Obsessed with cars, Hyundai N Performance Division’s Geoff Fear is one of the expert team responsible for the Korean brand’s sporting transformation in Australia.
I’m one of those sick people who can work on cars all day, then go home and work on my own car and not sleep,” says Geoff Fear. Now there’s the type of mechanic you want in pit lane or beside you in the workplace. The 52-year-old from Port Macquarie is, by his own admission, obsessed with cars and making them handle better and go quicker. He moves and talks at 100km/h, and a career in motorsport is evident as he rapidly problem solves, offers advice and shows off an encyclopaedic knowledge when giving tech talks.
Geoff works for Hyundai Australia, principally as technician for the brand’s increasingly respected N Performance Division. Remember when the Korean company churned out bore boxes for oldladies and P-platers? Those days are long gone. Since the i30N hot hatch launched in 2018 there’s been a growing respect and affection for that ‘N’ badge, and with the likes of Geoff on board there’s no sign of momentum slowing.
When cars arrive in our market from overseas, some brands sling them straight in the showroom. Others get busy setting them up to the preferences of Australian drivers. “I’m surprised every manufacturer doesn’t do it,” says Geoff. “Our roads and how we Australians like a car to ride and feel are very different. When I do R&D in Korea I drive the Korean specification and they want something totally different.”
So what do we Aussies like? “Cars need to be comfortable on bumps, potholes and speed humps, as we’ve got plenty of all those,” Geoff says. “We like a bit of body movement but not rock solid like a European Autobahn setup. The reality is Australians won’t be doing 180km/h emergency lane changes so we don’t need it that firm for such situations.”
For the more driver-focused Hyundai offerings Geoff’s talents can really shine. As an experienced racer his feedback is imperative for suspension settings during both track and fast road testing. “I live in the mountains so I’m given a car for confirmation testing,” he says. “I drive mountain roads and dirt roads, come back and give the team my impressions. They can make tuning decisions around what I found.”
Experience is key in this field. Geoff’s dad drove trucks, and he started tinkering with him from age 12. “I got my first car at 15, an old Hillman Hunter, stripped it apart to see how it worked and then put it back together,” he explains. “Growing up I pulled apart many toys. Some went back together, others didn’t. I have this passion to know how something works.”
He served his apprenticeship at SSS Automotive in Sydney, an importer of Japanese car parts, where he pivoted between salesman, servicing, complex mechanicals and working on race and rally cars. He ultimately bought half the company, and spent the next 18 years going back and forth to Japan, stripping cars and bringing the specialist parts back to Australia.
“We’d do lots of Japanese domestic cars but also things like (Lancia Delta) Integrales,” Geoff says. “The parts were used in some race cars but mainly road cars. I had my own Nissan Skyline R32 GTR race car, then a Nissan Pulsar racer, plus a (Skyline) R34 GTR and R32 GTR. With the values they are now, it breaks my heart I didn’t keep any of them!”
Geoff sold his part of the business six years ago and began contracting in pit lanes. He worked on racers for the Kumho Series and Improved Production, and was mechanic and race director for the NSW Nissan Pulsar Series. “I was co-driving for some of the teams and built a lot of cars,” explains Geoff. “I had about ten customer cars to look after at race events.”
These days a stripped Hyundai i30N is his race car toy. Illustrating how good the road car’s standard suspension is, Geoff’s only changed its rear springs to make it quickly height adjustable and to play with the pitch of the car. A lifetime of experience means he’s quick to point out the best ways to make a car perform better, and which errors to avoid.
“I HAVE THIS PASSION TO KNOW HOW SOMETHING WORKS.”
“Wheels are the biggest modifying mistake,” he says. “People put on big offset wheels to fill out the guards, bringing a lot of bump-steer. The best value upgrade is a good set of tyres for the track. You can get more time out of semi-slicks (Geoff swears by Pirelli Trofeo Rs) than adding an extra 50hp. Those and camber tops: give a little more camber and it transforms the car.”
Little wonder Geoff was trusted with building Hyundai’s i30N Targa Tasmania rally car (it finished 15th overall and was highest-placed front-wheel-drive car), its i30N Fastback Time Attack car and even its iMax N “Drift Bus”. For variety, he also converted a Santa Fe seven-seat SUV into a convertible for Hyundai to show off its spacious interior. Time to chop this massive unit to make it appear production-good? Just three days.
Geoff suggests anyone wanting to end up doing his sort of role should look to motorsport. “What you do there is so different to being a dealer mechanic,” he says. “It’s something I’d like everyone to do as you have to think quickly and come up with a cure for anything in a rush. You have to look outside the box, ask how you’ll fix a problem – even if it’s just so a part lasts another half an hour. It’s very different to just ordering a new part when something breaks or is about to break.”
He says get to a race event as a spectator, walk around the pit lane and ask anyone working on a car if you can help or just watch and learn. “Most will always want a hand, and it shows you’re passionate and interested. You’ll soon get in there no problems at all.” You can’t bluff the enthusiasm though, and Geoff has this in spades. “I come home from work with a smile on my face,” he says. “It’s always been a passion, and always will be.”