Under ConstructionIn issue #169, we highlighted the parts and processes that went into converting a 2015 Subaru Impreza WRX into a rally racecar to compete in Rally America’s Super Production class. While Todd McAllister of Team Driven to Find a Cure was set to pilot the car, we worked with Ralli Candi shop owner, Brent Smith, to build and prepare it for rally racing. The brutal conditions of dirt and gravel, boulders, jumps and more over the course of over 100 miles called for stronger vehicle components, particularly in the unsprung weight items that would take a majority of the abuse. This led us to a set of 15-inch Enkei RC-G4 wheels, wrapped in Maxxis Victra R19 rally-specific tires to put power down to the ground and carry the car through corners. Feal Suspension’s 460 coilovers sit on all four corners, featuring a high-strength monotube design and custom damping settings to deliver cornering performance throughout a race weekend. Inside the car, a Fleet Works Services rally-spec roll cage protects the vehicle occupants, who strap into a pair of Sparco Pro-ADV racing seats with Sparco six-point harnesses.
The Co-Driver SeatEvery rally racecar requires two personnel to compete: a driver and a co-driver. You can guess what the driver’s primary job is, so what does the co-driver do? First, picture the types of roads you commonly find in rally. They weave through forests, up mountains and across largely untouched wilderness. Given the varied environments, many obstacles like hills and jumps, bridges, narrow pathways and deceptively sharp turns will be part of nearly every rally event. Rally racing does not allow its participants to practice any of the stages beforehand, leaving the driver nearly clueless for what to expect of the road ahead. This is where the co-driver steps in, providing directions and essential information to the driver. Due to the high speeds and vast quantity of information that must be communicated to the driver, co-drivers read the pace notes aloud nearly nonstop, describing the upcoming two or three turns ahead. A successful driver and co-driver pairing can send the team to a flawless win, however a single bad call in navigation can potentially end the race weekend with a wadded up ball of what used to be a car. At this level of racing, there’s no room for error.
Communication BreakdownOur rally weekend took off to a great start, however, any race weekend wouldn’t be complete without its share of challenges. On day three, we rolled up to the first of the final five stages and discovered that McAllister and I lost radio communications due to faulty wiring. This meant that at speed, no matter how loud I’d yell, he wouldn’t hear my directions. After taking only the first few turns without direction, I resorted to reviving my old driver coaching methods of hand signals. Through a series of pointing out turns, specifying their severity and signaling other basic instructions, we completed the first three stages of the day, albeit slow, but at least safe. A quick trip through service before the final two stages of the weekend provided us time to rig up a quick repair to the radio system, check over the car and get to the next stage start.
Kickoff in PortlandThe 2016 Oregon Trail Rally began at Portland International Raceway, a scenic racetrack nestled near the heart of the city. This venue served as the location of the first four stages of the weekend’s 18 stage rally, utilizing sections of the paved track, mixed with gravel access roads and other off-road sections. With only nine total racing miles taking place here, I wanted to use this opportunity to learn the essentials of navigating and timecard tracking. However, with these first four stages taking place at night and the provided pace notes being full of errors, I found myself with few tools to navigate and McAllister was thus tasked with having to drive based only on what he could see. It was a shaky start to the weekend, giving me no chance to practice reading out pace notes, yet day two lay just around the corner and would introduce the most dangerous roads of the entire event.
On the EdgeThe second day of the Oregon Trail comprised a total 64 racing miles split between stages five through 12, varying between glass-smooth tarmac and rough gravel roads. Half of the stages included blind crests and corners, and ran along unforgiving mountainsides that dropped hundreds of feet down. Roads like these demand full trust between the driver and co-driver, with serious consequences for any errors. To our advantage, my pace notes were on point and we quickly found a good rhythm of communication in the beginning stages of the day.
Project SuccessIn the normal fashion of rally racing, the Oregon Trail Rally proved itself to be a battle of attrition. Out of the 48 total cars that entered the weekend, only 32 made it to the end. Although our WRX finished the race successfully, the underside of the car reflected the abuse that 100 miles of rallying can cause. Dents and dings filled nearly the length of the exhaust, front skid plate and fuel tank, and one of the suspension arms on the left rear wheel folded in on itself, likely from the final jump. Despite the strain on the suspension components, the Feal 460 coilovers survived the rally, looking and performing like new. The wheels and tires frequently take a bulk of the abuse in rally, being the point of contact with the road. However, the Enkei RC-G4 wheels and Maxxis Victra R19 tires held together throughout the weekend, without a single puncture or debeading. The tires not only held up through all three days, but they maintained their level of grip and showed very little wear.
Our 2015 Subaru WRX handled the entire rally fantastically to the end. However, it wasn’t completely void of damage. Bumps and rocks took their toll on the exhaust and fuel tank, and the final jump bent a suspension arm.