Hyundai Veloster N TCR Driver Interview: Mark Wilkins

by Apr 12, 2019All News, Hyundai, Interviews, Motorsports, N-Performance0 comments

Hyundai has made amazing progress racing around the globe, winning races on both dirt and pavement. In this article, we focus on one of Hyundai’s top drivers racing in North America, Mark Wilkins @MWilkins who Races IMSA with Bryan Herta Autosport in the Veloster N TCR. We excited to interview Mark, and pick his brain about racing, the new Veloster N and the overall direction where they are going.

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1. KCB: Tell us a little bit about yourself for our readers that may not know your history with Hyundai and Kia.

MW: “Absolutely. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Hyundai/Bryan Herta Autosport effort in IMSA and Veloster N TCR this season. After a fantastic, championship winning season last year in the Pirelli World Challenge with the Hyundai i30N TCR this year brings a new set of challenges. We are showcasing a new car in Veloster N TCR and competing in a different series with a different style and format of racing. Looking back a few years, I was very fortunate to be a part of KIA Racing and certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success with them over a four year period. Prior to my relationship with KIA, I spent many years climbing the motorsport ladder in open wheel, followed by a lengthy run of prototype racing in both the American LeMans series and Grand Am.”   

 2.       KCB: Hyundai has seemed to be very supportive these past two years in Motorsports. What is it like working with them?

MW: “Hyundai has really taken the motorsport world by storm these past few years! Whether we’re talking WRC or TCR, Hyundai’s are winning races all over the globe. This season Hyundai introduced the new Veloster N TCR alongside the first “N” model for the North American market, the Veloster N and it’s incredibly exciting to showcase how capable, fun and overwhelmingly satisfying these cars are to drive! Working with Hyundai and Bryan Herta Autosport has been very rewarding. We won a lot of races and a championship in year one. Our 2019 season is still in its infancy and we have already shown great pace in the first two rounds of competition.”

3.      KCB: Do you work with the same Hyundai R&D team that assisted you with the I30? vs the Veloster N?

MW: “The Hyundai i30N TCR and Veloster N TCR are both built by Hyundai Motorsport in Alzenau, Germany. Yes, we work with (have support from) the same team of people at Hyundai Motorsport that we did last season.”

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4.       KCB: You have experience with both the I30 N and Veloster N at the track. Which one has performs better at the track and why?

MW: “This is a great question! Both cars actually drive very much the same. Veloster N TCR shares about 85 percent of its core components with the i30N TCR so the cars aren’t all that much different. Perhaps the largest difference lies in the shape of the body and overall look of the car. Veloster N TCR has a lower roofline and tapers in at the back. From a performance standpoint, given they share so many of the same components, I would say they perform on par with each other. I personally love the look of the Veloster N TCR so i’ll tip my hat in that direction.”

5.       KCB: Do your team mates get the option to drive the stock version of the N Veloster and previously I30 on the street for additional practice?

MW: “I wish you could have seen the smile on my face when I read this question… YES! My teammates and I have all driven the Veloster N in one form another. We’ve sampled it on the autocross, at lapping events and on the road since the Veloster N launch this past October. In fact, I just had a Veloster N at a local lapping day this past weekend! I guess you could call it practice! The car drives so similarly to the TCR car it’s really quite fascinating. I could go on all day about how the Veloster N hits all the right buttons. It’s a true hot hatch in every sense of the word and if you haven’t driven one, go drive one! I don’t believe any of us have driven the i30N but I would imagine it would hit all the right buttons too!”

6.      KCB:  What is the track prep required to successfully compete in a weekend event for IMSA? Is it the same for PWC?

MW: “All of our IMSA events are either two or four hours in length depending on the event. This endurance format is quite different from the forty minute sprint races we did last season in Pirelli World Challenge. As far as level of preparation, it’s certainly more given the amount of time and laps we put on the cars at each event. Bryan Herta Autosport has grown with more crew to prepare the car at the shop and more fly in help to assist with car prep and pit stops throughout the event. The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge event schedules are fairly compressed which means we have little down time between sessions over the course of the event. It’s very much a go go go type of schedule.”

7.       KCB: Now that you race with IMSA, what are the new challenges that you guys face compared to PWC?

MW: “With the difference in race format from sprint to endurance this year, we added pit stops to the equation and with that a slew of new variables that we have to master. Pit stop duration, strategy in fueling and precise driver changes are essential along with the on track performance. When the green flag dropped last season it was up to the drivers to perform flat out for the duration of the race. This season the team must perform flawless stops and we need to perform flawless stints behind the wheel to see the chequered flag first. Everyone’s involved and must deliver at such a high level; I love that!” 

8.       KCB: What would be the cost to build a Veloster N TCR?

MW: “Bryan Herta Autosport is your source for Veloster N TCR purchase, support and of course any spares for the North American market. The car costs $155,000 USD and is built by Hyundai Motorsport in Germany.” 

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9.       KCB: How much horsepower is the Veloster N-TCR capable of? And does IMSA use restrictor plates to limit the horsepower?

MW: “The Veloster N TCR is approximately 350-hp out of its 2.0 litre turbocharged engine. The Balance of Performance (BoP) is set by the race series. The series can balance the cars in a few different ways such as through power adjustments or minimum ride height requirements for example.”

