About two years ago, the World Endurance Championship (WEC) seemed to be carrying a lot of momentum. The top level of multi-class, multi-driver endurance racing had heavy involvement from manufacturers, led by three automotive giants in the premier LMP1 category that were spending huge amounts of cash to push not only the limits on the race track, but the limits of automotive technology as well. Anchored by the 24 Hours of Le Mans - the series’ crown jewel - the WEC was a globe-trotting showcase of some of the finest drivers, teams, and machines a race fan could hope to witness. But two years is a long time.
In 2016, Audi dropped a massive bombshell, announcing that the 2016 season would be the last for their team: Arguably the most successful program in the history of sports car racing. Before the WEC had time to recover from that blow, Porsche announced the same in 2017. Both brands had opted to shutter their wildly expensive LMP1 programs for “greener pastures” elsewhere. While brands like Ford, Aston Martin, Ferrari, and even Porsche (by way of their customer programs) were still represented in the lower-performance GT divisions, LMP1 was suddenly left with only...Toyota. LMP1: The fastest of the fast, the richest of the rich, the sexiest of the sexy, the advanced-est of the advanced, the class that is on the cover of the programs, the cars that are showcased on commercials and race tickets, the cars right at the front of that picture up top, was now a category stripped down to just two cars. Toyota expressed their loyalty to the series for the next couple of seasons, and to the WEC’s credit (enjoy this, it’s the only credit they’re getting in this blog), the rule book has been opened to allow some privateers into the mix for the LMP1 category. What’s a “privateer,” you ask? Well, there are companies out there making chassis and engines to fit the LMP1 specifications. Someone like you or me – if we had the cash – could buy a car, buy an engine, hire some drivers and personnel, and could enter in the WEC to take on the mighty Toyota car conglomerate and their uber-deep pockets. Toyota went from being the lovable “David” against the dual “Goliaths” of Audi and Porsche to the biggest fish in the pond. And unfortunately for everyone, both they AND the WEC know it.
History lesson over, people. Now it’s time for the ranting to begin.
My first gripe involves the oddly “fluid” nature of the WEC’s upcoming schedule, and the way Toyota seems to be able to manipulate it. Toyota signed driver Fernando Alonso to one of its race seats for the upcoming season. It’s a huge win for both Toyota and the WEC to have him on the grid: Alonso is a two-time Formula 1 world champion, believed by many to belong on the Mt. Rushmore of greatest drivers in the modern era, and he is extremely popular the world over. Personally, he’s one of my favorite two or three drivers ever, so I’m extremely excited to see how he does in this new discipline. There’s just one issue that Toyota seems to have overlooked: Mr. Alonso is a still-employed Formula 1 driver. That means on the same weekend the WEC was supposed to be racing in Japan at Fuji Speedway – a track OWNED BY TOYOTA, by the way – Fernando is scheduled to be in Austin, Texas doing his day job at the U.S. Grand Prix. Oh no! What a P.R. nightmare that is! Our star driver unable to compete at our home race, on the track that WE OWN! What a gaff. . . So Toyota went to the WEC and asked for the schedule to be changed. What the WEC SHOULD have said is something like this:
“See, it’s really not our problem that you didn’t look at the schedule before signing Mr. Alonso. The fact of the matter is, changing the race date will put too much strain on the local promoters, affect too many fans who are already planning trips and buying tickets, and the other teams and drivers who have other commitments outside of our series. There’s nothing we can do for you okay have a good weekend byeee.”
What the WEC ACTUALLY said went a little something like this:
“Sure, ok! Whatever you say!”
The WEC agreed with Toyota and moved the date of the Japanese round…to the same date as IMSA’s season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, an event where multiple WEC drivers are scheduled to drive. Trying to accommodate ONE famous participant has now left many others scrambling to try and re-work their plans. I’m not sure of the exact number, but I know there’s at least 6 drivers that are supposed to drive in both events and are now left scrambling, as are the many teams who may have to find replacement drivers last minute (I’m available, and have a helmet, by the way…). The WEC’s solution? Oh, just have IMSA change the date of their race too! Scott Atherton, president of the IMSA series and all-around badass, sent them a more professional version of the following message: “F off, bro. Not my problem.” Praise be to Atherton and his team for not caving to special interests. Maybe the WEC can take a lesson from its American counterpart.
