My $1,500 Daewoo Lanos Died A Hero’s Death On Track
The Out Motorsports “Rainbow Rallycross” was set at Summit Point Raceway, in Summit Point, West Virginia. More than 40 attendees descended to cane the hell out of some old cars.
A big, loud group of gay people driving orphan-branded cars descended on West Virginia’s Summit Point Raceway for Out Motorsports’ “Rainbow Rallycross”. We were there to have fun, make friends, and race $1,500 shitboxes harder than they had any business going. My Daewoo Lanos rally car did not survive the experience, but it died valiantly and proved just about anything can be a race car at least once before it gets sent to the junkyard.
My competitors were a smoking Pontiac Fiero V6 four-speed manual, A four-cylinder “new edge” Mercury Cougar (incorrectly badged as a V6), a slightly misfiring (and frustrating to get license plates for) Eagle Vision, a wickedly fast V6 Saab 9-3, and the world’s only Harlequin Saturn SC2. This was no country club GT3 track day; all these cars require real work to keep running. But if you come with the right attitude, that’s part of the fun.
You can read more about what Out Motorsports is all about here, and what it took to get a dead Lanos race-worthy for under $1,500 here. Now, we’re finally going to get into how it performed under pressure.
It’s The Lanos’s Time To Shine, Y’all
The first heat was up. My Daewoo had passed tech, but at the end of the day, it was still a worn-out subcompact from a dead brand. It had developed a mysterious parasitic electrical fault, requiring multiple jumpstarts from the Gears and Queers gang throughout the whole weekend. I was nervous but amazingly energized for a man who’d barely slept the night before. I was still amped up from the day before’s track day boot camp in the Abarth. I knew where to place my hands, how to use the throttle, I was comfortable wearing a helmet in the car, I was good to go.
Saturday morning’s course wasn’t too fast. It started uphill, and there were very few flat-out straight sections where you could get a huge amount of speed. It was a perfect introduction to anyone not familiar with track driving and served as a low-stakes entry to get us used to the state of our $1,500 shitbox.
Was the Lanos fast? Absolutely not, I was dead last in the Orphaned Brand class. It was enjoyable, though. The car had good bones, as an HGTV house flipping host would say. It may have been was soft, and slow, and the transmission was barely functional, but it was predictable. It was narrow, and light, I could sail through cone-induced chicanes scrubbing off a lot less speed than some of the larger, faster cars. With a manual transmission, a Lanos could be mildly threatening. Of course, the crappy used tires and lack of power meant I was completely outgunned everywhere else on the track, though. Oh well, we’re here to have fun, not to win I reminded myself.
After the first lap, I had a better idea of what my car would and would not do. The Lanos’s transmission was definitely its weakest link; it slipped and flared between gears, and consistently chose the wrong gear on corner exits. I attempted to lock the car in second, but the car’s ECU would still upshift or downshift into third and forth on its own. Oof. If I could ever get up enough speed, the Lanos would simply understeer. If I induced brakes, the Lanos would still understeer, then maybe snap around a little bit after some coaxing.
After heat one was over, I was happy to see I’d consistently improved my times. Yes, I was very slow; at least five seconds slower than the next nearest car in the class. But I was still impressed that a car nobody bothered to write about, a beat-to-hell econobox that I fixed with online research, spit, luck, clever solutions, and a very smart roommate, just completed a race. The Daewoo was still moving, under its own power, after I gave it no mercy.
After heat two’s runs, we broke for lunch, and the course was reversed.
The Lanos’s transmission got more reluctant to shift, and eventually, it was opting to slam from gear to gear intermittently. The not-so-good brakes started to fade some the harder I drove. Plow, or slide, or skid, that’s all the Lanos could do in the afternoon heat.
