Project Elantra: Give me a Brake!

This is Project Elantra with a wimpy handbrake. (Image credit: Race Motorsports Club)

 

Last time, Project Elantra was left at the kuhol.net garage while we took a stock Elantra racing instead. Competing in three consecutive Slalom races in SM Sucat, winning class trophies, and eliciting a “Holy body roll, Batman!” from participants and spectators alike made us determined to formally compete for the national series. Attending the awarding ceremony, eating cheeseburgers sans beef patty, and seeing all the shiny trophies on hand for class champions whetted our appetites further, not to mention made our breath funky due to excessive onion content between the scrumptious wheat buns.

We’ve been busy with Project Elantra these past few months, slowly – and budget permitting – getting the car to be as slalom-ready as possible.  Our major problem was how to go about negotiating those pesky 360-degree handbrake turns. That prompted (but not necessitated) a whole list of mods to the brakes, some of which we weren’t too proud of. Read on for more after the jump.

Image from http://car-leisure.blogspot.com

Handbrake Turns

The oldy-time Slalom racers exclaim that the thing that separates Slalom from other forms of pylon-defined time-trial motorsports events is not the literal “slalom” section (the part where you have to snake through linearly-positioned pylons) but the 360- and 180-degree turns. These oldy-time guys just happen to have Starlets that are best-suited to tackling these protractor-defined corners.

For RWD vehicles like the Starlet, the handbrake is used but just to initiate rear tire slip. After handbrake application, it is a matter of using engine power and clutch control (and of course steering and counter-steering input) to pirouette the car around the pylons. We touched on this in a previous Project Elantra update. But the Elantra, like most every new car nowadays, is FWD, and as such cannot be maneouvered in the same manner.

For FWD, acceleration, turning, and the majority of braking is all handled by the front wheels. The rear wheels practically do nothing but support the car’s weight. The car’s entry momentum is the only chance for the car to generate oversteer, as coerced upon by the handbrake. In order to continue the skid, especially in the devilish 360, pressing the gas pedal will stop the oversteer, not help it.

The handbrake becomes downright essential. A driver engages it from entry till the end of the middle of the corner, not just upon initial entry. The accelerator can only be used when there is more or less a “clear shot”. Otherwise you might just be understeering into the bangketa. This inability to put power down is the primary weakness of the FWD drivetrain over all other modes of power transmission.

Quite simply, to kick Starlet tail with the Elantra is a triumph of luck over physics. To further compound the problem, the stock Elantra handbrake is barely strong enough to skid the car, and that’s with the stock tire size fitted and with rear brakes in good condition. Also, the installed Cobra racing seat’s substantial bolstering impedes the driver’s elbow when engaging the lever.

But truth be told, we aren’t so skilled with jerking that lever around. But thanks to YouTube, and Tiff Needell of Top Gear/Fifth Gear fame, we now at least have the rudiments in order. We realized the following: (a) that we have to pull the handbrake after the wheel has been turned, not before; (b) if we have to skid to the left, our left hand can cross over to the right side of the wheel to get more steering movement to the left; and, (c) we must shift to first and clutch in before the manoeuvre. The actual video we watched is embedded below for your perusal.

 

 

The Old Setup

So, how to upgrade the handbrake? Let’s start with looking at what Project Elantra has to begin with.

When we started featuring Project Elantra in this website, it was already fitted with an uprated front big brake kit from Shark Racing, featuring twin piston calipers of a Hyundai XG, 11-inch slotted and dimpled rotors, and a non-captive rotor hub conversion (see the previous installment to read why this is a nifty feature). The kit also came with two sets of brake pads, the OEM units and a sports-compound set. The latter pad set has long since been spent, so the car is currently running on the original Mobis pads.

 

The BBK when new (but with 12" rotors) from Seoulful Racing

 

For this generation, the stock rotors are very prone to warping, and there is a tendency to not reface the rotors due to the unbelievably difficult-to-remove captive rotor setup. The Shark Racing kit solves both by changing the obtuse rotor mounting setup and putting in bigger rotors that can better handle and dissipate the heat from braking at high speed. An improvement in stopping distance is also contributed by a bigger brake pad surface and more pistons in the caliper pressing them. The overall package looks quite awesome when stuffed under the Rota Slipstreams.

 

The BBK installed, five years old and still stopping strong

 

Of course, this setup would not fit under the stock 14-inch rims. Another problem is that the package is heavier than stock, which is bad for unsprung weight (weight unsupported by the car’s suspension; more means poorer handling and ride quality).

 

Deep-Sixing the Mush

Storefronts in Evangelista, Makati (Image credit: http://synthesistblog.com)

The twin piston calipers also created extra volume to the hydraulic braking system. The stock 7/8″ master cylinder could not flow enough fluid given the same pedal application. This created the side effect of a mushy brake pedal. In street driving, a soft pedal is merely an irritant, especially if you thought that bleeding or better brake fluid would cure the problem. (They won’t.)

But when racing, the pedal feel wasn’t inspiring confidence, and braking effort needed was difficult to judge. Doubts in your machinery at on-the-limit driving is a recipe for disaster, or at the very least, poor race times. The only solution to this problem was a bigger master cylinder.

We were at a loss as to where to look for one. A search on the Internet did not reveal any easy or inexpensive method of sourcing a unit that would bolt on the existing brake booster and brake lines. So, we decided to seek salvation in a locale chock-full of surplus parts, situated in a street called Evangelista in Makati.

Just off EDSA on the way to the Pasay Rotonda, Evangelista is this street where you can buy most any surplus part for your Japanese vehicle. From bolts and baubles to body parts and engines, they got it all, freshly picked from Japan’s scrap yards. New hood for your Civic? Check. Used but in working condition coilovers for your drift Cefiro? Check. A powerful JDM motor you can swap into your ride? Check. Surplus parts for an Elantra? Well, not really.

However, we were very very VERY fortunate to find a 1″ master cylinder with matching remote-mounted reservoir from an unknown Hyundai model in one of the shops. We grabbed it and ran, cackling all the way back to the kuhol.net garage and itching to install the sucker.

The master cylinder itself mounted to the car without a hitch. We tried to put the reservoir from the stock master in the new one for a stock look, but it did not fit. So we just had a mount fabbed up to support the remotely mounted one. After some teething problems, where the front brakes got stuck after a few minutes of driving, we got ourselves a perfectly stiff pedal for our threshold and cadence braking needs.

 

The master cylinder and remote brake fluid reservoir as installed. Check out the amplifier fused distribution block that we are using to distribute battery power to the engine and accessories, as well as being a point where we can jumpstart the vehicle in cases of emergency.

 

To be Continued…

We didn’t think that brakes would be such a dense topic to write about. In the next installment, we’ll be continuing the quest for the perfect slalom handbrake by doing something completely unrelated, then going back at the task at hand. Stay tuned.

 

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