Gripe #2 has to do with a rumor (I repeat, RUMOR) that has been floating around about the way that the WEC was planning to deal with the privateer LMP1 entries that are stepping up to challenge the Toyotas. Remember earlier in this piece when I mentioned all the people like you and me buying a cool LMP1 prototype? Well those “every-men” have received their parts and pieces and have recently gone testing to get ready for the upcoming season. The results have been good….REALLY good…almost TOO good according to Toyota and the WEC. It appears that these cars, despite being far cheaper, less complicated, with normally aspirated engines as opposed to Toyota’s futuristic turbo hybrid power unit capable of up to 1,000hp, are posting performance figures very similar to what Toyota’s car is achieving. The folks from Toyota aren’t too happy about this, seeing as they are the last of the major manufacturers in the premier class and are dumping oodles (scientific term) more money into this than the privateers are. The RUMOR is that Toyota complained to the sanctioning body and the WEC is ACTUALLY CONSIDERING PENALIZING privateer teams who are faster than Toyota through certain speed traps. What. The. Hell?! News flash:
THAT’S NOT RACING!
The fact that this is even a RUMOR is nothing short of staggering to me. How can the rule-makers of a race series actually consider telling most of their participants “Oh yeah, by the way, you guys aren’t allowed to place any higher than 3rd today. If you do, the penalties will be swift and severe.” As a race team, whether you are backed by a large corporation or not, your job is to do what it takes to finish ahead of your competition. Period. You owe it to the people behind the scenes who work long hours getting the car ready, organizing the travel/logistics/hospitality, the sponsors who have a financial stake in what you’re doing and the fans who spend their hard-earned money hoping to see a good show that weekend. And as a sanctioning body, your job is to provide safe, fair, and level ground on which your participants can compete. If I was an owner of one of these privateer teams and the WEC officials told me that I couldn’t race for the win, I would find all of the middle fingers on planet Earth to hold up in their faces, politely tell them all to eat an entire tray of lukewarm male members, turn on my heels and pack up my car and team to go racing somewhere else, never to return.
Look, I get it. As a governing body of any kind, whether you’re in charge of a race league, soccer league, amateur tiddlywinks league, or a governing body overseeing a municipality, it’s a thankless job. You will NEVER make everyone happy. And the WEC probably feels indebted to Toyota for sticking with the series and providing its technology, marketing and cash during a period of mass exodus from the flagship class in the sport. But the idea has always been to never let the interests of the few govern the many. As a sanctioning body, you are supposed to be welcoming new participants, not alienating them. You are meant to find a balance that allows input from every participant, new and tenured, while having the backbone to stand up and tell someone “No” when needed. The minute that inmates are allowed to run the prison, even the ones who have spent the most time in the weight room and have the biggest muscles, is the minute that everything will begin to unravel. If the WEC doesn’t change its philosophy quickly, in a short period of time we will all be asking the question, “What was the name of that one series that used to run at Le Mans….?”
Everyone, whether they are a "car person" or not, remembers their first car very clearly. Like we talked about on the podcast, there are a lot of very obvious reasons for this: A car is freedom, getting a driver's license is a big life moment, first cars are often a person's first significant investment, on and on the list goes. But I'd like to take some time to talk about my second car, a car that I think I might not have really appreciated, though it both earned and deserved it.
As we talked about in Episode 1, my first car was a Saturn SC1. I don't think I mentioned how that car gave up the ghost in the cast, but the Saturn met a somewhat inglorious end. At the start of my senior year of high school, my car - which I had owned for less than a year and a half - started making a scraping clunk when I turned to the right. Not thinking all that much of it, I took it in to the local shop, and when they called back, they said that they had pretty bad news: the car was barely safe to drive. Before I owned it, the Saturn was owned and driven by a family friend who was a tenured college professor at a local Technical College. His job is only important to mention because it's the reason why he had a reserved parking space, where he parked that car every single school day from the summer of 1993, when he bought it brand-new from the Saturn dealership, to the day he sold it to me in 2004. This meant that the same side of the car was always windward for every single rainstorm and snowstorm and it just so happened to also face east, ensuring that the same side of the car was always in the sun. As a result, the drivers-side engine mounts were almost completely gone - weathered away - and the engine was starting to move around in the engine bay as I drove along.
Of course, engine mounts can be fixed. But as with a lot of older cars, the issue became cost vs. value. The car had 180,000 miles on it. Did it really make sense to sink several hundred dollars into repairs, especially since I had bought it for only $500? No. It didn't. The car had to go. That's not a decision I made myself, but a decision my parents made to go along with their decision that if I promised them I would go to college and get a degree, they would buy my second car for me. That's a fabulous deal, of course, and I took it gladly. At this time, I wasn't really all that interested in cars. The people I saw in high school who were "in to" cars weren't people I wanted to be around, nor were the people I saw in Auto Shop class. Yes, I still played racing games, I still liked exotic cars, but that's just lionizing the rich. Everybody does that. As a result, when my parents asked me what cars I liked, I didn't really have an answer. My dad drove a Ford Escape at the time, and I didn't want that. My mom drove a Toyota Camry and I didn't want that either. My oldest brother was driving a Ford Escort ZX2, which was kind of cool, but I had decided that I was far too adult to get another manual transmission car. My older brother (the middle child) had bought an Elantra Hatchback the year before, and my dad really liked that car, primarily because of the warranty. So off we went to buy a Hyundai.
