Racing the Mortal Minivan. Toyota’s Sienna on the One Lap America Circuit

 

Toyota Sienna at One Lap America 2016 Summit Point Raceway. Front Sienna SE+, Rear Sienna R-Tuned.
Toyota Sienna at One Lap America 2016 Summit Point Raceway. Front Sienna SE+, Rear Sienna R-Tuned.

This past April, Toyota invited a handful of Washington DC area automotive journalists to join them at Summit Point Raceway to see two original manufacturer built minivans, not customized racecars, compete in the One Lap America race series. Toyota USA’s Engineering and Marketing departments were campaigning a Sienna R-Tuned Concept and a Sienna SE+ during the week-long – multi-state racing event, that is One Lap America. Where they were raced all day, then driven hundreds of miles to the next track at night to get back on the track and race again the next day.

 

Reality TV Star Rutledge Wood and Champion racer Craig Stanton, sign autographs at the 2016 One Lap America stop at Summit Point Raceway
Reality TV Star Rutledge Wood and Champion racer Craig Stanton, sign autographs at the 2016 One Lap America stop at Summit Point Raceway.

 

Toyota brought on Top Gear America’s, Rutledge Wood, a bearded hipster TV reality show host, as well as Grand-Am Rolex GT Champion race driver Craig Stanton, to pilot these vans, and a crew to support them as they raced the week away, with everyone working together like a seasoned race team.

 

One Lap America 2016 Toyota Sienna SE+ at Summit Point Raceway
One Lap America 2016 Toyota Sienna SE+ at Summit Point Raceway,

 

 

 

 

 

Toyota’s purpose was both promotional, and an engineering one. Showing off that Toyota’s best-selling Sienna minivan could compete heartily with serious racecars, but also as an opportunity for the engineering team to tweak the van for better overall drivability in everyday situations and longevity.

Toyota Sienna R-Tuned, stripped and caged for racing the One Lap America 2016 series
Toyota Sienna R-Tuned, stripped and caged for racing the One Lap America 2016 series.

 

A Toyota Sienna R-Tuned Concept vehicle, interior stripped out, caged with a custom suspension, and many modifications the Sienna SE+, tricked out with TRD Badging, on the shifter and oil cap, dark tinted lights and Pirelli P Zero tires, and the fluids replaced to better perform under racing conditions. Inside the SE+, sans roll cage, the seats were slipped in for passengers, or removed when out on the racetrack in competition. While both vans were labeled “Concept”, each appeared to be using off the shelf parts and products that any amateur racer could get.

 

Riding inside the Toyota Sienna SE+ on the 2016 One Lap America parade lap at Summit Point Raceway
Riding inside the Toyota Sienna SE+ on the 2016 One Lap America parade lap at Summit Point Raceway.

 

During a break in the racing, a van load of the DMV Scribes drove the Sienna SE+ on Summit’s Main course. While none of us were as track savvy as the competitive team from Toyota, it was fun to get a minivan loaded with adults and seats on a race track, then see it stripped and back out racing minutes later in Wood’s capable hands.

 

Toyota and Racing: Toyota vehicles racing is nothing new, from enthusiast’s auto crossing Scion’s to Camry’s chasing round the NASCAR oval; Toyota Trucks going at it in the dessert in an off-road rally; Lexus IS F-Sport in a street race. Toyota has a racing brand, TRD, that you see proudly on street vehicles, pretty much everywhere you go. But the common family hauler, the Sienna minivan, that is not what is thought of when the topic of competitive racing is discussed.

Toyota Sienna SE+ Sporting the TRD and all the One Lap America promotional stickers for 2016
Toyota Sienna SE+ Sporting the TRD and all the One Lap America promotional stickers for 2016.

This was one of those times where automakers wanting to appeal to that “younger Dad”, And make him think of motorsports and minivan in the same sentence. Instead of wrestling with the admission one has achieved stable adulthood and needs to transport their kids, friends of the kids, the dog, and a variety of belongings, around suburbia.

Toyota Sienna R-Tuned engine bay featuring the TRD logo on the oil cap
Toyota Sienna R-Tuned engine bay featuring the TRD logo on the oil cap.