My times in the afternoon were consistently slower. I was less confident, and the lack of sleep the night before was catching up to me. The car wasn’t liking what I was doing, and I wasn’t liking what I was doing, either. Syrupy shifts turned into slamming gears, the car slid more unpredictably, it felt as the car was driving on hot sand. The slow, yet predictable car I had driven in the morning, turned into a sloppy hot mess in the afternoon. Braking incorrectly could cause the Lanos to either lock or slide; exacerbated by the reversed course’s new downhill cant.
The next day, The weather was less hot and I was more rested. I was focused, ready to turn some hot lap times.
The day-two course was a lot faster than the day before. Shenandoah Circuit has a 1 to 1 recreation of the famous Nurburging Karousel banked curve, and immediately following its exit was another cone-induced chicane, followed by an amazingly long straight, then a very tight right-hander.
Miraculously, the Daewoo held up. Actually, It didn’t just hold up, it rewarded me with a few lap times faster than the Saturn SC2 and the Eagle Vision. I think the Daewoo had somehow read my energy, maybe. I was amped, laser-focused on getting fast lap times. I was in the zone. The carousel was tricky; I couldn’t seem to set up the Daewoo to enter fast enough. But maybe that was a good thing. It’s a banked turn that requires little steering input, like the real turn on the Nürburgring, its banks completely load up the suspension. Upon exit, the banks drop away, and the vehicle goes from fully loaded, to completely unladen, very quickly. With the suspension completely unladen, then quickly reloaded upon exit, it’s incredibly easy to upset the car and even lose control. The Daewoo was too slow and too light for this conundrum to ever manifest itself. I could fly out of the carousel as fast as the Daewoo would take me, quickly sail through yet another cone-induced chicane, then hammer down the back straight.
I completed the morning heat — then waited for the course reversal and afternoon heat. I was determined to finish, the track had taken out a few other competitors in other classes, big cars like a Cadillac Fleetwood, A Ford Thunderbird, and even a Lexus IS300. The Daewoo was hanging in there, to the surprise of myself and everyone else.
Somewhere between the morning session and lunch, whatever was left of my catalytic converter finally died. It reeked of rotten eggs, and the transmission wasn’t great, but this was the last heat of the event. The car had done it. I had done it. We did our sighting laps, and then it was to the grid. I was ready to rumble. Wanting to put on one last show, I neutral dropped the Daewoo’s forlorn transmission. The car lurched forward, and I went through the track. The Daewoo felt as good as it was ever going to get, it shifted awfully, it smelled worse, and the handling deteriorated the warmer the track surface got. But I was in the zone, I was moving. I was flying! I was smoking. Literally.
I rounded the last curve back to the grid, and smoke covered the windshield. “Oh shit,” I thought. Did the transmission give up? Did oil spill somewhere and the car was on fire? What the hell did I do?
Once I noticed the distinctively sweet smell of ethylene glycol, I figured out that it was coolant.
I was so in the zone that I didn’t notice the Daewoo immediately spewing all its coolant at the start line.
Remarkably, the Daewoo didn’t even fail that hard; the thermostat housing had decided to become two, spewing out all of the coolant in the process. Was it age-related? Coolant backpressure from a possible failing head gasket? Did getting air exiting the carousel jostle the engine so much to the point where it ruined the car?
Who knows. I didn’t bring any tools, and I didn’t have the desire or ability to repair my Lanos in time to finish the last heat of the event. Having fought valiantly, Miss Lanos was now well and truly dead.
I have always loved cars, even from a young age. All types of cars, not just supercars, or BMWs or roadsters or whatever. Even the most mundane, ubiquitous car, can be interesting in the correct context. On the return drive, I wondered what my experience would’ve been like if I bought a “better” car, something faster. What would the experience be like if I took it “seriously”?
I wouldn’t have had as much fun. My poorly kept Lanos was a shitty example of a not-so-good car, but it gave its all. I gave my all. I was slow, the car was a mess, I was a mess, but I was having so much goddamn fun.
That’s what being a car enthusiast is about, folks. Car enthusiasm shouldn’t be limited to if you’ve got the right “tool” or not.
Maybe next year I’ll buy a Suzuki Forenza.