I do remember that we also looked at a host of used cars before we went to Hyundai, but the one that sticks in my mind the most was the Oldsmobile Alero. A little piece of trivia is that in 2005, it was actually illegal to own a car dealership in the state of Wisconsin without having at least two fully loaded, low mileage Aleros on your lot. This law was repealed in 2007. I mean damn, they were on every lot, with all the toys: V6 engine, cruise control, combo sun/moon roof, six CD changer, full leather, heated seats, power everything, keyless entry, the full suite, and yet they were always cheap. I have a sneaking suspicion that car was shit. Anyways.
The local Hyundai dealer had just taken delivery of the perfect, and I mean completely perfect Elantra. It was an Electric Red GLS hatchback (the base model), but with an automatic, cruise control, a tape player, the "Protection Package" (plastic trim on the corners and doors), and a crack in the windshield. They hadn't even set it out on the lot yet because they needed to replace the windshield. My dad, in what I still think is a very shrewd maneuver, told the sales woman that we would buy the car that day, and pay for them to replace the windshield, if they deducted the cost of the repair from the MSRP and moved just a touch further towards the price we wanted to pay. I remember exactly what she said: "Oh no. We would never do that. We don't need to deal on these cars, you won't find another one anywhere around here." So without saying a word, my dad just walked out of the building. We got in the car, and drove to the other local Hyundai dealership, 10 miles away. The guy there told us they had just received three new Elantras and would happily deal on them. We bought a Sterling Silver Hyundai Elantra GLS hatchback with an automatic, cruise control, the Protection Package, and a CD player from that dealership the next day. RIP Arrow Hyundai. Also, Hyundai, if you're somehow reading this, bring back Electric Red, that was a totally awesome color.
And just like that, I was a high school kid with a brand-new car. Don't get it twisted, this car did not help me get laid, oh no. The 2005 Elantra is not a sexy car. Nor did it make me seem like more of a man as it's fairly effeminate. Oh, right, digital media, I can include pictures (kbb.com):
This is my car almost exactly: the GLS has steelies with hubcaps and it also doesn't have the little lip spoiler, but everything else is exactly the same. It's not an ugly car, and it isn't pretty either, it looks fine. The only time a girl said anything to me about my car, she said it looked like it was pregnant. 11 years later I still have no idea what to make of that comment. But, you know what? I didn't give a shit. I could take 5 people in my car! I could fit a saxophone in the trunk without putting down the rear seats! I didn't have to shift gears! I had keyless entry oh my GOD such luxuries you've never had. I loved this car more than my first, because it was better. Or, at least, that's what I thought was going on.
I ended up owning the Elantra for 12 years, so I'm going to do some skipping around. The car actually never went to college with me. I was mostly transported by Tristan, a guy I think you all know. As a result, the car only had about 10,000 miles on it when I finished my undergrad. Well, 10,000 miles and a hole in the exhaust. My mom got rear-ended, the Camry got totaled, and so she drove the Elantra hard for two months in the last real Wisconsin winter we had, after which it sat for the next 4 months until I came home for the summer. Heck, this car was so untouched that it took 8 years for the driver's side rear brake caliper piston, a part that was eventually found to have a factory defect, to fail. I sold the car with just over 60,000 miles on it.
A month or two after I got the car, my high school girlfriend almost puked in it after a bad seafood dinner. This car moved every important earthly possession of mine to Nebraska and back - two times - when I was doing my Masters. Those little black protection strips? Those are in precisely the wrong place to ever deflect a single fucking door ding. I replaced the CD player in this car like a year after I bought it. How the hell did it take so long for Line In ports to become standard? I performed my greatest Save to date in this car, when that rear brake caliper fully locked at freeway speeds. I didn't even brush the concrete barrier. This car was also party to my second greatest Save, when the car went into a violent spin after hitting a surprise a dry patch of asphalt at an indicated 90, while I was struggling to make it up a slight rise during a snowstorm. Didn't even ditch it.
