Project Elantra: Racing the “B” car

Image credit: Race Motorsports Club

No, we didn’t paint Project Elantra white. This is another Elantra used in our motorsports activities. We think it’s worth a mention, and we’ll lump this feature with the other installments of Project Elantra.

Last time in the Project Elantra series, we went racing with it in a Slalom race in SM Southmall and managed to score respectably, given the multitude of excuses we had obstacles we faced. We vowed to compete again, fixing faults and modifying the car further to kick some tired Toyota tail.

Unfortunately, since that race, that car has been on jackstands once again, with the engine ripped open like open heart surgery and the rest of the car gutted like a recently burnt Manila ghetto. Perhaps someday it can become a racecar as we intended it to be, much in the same way that perhaps someday bovines would publish a conclusive Grand Unified Theory.

Wait, we kid. The problems with the car are of such a serious (and monetarily painful) nature, we decided to continue working on it and prep it just in time for the next year’s slalom season. However we still wanted to participate in the remaining legs of this season, as we wanted to learn how to race in slalom. Yea, W3 iZ n00bs. So we used the white Elantra you see above.

Image credit: Race Motorsports Club

The Car

As mentioned in an earlier Opinion, we have two Elantras, both purchased brand new from the original dealer network of the original Hyundai importer, Italcars Pilipinas. The older one is Project Elantra, and the newer one, purchased in 2000, is the white car you see here. Despite the obligatory stickers put on by the slalom organizers (which adds 50 imaginary hp), the white Elantra is mechanically stock. The engine is the one it originally came out with, a 1599cc DOHC mill supposedly churning out 116hp via a 5-speed manual transmission. The brakes feature ABS and discs on all four wheels which, for the car’s temporary motorsports use, we had refaced and fitted with R-Spec branded pads. Mind you, the “R” doesn’t stand for racing, but probably does stand for replacement. The pads’ backing plates are blue in color, however, making them look like Project Mu’s. They don’t stop like Project Mu’s, though.

Bit of Rim Tech

The Rota Slipstream wheels are borrowed from Project Elantra. Usually, it is a bit of a pain to put aftermarket rims on Elantras of this generation. The front brakes are a captive rotor setup, meaning that the rotors are not merely bound by the lug nuts of the car but are affixed directly on the hub assembly. The rotor hat, which is the part of the rotor where the wheel studs and the hub peek through, as opposed to the rotor face, where the pads touch the rotor, has four bolt heads on its surface located concentrically between the four studs. Regular aftermarket rims do not account for this rotor hat surface abnormality and their installation necessitates the fitment of wheel spacers. We think that wheel spacers are mostly undesirable for racing use because the area of  thread engagement of the lug nuts is reduced, as well as the wheel’s centerbore not touching the hub center causing vibration at high speed and causing excessive stress to the wheel studs. Both factors may result in the wheel’s detachment from the car and your instant death or major injury.

The Slipstream wheel design somehow makes space for these bolt heads and allows the wheel to be mounted flush on the rotor hat without need of spacers. That and being über-light for a cast aluminum wheel makes it a great wheel for racing. Pity that Rota does not regularly manufacture Slipstrams with a PCD of 4×114 in a 15″ diameter. We tried to acquire a second set for Project Elantra but we couldn’t find any. We can have a batch made, but the MOQ for wheels direct from Rota is ten sets. Anyone wanna group buy? Or how about selling us your set? Let us know.

Fine Adjustments

But beyond the rims and tires (nothing-to-crow-about GT Champiro 195/55 R15’s), the car is stock. Really. So to appreciably improve the car’s performance on the slalom course, without adding more stuff or spending more on the car, we thought of cutting weight and playing with tire pressures.

The 15″ wheel and tire set is definitely lighter than the stock rim set. (By the way, the 14″ stock wheels are also Rotas with a design reminiscent of stock wheels from an old Mitsubishi Galant. These rims are unique among Elantras sold around the world.) But we didn’t want to strip the interior or do irreversible weight reduction to the car beyond removing clutter and the spare tire, since this car had to remain streetable at all times. We did maintain a low fuel load (putting five hundred pesos worth of fuel in an empty tank) in order to lessen the weight at the rear, allowing the weak stock handbrake to lock the rear wheels and allow us to negotiate the handbrake turns in the slalom course.

We also attempted to play with tire pressures. Not knowing what we were doing, we initially tried overinflating the tires to 40psi on all four corners, then we tried lessening the front tire pressure to 35psi, thinking that it would make it easier for the handbrake to lock the rears. We liked the result of the second tire pressure change, but we will not stop trying other combinations. Based on our recent Internet research on this matter, playing with tire pressures to affect vehicle handling isn’t simple at all. It all boils down to finding  what works after oh-so-many trials. Thus we will follow the advice of Jonathan Rush: “Tune up the driver first, and then worry about what the car’s setup is.”