 

With this One Lap America experience, Toyota is not only showing that the family haulers can be the equivalent to racecars, as these two Sienna minivans indeed hauled it down the racetrack with the best of them, often competing with high-power performance monsters. In the end the team completed the week-long event in first place with 160 points, 65 more than its Acura MDX competitor, the other entrant in the Truck/SUV class.

 

One Lap America is the ultimate road trip, stopping at 12 different tracks over 8 days, in 7 different states. One Lap America is a race series for the enthusiasts sponsored by Grassroots Motorsports Magazine and Tire Rack. Starting in 1984 this is the 32nd year running. A legendary race, made even more so by the movie Cannonball Run.

 

The Toyota Sienna 2016 One Lap America Team, showing off their badges, showing they have donated to the charity.
The Toyota Sienna 2016 One Lap America Team, showing off their badges, showing they have donated to the charity.

 

More information on the Sienna One Lap program and the Toyota Engineering Motorsports team can be found at SiennaOneLapofAmerica.com as well as on  toyotaengineeringmotorsports.com. In addition, fans can follow along via Toyota’s FacebookTwitter, and Instagram channels.

 
Information on the One Lap of America event can be found at OneLapofAmerica.com.

The Toyota Sienna competitively racing against serious race cars in the 2016 One Lap America Series at Summit Point Raceway
The Toyota Sienna competitively racing against serious race cars in the 2016 One Lap America Series at Summit Point Raceway.

As they say while out racing, “Keep the Shinny Side UP!”

 

Words and Photos by William West Hopper

 

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Fun to Drive, Easy to Own, The Hyundai Veloster R-Spec is Both a Performance and and Economy Car.

The Hyundai Veloster R spec, a hot hatch at an economy car price.
The Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, a hot hatch at an economy car price.

This little 6 speed took me back to my 20’s, which made it the perfect car on the eve of my 59th birthday. Driving it, I found myself instinctively down shifting into stops, and apexing around the cloverleaf’s on the highway exits. What better way to start the celebration of almost six decades, than to have a fun sports car to drive, which is exactly what the Hyundai Veloster  is, and not what I was expecting!

Veloster Turbo has a Six Speed with a B&M Racng Sport Shifter.
The Hyundai Veloster Turbo has a Six Speed with a B&M Racng Sport Shifter.

 

 

 

 

Before this summer, I never put much thought into the Hyundai product line, thinking they were uninteresting, cheap, disposable, transportation, for people who did not enjoy driving. That all changed when I got to try out the Elantra during the introduction of the sport line to local journalists in July, and definitely changed after spending a week in the R-Spec Veloster.

 

 

Hyundai Veloster has a 7 inch touch screen in the center stack.
Hyundai Veloster has a 7 inch touch screen in the center stack.

First and foremost, I am impressed by the fit and finish as well as the materials used on the inside of Hyundai’s cars. What we often see on lower priced cars, and some pricier ones, is the use low cost materials, i.e. “cheap plastic.”  Not Hyundai, the Veloster’s dash and door trim were well designed with a hint reminiscing of carbon fiber, and felt like something that should be on a higher-end vehicle. The center display screen for the radio is not only large at seven inches, it is full color, and a touch screen, with adult sized touch points. The screen is a true provider of infotainment, feeding you plenty of information, from the rear view camera, to the Blue Max app showing how fuel efficient a driver you are. The 450 watt Dimension Premium Audio, with 8 speakers provides high end sound through any of the radio channels and the XM Sirius satellite service, and easily connected to an iPod or phone. Steering wheel mounted audio controls make changing the volume or channels effortless.

 

Studded chrome sport pedals are some of the many extras in the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, a lot of sports car, for very little money.
Studded chrome sport pedals are some of the many extras in the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, is a lot of sports car, for very little money.