But here's the thing about the Elantra: I don't think I actually loved the car. Why? It was too fine at everything. It looked fine. It got fine gas mileage. It had fine room. It rode fine. The color was fine. The interior was fine. If you jammed on it, the acceleration was fine. With some bigger rims, the handling was fine. The road noise was on the loud end of fine. The two best features of this car were the speakers (shockingly good, Hyundai doesn't get enough credit for their good sound systems), and the ventilation. Both the heat and AC were fantastic! If not the best I've ever experienced, then a very emphatic 1B. But you can't fall in love with AC. A car won't stir your soul based only on the quality of its speakers. Yes, they're a nice add-on, but much like a nice set of lips, you only truly notice the lack, not the presence.
Because of that fact, because I never loved this car, I definitely resented it towards the end. It was an emotional burden. I had been wanting to trade it in on something new for three or four years by the time I finally got situated enough to take on a new car payment without issue, and that felt like an eternity. I wanted to love my car again, I wanted to feel that joy every time I was behind the wheel. I wanted to be reminded why driving is so special, such a privilege. I wanted to hate my car again, to be annoyed by a manual transmission in traffic. To not be able to fit things in the trunk and have to reconfigure the whole inside just to fit some stupid thing in there. I was desperate to feel anything about my car again, any kind of thing that wasn't just...fine. I wanted to hear people say things about my car again. Aside from the "Your car looks pregnant" thing, the only other comment I ever heard about my car the entire time I owned it was "Oh, I thought you drove a Saab." A LOT of people thought I drove a Saab once I put some larger wheels on it. Like, you know Saab, but not Hyundai? Okay. With certain people I didn't even bother to refute it. What was the point, I had nothing to defend with the Elantra, nothing even to accuse it of, other than being...not bad. And that is absolutely the most damning kind of faint praise.
When I finally traded in the Elantra, it was for a car that I really, really wanted. I wanted this car so bad, for so long, that the local Hyundai dealership started stocking the specific model regularly based on the number of times I asked to test drive it, a fact I learned after I finally bought the car. Every time I got close, every time I got a new job prospect, or even when it seemed like I could make myself a career out of a job, it fell through. I honestly never thought I'd be able to get the car I truly wanted, because the model I liked was one with very limited production runs. We'll go into our new cars in a later podcast episode (TEASER ALERT TEASER ALERT).
My wife and I...hmm, no, my fiancee (now wife) and I went into the dealership one night, not even expecting them to be open. I feel I needed to look at the car I wanted, before going to look at a similar car at the other local Hyundai dealer the next day. To my surprise they were open, and I ended up buying a new car that night, leaving some time around midnight. Driving the Elantra home, I was suddenly hit with the realization that after the drive to the dealership tomorrow, I would never ever see this car again. It wasn't panic, it wasn't buyers remorse, I knew this was a good decision, I knew the new car I picked was the right choice, I had absolute confidence in my worthiness of and my ability to pay for this new vehicle. It's just...well, I had long before that night stolen a sentiment from Richard Hammond and begun to call my Elantra The Place I Keep My Airbags, but I suddenly realized that maybe I had been a little too hard on the car. Maybe I had expected too much from it, asked it to be what it never was intended to be. The 2005 Hyundai Elantra was absolutely just a place to keep your airbags, but what the hell is so wrong with that? Millions of people around the world buy vehicles like that every single year: Camrys, Accords, and every single van, SUV, and crossover ever sold. "Places" like that are the most popular car in the world, and it's not close. Most people don't even seem to notice. There is nothing inherently "Wrong" with a vehicle being Just A Car, and in fact I'd like to officially coin that abbreviation/low-rent acronym right here and now, in honor of my 2005 Hyundai Elantra, the king of the JACs.
I don't really miss my second car, and I don't know that I ever well. But I do feel bad for thinking so negatively about it for so many years. It served well, and it served long, and it never really complained about any of it. I owned the Elantra for 12 years, from 17 to 29 years old. It moved me across the country, it went with me on countless night drives, it got me to and from work and school without ever breaking down on the commute. The only thing you couldn't fit in the back was full sheets of plywood, insulation or drywall. It transported me. It kept me safe. It kept me warm and or cool as the situation required, and it kept me entertained on road trips. It did it all, and it did it all just fine. When you get right down to it, I mean when you really and honestly look at what a vehicle's purpose is in the world, can you say anything fairer than that? So here's to the JACs of the world. I see your purpose, and I'll try to be a little bit nicer in the future. But not too much.
Check Engine Blog? Check Engine Podcast Blog? Check Engine Blogcast? Just blog. Yeah, just blog.
Hello, and welcome to the Check Engine Blog. Here, Tristan, Nick, and myself (Andrew) will blog some blogs, aiming for one a week, rotating between the three of us. We've very quickly realized that we have more ideas than we have time per episode, and so we're diversifying. I'll be kicking things off with a little blog about my second car.