Project Elantra: Gone Racin’

Elantra in action. Image credit: Race Motorsports Club

Previously on Project Elantra, we had its old racing coilovers refurbished and got it a lil’ dynamo of a battery to power up the electrics, all in preparation for a slalom race that we wanted to join with the car. We got the car to start and its shocks are as stiff as a Viagra-infused “third leg”. But were we able to join the slalom in SM Southmall?

Yes we did, but the story isn’t that simple. But in the end, we were able to compete, plus we gathered some insight on what was needed so that the car can be competitive and hopefully win. Read on for more after the jump.

Quickie Repair

We did manage to wrench on the car enough to get it to join the slalom event we wanted to enter. But on the night before the race, I tested the car and felt that the clutch pedal began to feel as flaccid as an ED victim’s wee willy. I surmised that the problem was a worn clutch slave cylinder, as it happened to my other Elantra several months ago. There were no shops open at night, and I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to find the proper repair kit the next day, which is a Sunday, by the way.

 

Early the next day, as my mechanic ripped open the slave cylinder, I rushed to the nearest auto supply (which was fortunately open) and asked the attendant for the repair kit for an Elantra. He brought out a 5/16″ repair kit, consisting of assorted seals, cups and a spring, but it was for a Mitsubishi, perhaps a Lancer. After much assurance from the attendant that it would fit, I rushed back and brought it to my mechanic. We compared the old and the new guts together and they were exactly the same.

Thank God for parts interchangeability. Project Elantra now had a working clutch.

What is Slalom?

After fitting the 4-pt seatbelts that I bought from a Hong Kong trip and having the battery mounting frame welded, we set off towards SM Southmall for the race. We arrived ten minutes later, seeing other competitors lining up for practice.

Wait a minute, you may interject. A race in a mall? That’s where slalom races usually happen. No, it ain’t teenagers skidding shopping carts around, Slalom is an actual motorsport. It is a time and maneuverability event where competitors tackle a course delineated by cones, one-by-one, in the shortest possible time.  Imagine running around your condo from corner to corner, avoiding the furniture and your significant other, and that’s basically what slalom racing is like.

Actual Slalom layout raced in SM Southmall

The course starts at the stop box, where a timing sensor is situated over the starting line. As the car passes the start line, the car interrupts the light beam emitted by the two sensor units, triggering the timing system to start the clock for your run. You then negotiate the course. You go between two cones representing ‘gates’ you have to pass through, sashay through a ‘slalom’ section where the car will have to go left and right in rapid succession, or a solitary cone signifying that you have to turn 180- and 360-degrees on a narrow allowable radius. Cones are also situated near danger spots such as open drainages, bollards, vertical concrete structures, spectators, etc. A hit cone is considered a time penalty, with precious seconds added to your overall run. After getting through the final ‘gate’, you again pass though the start line and stop within the limits of the stop box. Failure to do so will result in a time penalty.

Ultimate Slalom Car

The main draw to spectators is the course segments with the 180- and 360-degree turns. These sections are advantageous to cars with rear-wheel drive (RWD) and a short wheelbase. Reasons being are as follows. A driver in a RWD can easily rotate the car in a very small radius. He initiates the skid with the handbrake, then manipulates the throttle as he accordingly steers and countersteers the wheel, then powers out the sector. In a front-wheel drive (FWD) car, the car cannot skid in this manner as the driven wheels are also steered. FWDs, bound by the laws of physics, also inherently experience understeer, or the reluctance of a car to turn.

Wheelbase is the distance between the centerline of the front and rear axles. A shorter wheelbase allows the car to turn easier and quicker. This can be demonstrated at your neighborhood supermarket. Grab a regular shopping cart and start pushing and steering it around. Now try a push cart like the ones you put shopping baskets in. Do you feel it more responsive to your steering inputs? Thought so.

If RWD and a short wheelbase are the ingredients for a successful slalom race car, then it is no surprise to see the prevalence of Toyota Starlets at slalom meets. Not only RWD and as short as certain Philippine president, the Starlet can accomodate a whole list of longitudinally oriented engines should more power be needed, as well as boasting an abundance of available performance parts, not to mention extant tuning know-how from experienced hobbyists.

A taxi I’d like to ride! (Example of a racing Starlet used in slalom)

The polar opposite may perhaps be the Hyundai Elantra. FWD, with a wheelbase nine inches longer than the Starlet, a dearth of speed parts, and I am my own resource person for doing stuff to it. But there are Honda Civics racing in slalom that even occasionally achieve fastest times of the day. Given that, say, an EG Civic hatchback has almost the same wheelbase as an Elantra (but fourteen inches shorter in overall length), there is still hope for Project Elantra to kick some geriatric Starlet tail.

How did we do?

Slalom participants can register in several racing classes, to account for experience, vehicle drivetrain, and modifications done. We registered to compete in at least the Newbies Class, Novice Modified A, and Open A. A more detailed explanation of the different classes can be found at the Race Motorsports Club website.

We were competing against more experienced racers. Several Starlets with monocoques older than I am were still pirouetting like nubile ballet dancers. They were annoyingly faster than the Elantra, though my ham-fisted driving is partly to blame. The other part of the time difference was due to the hard but impotent handbrake I was jerking around like a sex addict. We did try to adjust the handbrake cable to make the handbrake stronger, but it was futile.

Another factor was the course layout. The last time I slalomed with Project Elantra, it was proably at least a year ago, in the parking lot of Enchanted Kingdom. Yes, the theme park in Sta. Rosa. I remember the layout there being big enough for the car to reach almost a hundred km/h in the long stretches. Unfortunately, the layout in SM Southmall was too small for the car. I couldn’t achieve v-max on first gear!

The event exposed some issues with the car. After doing our practice runs, we noticed a small leak in one of the radiator hoses, tearing due to age and brittleness. In the spirit of Pinoy motoring, we just ignored it and continued our day with no mishap or overheating experienced.

 

Check out the hole in the radiator pipe!

Enough of the excuses. We did manage to get a podium spot in the Newbies class, getting third place with a time of 47.18. Not bad for a novice, several months removed from any form of amateur motorsports. We also had a fun day, seeing hydrocarbons burnt recklessly in the name of speed, tires going up in smoke as cars skidded (or in my case, understeered) around the tight parking lot. We also resolved to modify the car further, specifically towards improving the braking system and putting the car on a diet. For details on these mods and more, stay tuned for the next installment of Project Elantra.

Until then, keep it slow!

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