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16 December 2019

Hyundai's N Festival distills enthusiast culture to its simplest, greatest form

By Tom WhiteTom White

By all accounts, building enthusiasm around a brand is hard.

Hold some kind of paid-up event, and only the most hardcore brand acolytes show up… Hold a free themed day of some kind (or even tack it onto a bigger event), and it can easily come off as a cynical marketing exercise.

So how is it that it was all smiles at Hyundai’s inaugural N Festival at NSW’s Wakefield Park Raceway?

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The N Festival is a concept so simple it’s a stroke of genius. Hyundai essentially buys the track for a whole day. If you’re a current owner of an N car of any kind, you can show up, sign up to a group (based on relative experience) and get on the track as many times as you like.

That’s it. There’s no catch (just that you'll need a CAMS license), a tiny merch stand, some vendors, a few ‘N Performance’ banners, and that’s it.

It’s just fun, and it’s more about the owners than it is about trying to sell you a brand or a lifestyle. For some reason, this concept proved to be popular.

“We only expected 60 or so to show up” says Hyundai’s rep on-the-ground, Guido Schenken, “we’ve had well over a hundred!”

The crowds were enough to populate almost the entire length of the Wakefield Park pit fence as well as create a bit of a traffic jam to get on track. The brand tells us the crowd was made up of 128 drivers over 105 cars and about 250 attendees in total.

The event is hosted by TrackSchool Track Days, so the emphasis is less on being ultra-competitive and more on safety and learning the limits of your car.

As such, there were no shenanigans of any kind. Nobody put a car into a fence or so much as lost a wheel the whole day. An impressive feat given the turn-out, and perhaps proof that other more risk averse brands could learn a thing or two from Hyundai’s little get together.

The brand also ran tech workshops on what’s under the bonnet of the cars (something it already invites owners to at its Macquarie Park, Sydney HQ), and had its TCR cars, RN16 mid-engine concept car, and the ‘DriftBus’ V6-powered iLoad on display. No picket fences, it’s a tactile experience at the N Festival.

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Spectators are welcome, too, and the track opened up for passenger sessions in the second half of the day. If you were quick enough, the brand was even giving punters rides in its Targa Tasmania car.

So, enthusiasts are typically a hard nut to crack for car brands, but the N Festival has all the ingredients for fostering a community the right way – making it about them without any hand-holding or ham-fisted “this is what our brand is about”.

Do it right, and your brand will sell itself, and that’s why everyone I spotted on the day had a smile on their face.

The only question left: Once the automatic Ns hit Australia’s shores will it force the festival to a bigger track, maybe even give each state its own event? Only time will tell.