10.   What have been the biggest contributors to your team’s success racing with Hyundai?

MW: “I would say the biggest contributors to our success have been our people first and foremost and a great product to showcase on track. Racing is truly a team sport in every sense. Without a great team of people preparing the cars to the highest level of detail, we as drivers wouldn’t have the opportunity to do our job on track. We have a great team synergy at Bryan Herta Autosport and that is incredibly important to achieving success. Both the i30N TCR and Veloster N TCR were great cars right out of the box. When Hyundai Motorsport delivers you a dialed in, well sorted race car right out of the gate it certainly helps you achieve success!” 

11.   KCB: Overall, your team work looks to be very solid. What do you and your teammates do to ensure both of you perform at your peak and avoid competition amongst each other.

MW: “Great question. Last season Michael Lewis and I really clicked right away. He’s quite simply one of the most talented drivers i’ve worked with and also one of the coolest, nicest people i’ve ever met. He might be the nicest actually! Michael and I like to setup the car in a very similar fashion so we were able to use that to our advantage, try different setup changes and maximize our learning leading up to every race. As far as racing each other on track, we certainly enjoyed some great battles but always respected each other. Our priority and focus was to win the manufacturers championship for Hyundai which meant whether he won or I won it really didn’t matter so long as we captured as many points for Hyundai as we could every weekend.”

MW: “This season we share the same car and same goals and have welcomed the young talents of Mason and Harry to the team. These two guys are top notch team players and great drivers. We all collectively work together to dial in the cars and we share the same mutual respect for each other on track. Mason and Harry have had two strong races to start this season’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championship; they currently sit second thanks to their strong consistent performances thus far. We will undoubtedly have some great battles throughout the season as we chase that coveted first win!”

12.   KCB: Between you and Michael Lewis how do you each support you strengths and weaknesses (if any) in driving?

MW: “Michael and I really like to drive a very similar car. I can’t recall a time when we differed on our thinking as far as setup goes. In terms of on track driving, we share all of our data and work together after each session to ensure we both are getting the most out of the car. The data never lies and it’s a great tool at our disposal to help each other perform at our best. We always do a debrief after every session and reports following each event; we are always learning and developing.”

13.   KCB: Racing a car can be very taxing mentally and physically. What are the typically exercises that you guys do to prepare you for an event?

MW: “In my opinion the biggest challenge we face in the car is heat. The car can get quite hot and we don’t have much in the way of cooling. With the longer races it’s imperative we can keep cool enough to perform at our peak for the entire duration of our stint. I do quite a bit of running to keep my cardio up and mountain biking when possible. I do some moderate strength training to compliment my cardio work. Before a race I always like to take some time to myself to mentally prepare. I also like to stretch and loosen up. Irrespective of how many races i’ve run in my career, I still get nervous and need some time to get focused and in the zone.” 

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14.    KCB: With the current progress you guys have made, where do you see yourselves at the end of the season?

MW: “The season is in its infancy with eight more races to come in the championship. We’ve had some adversity to start the year and some factors both within and outside of our control that didn’t go favorably for us. We showed some strong pace at Daytona and Sebring and have been working super hard as a team to get in our groove. My expectation is that we’ll be in a great position at Mid Ohio to challenge for a win. If we can consistently finish near the top of the field for the balance of the season I think we have a real shot at a championship. We have our work cut out for us but there’s nothing wrong with a good challenge!”

15.   KCB: For many people there seems to be a bit of a stigma in modifying and racing Kia or Hyundai at the track. At the pro level, do you guys face a similar situation being that you guys are the only Kia and Hyundai vehicles at the track for the most part?

MW: “Perhaps in the past but I wouldn’t say so now. There are many i30N TCR cars competing across the globe and soon to be Veloster N TCR’s doing the same thing. With the very recent introduction of the “N” brand in the North American market, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see more Veloster N TCR cars competing at the highest level and Veloster N road cars out lapping at local track days.”

16.   KCB: Does Hyundai have any plans of doing long endurance events like the 25 hours of Thunderhill or the Daytona 24 hour?

MW: “I can’t speak for Hyundai or their future plans but for right now the Bryan Herta Autosport program is 100 percent focused on Veloster N TCR in the Michelin Pilot Challenge. We have only just begun with this brand new car and look forward to showcasing it across North America this season.” 

17.   KCB: Does Hyundai allow you guys add additional cars to their line up or is it matter of privateers buying a Veloster N TCR to qualify to join Bryan Herta Autosport.

MW: “Bryan Herta Autosport is your North American source for Veloster N TCR cars, technical assistance, spares and parts support to teams campaigning Hyundai TCR models. We would love to see more Veloster N TCR cars running in either IMSA or Pirelli World Challenge.”

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18.   KCB: We are leaving this space for you. Feel free to say anything you want. 

MW: “I just want to say thank you Eli and Erick for the opportunity to share some incite into our exciting program with Hyundai and Bryan Herta Autosport. Big Thanks to you and your readers for all of your support! Please follow us throughout the race season on social media or catch our races on TV or online; Next up for us is Mid Ohio May 3-5. Check out the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge schedule and if we are racing near you, i’d encourage you to come out and check out the awesome Veloster N TCR cars first hand.”

Thank you again Mark for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you and the Bryan Herta Autosport team success in IMSA. For our readers, be sure to follow Mark @markjeremywilkins on Instagram or @MWilkins on Twitter.

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Written by Eli Villa

-Owner of Evilla Motorsports, a company that specializes in developing high performance parts and accessories for Kia and Hyundai Vehicles. -Sponsored Driver for the 2015 Veloster Challenge, taking 2nd place in the Championships with a naturally aspirated Kia Rio against turbo charged Hyundai Velosters. -Devoted enthusiast to the Korean car brand always working to increase popularity and awareness of Korean cars in motorsports.

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