Starting from a clean sheet of paper, the Paddon Rallysport team had to completely change the way it thought about building and developing a competitive rally car – everything down to the way the power steering system works came in for revisions.

“There is pretty much nothing that is the same as one of our combustion-powered cars, other than the steering wheel really,” Paddon tells MOTOR.

What makes Paddon’s EV project special is his desire for the car to compete in full-length rally competitions. The Kiwi has no intention of carving up the rulebook to create a niche class. “This is us making a statement as a team, and a statement for the sport,” he adds. “We can’t change the sport, but we can make a few statements like this to encourage a few changes in the right direction in the long term.

“Our plan is to have the car compete against combustion powered cars, but that is still probably a couple of years away. We want to put it in there among the current competition to show that [EVs] are cool, they are fun, they are exciting.”

The Kona SUV, with its jacked up ride height and extra mass compared to, say, an i30, may seem an odd starting point for a purpose-built rally car, but Paddon says the small SUV body has plenty of benefits.

“When it comes to the height of the car, it is actually lower than our i20 AP4 car,” he explains. “It is a little bit longer, but that has benefits of increased stability. The slightly bigger car works better for the EV because it gives us more space to put the batteries. You don’t want to be putting the batteries into too small a car or you back yourself into a corner.”

Speaking of which, the battery, inverter, and motors are supplied by Stohl Advanced Research and Development (STARD), the same Austrian company that has been developing electric rallycross cars. Paddon remains tight-lipped on the finer details of the current “prototype” battery, particularly its size, but STARD has an incredibly deep well of experience to share in this department.

The Austrian company’s Projekt E rallycross racers use a 400V battery of undisclosed size to put 450kW and 1100Nm to the ground. Paddon says the final battery for the Kona will be “over 100kWh”. Interestingly, the Kiwi driver opted against putting an electric motor on each corner of the Kona for full torque vectoring.

“We have a transmission front and rear, and the motors are inside the transmission,” he explains. “We didn’t want under frame weight mass out near the wheels. But we have a lot of adjustability and control on the axles, not necessarily wheel to wheel, but front to rear.”

With the battery and motors set to kill, Paddon’s Kona can deploy 800kW of grunt that’ll turn stones into fizzing projectiles. But, that amount of power will not be necessary outside of exhibition runs and demonstrations.

“The car has to be comparable to what already exists, so that means we are looking at around 200-400kW of power, adjustable depending on what sort of distance you need to cover,” Paddon adds. Oh, and charge times? Forget about them.

“We are focusing on battery changes. Do half a day of a rally, change the battery, and then do the second half,” Paddon explains.

“We have just got to make it work to cover half a day’s worth of distance. We have designed the car to be able to do a battery change in five minutes. So it is essentially like coming into a service and refuelling, but instead of petrol it is changing a battery.

“I think if we can cover probably 80-100km of competitive stages and the same again for road transit sections on a single charge, that is probably a good range to aim for to make it suitable for a rally.” With such a small team, technical partnerships for auxiliary mechanicals beyond the core chassis were vital to the project’s survival.

“We are representing a manufacturer as well, so it is important that we focus on reliability,” Paddon states. “STARD had a package that we could begin with, and from that we have worked with them to make it work in a rally environment.

“We are also working with EXT in Italy on the suspension. It is a very WRC-style type of damper, but unique for this project.” According to the former WRC winner, the Kona EV rally car project took two and a half years to complete, with some ten thousand-man hours put in by his team.

The car will now start an eight-month development process followed by potential competitions both in New Zealand and internationally from the second half of 2021 onwards.

By 2022 WRC cars will include hybrid technology, exclusively using battery power during transit, and as a power boost alongside combustion power on competitive stages. Delays in implementing electrification technology resulted in Citroën leaving the sport, and the category remains on shaky ground with the remaining three teams. With its Kona EV racer, Paddon Rallysport has fired a shot across the FIA and WRC’s bow, showing that stepping toward the future doesn’t necessarily require a dawdling transition. The search to secure rallying’s future is well and truly on.


TOP Paddon is a staunch believer that his electric beast can compete against traditional ICE cars 

ABOVE Rally New Zealand was part of the ‘20 WRC calendar before COVID hit. Perfect place to test, then RIGHT BJ”Dude, where’s my engine?!” Electric motors are placed low to improve CoG BELOW RIGHT Paddon’s team of seven created many of the components from scratch

LEFT Pirelli P Zero rubber gives the beast a mean stance in tarmac specification. RIGHT Paddon’s time in WRC machinery makes his definition of ‘fast’ slightly different to yours 

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