Image credit: Race Motorsports Club

The Races

SM Sucat is a great venue for Slalom racing. The mall has a big-enough parking lot that no one uses, with ample space for pit parking, spectators, and racing, as gear changes were necessary on the faster sections of the course. Like other SM’s, this one has a food court with vegetarian cuisine, an Ace Hardware where you can buy fluids for an emergency top-up, a BookSale where you can buy the latest Top Gear Philippines rag or an unabridged copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, a CD-R King where one can spend a heck of a long time waiting in line to be served, and clean commodes. Very important, that last one. But best of all, SM Sucat is also only fifteen minutes away from the kuhol.net garage.

Race Motorsports Club, the event organizer, was actually forced to hold the last three legs in the Slalom season in SM Sucat due to force majeure (the NFA parking lot in Cabanatuan was used as an emergency palay drying area due to a typhoon flooding the area) and scheduling conflict (a carnival was being put up in the same area the slalom was supposed to use in a mall in Novaliches). Lucky for us then.

The last three legs in SM Sucat were merely the venues for a battle for the national championship. The organizer awards double points for participants joining the three final races of the season. These races were then critical for multiple championship winner Dr. Peewee Mendiola, an optometrist by profession (so we were told), as he was defending his crown against Noel Rivera, a slalom veteran whose endeavors were sponsored by Fern-C, a Vitamin C brand. While the two people in the medical profession were battling for the championship, we used the opportunity to learn how to slalom and how to control the car – and trying not to get in anybody’s way.

Image credit: Race Motorsports Club

Exposing Faults

The first time out with the stock Elantra, we drove it to the limit – well, our limit, not the car’s. But we may have transgressed some hydraulic bounds, because we were able to render the left rear caliper stuck. The caliper was getting the brakes on that corner so hot it was attempting to burn off the brake pad like a facial wart, which was spewing copious and noxious fumes the likes of which have not been smelt since the Holocaust. Our mechanic disassembled the offending caliper and found the caliper piston to be rusted out. Furthermore, a rust particle from the piston somehow jostled loose and traveled down the brake line towards the ABS motor pump, triggering a diagnostic lamp in the instrument cluster by disabling that component.

A rear caliper piston for a Hyundai Elantra is about Php 2500. A new ABS motor pump can cost up to Php 40,000.  A bottle of brake fluid is not even Php 200. The moral of this story is, to avoid brake system contamination and all hell “braking” loose, flush your brake fluids at least once a year. A corollary to this moral is, it helps when you have another Elantra and are getting rid of its ABS and rear disc brakes (that’s part of the next Project Elantra installment), so you get the needed parts for free.

At the second SM Sucat event, we were surprised to hear a loud ticking noise coming from the engine. Our past experience told us that this was due to a lack of oil in the engine, causing the hydraulic lash adjusters( HLAs) to cause the ticking sound. As you may not know, the HLAs are located between the camshaft lobe and the valve stem, and the HLA’s job is to make sure that the play between the two is eliminated. It does this by using oil pressure to “balloon” itself to fill the gap. The ticking sound means that there is insufficient oil in the HLAs to fill the said gap. A lack of engine oil is generally bad for not just the valvetrain components but on all areas of the engine, so we took it as a sign to top up the oil. Ace Hardware (and our credit card) to the rescue!

After the third event the Elantra developed a weird electrical issue. The instrument cluster tended to go mad like Christine every time the brake pedal was applied, as the tach was dropping down to zero and the temp gauge was pegging beyond the “H” line. The whack temp gauge was then causing the ECU to think the car was overheating,  rendering the engine limp. We have yet to verify as of this posting if an electrical rewiring we have had done has solved the problem.

It’s a twelve-year old car. Dealing with it.

Image credit: Race Motorsports Club

Winning

We were witness to the mad driving of David Lim Jr. and his DGL Racing team at the first SM Sucat race, who laid out the fastest time of the day with a seriously fast and nimble Honda CRX.  At the final race, Noel Rivera was able to barely cinch the national championship, battling the damp conditions and edging out Doc Peewee with a 0.32 seconds quicker run.

On our end, despite driving an embarrassingly stock and slow vehicle, we were able to score podium finishes in the classes we have entered, capping off with a class win in Novice Modified A at the  second of the SM Sucat races. We hope to be competitive next season, especially as we will be fielding a nicely running Project Elantra. At least that’s the hope, since the car isn’t done yet. But for now at least it ain’t in jack stands anymore.

The next Slalom season tentatively starts on February 19 in Robinsons Nova Market. The season calendar of this and other Philippine motorsport series is posted at kuhol.net’s Race Scheds page.

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