Who would have thought this little Hyundai, would also be a performance car? The Veloster features fancy rubber studded pedals,bolstered front sport seats with matching sporty red seat belts, and a tight B&M Racing® Sport Shifter. And when you release the clutch and hit the gas the twin-scroll turbocharger hitched to the 1.6 dual continuously variable valve timed engine kicks it providing plenty of power, (201 HP with 195 lbs of torque @6k rpms,) mated to the 6-speed manual gearbox, there was an immediate response to getting off the line at any stop light. It is quite clear that the throaty growl of the exhaust is not just piped in performance driving music. Though I do have to admit I stalled it a couple of times, thinking that I was driving an economy car, instead of getting on it, like I would in a performance car. The Veloster wanted me to power it up!

2 doors on the right, 1 on the left, and a hatch in the back. Hyundai Veloster has doors where you will use them.
The Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, a hot hatch at an economy car price.

It is an economy car! Just one that makes you feel like you are driving a HOT Sports hatch.There is the question, is the Veloster a coupe or a sedan? With it’s water drop in the wind shape, with a .32 coefficient of drag, it has an odd configuration of three passenger doors. The Veloster has doors where you need them, two on the right, (sedan-like), one on the left, (coupe-like.) Let’s just call it a sports car, a economy minded performance hatchback.

 

 

Veloster features plenty of trunk space in the lift over hatch, put the rear sets down and you have a cargo hauler.
Veloster features plenty of trunk space in the lift over hatch, put the rear sets down and you have a cargo hauler.
Plenty of leg room, but not headroom, for two rear passengers in the Hyundai Veloster.
Plenty of leg room, but not headroom, for two rear passengers in the Hyundai Veloster.

Inside the Veloster is spacious, not at all claustrophobic, the front has plenty of room for the driver and passenger,  and there is leg room for two passengers in the back seats, though head room is limited. And when the rear seats are not in use, they can easily be put down to extend the already spacious deep trunk. Plenty of safety with  front, front side impact and curtain airbags. A concern I heard was the driver’s visibility out of the rear window, I did not experience any rear visibility issues, and setting the exterior side mirrors correctly, blind spots were minimized.

The rear window in the hatch of the Hyundai Veloster gives a clear view of what is behind you.
The rear window in the hatch of the Hyundai Veloster gives a clear view of what is behind you.

 

Hyundai Veloster R-Spec with a 6 speed manual comes at a $22,425 delivered price, and runs on regular fuel. A Performance Car for economy car money.

 

Hyundai Veloster R-Spec boasts a 1.6 twin scroll Turbo GDI puts out 201 horsepower and 195 lbs of torque.
Hyundai Veloster R-Spec boasts a 1.6 twin scroll Turbo GDI puts out 201 horsepower and 195 lbs of torque.

The base Veloster starts at $18,000 and the top-of-the-line Turbo model with an automatic transmission tops out at $23,800, not including any discounts you may be eligible for. Only two option packages are available, each cost $2,100: Technology, (more gadgets,) and Style (includes a sunroof and more goo-gahs.) There are a number of dealer installed accessories you may want to add to make one your own.

 

 

Sirus XM Radio is just one of the audio options on the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec.
Sirus XM Radio is just one of the audio options on the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec.

 

You will not be in a boring transportation appliance, between enough power and G-forces to push you back into your seat, and a raspy exhaust note, all in a car that drinks regular grade gasoline, and gives you 27 mpg, as we experienced.

 

Red leather bolstered seats & door inserts, and matching seat belts give the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec an sporty look and feel.
Red leather bolstered seats & door inserts, and matching seat belts give the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec an sporty look and feel.

The Veloster will make you feel like a kid again, it did for me! And at a price that takes away any guilt about buying a play toy to make driving fun again. While it will not impress those in their Ferrari’s, McLarens, or AMG’s, you will not be paying the costs for to keep up with that level of ego either. Then when the teen driver in the family is ready, you can let them drive it, and then you will be the coolest Uncle ever!

 

 

Where the real story is for this little sports car is the price tag for the R-Spec we tested, $22,425 delivered (not including tax tags etc), which includes $825 freight and handling

William West Hopper with the fun to drive 2016 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, that is also inexpensive to own.

William West Hopper with the fun to drive 2016 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, that is also inexpensive to own and to operate.

Words and photos by William West Hopper

 

Thanks to Hyundai USA for providing us the R-Spec Veloster to test out for a week.