Author's Note: While the Porsche in the feature image isn't a rallycross car, it's well known that 911s have been used throughout its extensive history for rally racing. The air-cooled 930, 964 and 993 were particularly capable due to their light weight, mechanical resilience and short, agile wheelbase. But I digress. The real reason I featured it is because it's one of my favourite photographs I've taken over the years and the paint-job matched the title of this post perfectly. I'm a sucker for a well executed pun. Even not so well executed ones.
Let's get started:
As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm a bit of a motorsports tourist. There are simply so many aspects I love about cars and driving that I never really settled down and dedicated myself to one car or one form of driving. While HDPE aka track days are as close to racing as an everyday driver can get and an incredibly fulfilling, without a cage, it also wouldn’t mind killing you. Then there's autocross or as I called it, twerking. Is it fast? Yes... well sort of. Is it challenging? Absolutely. Will you test your driving talents? Also, yes. Is autocross an enchanting driving experience that leaves you fully satisfied at the end of the day leaving you no choice but to come back for more? In my opinion, not really. By the end of my day at Dirt Fish rally school in Washington state, I was ready to trade in my B5 S4 project car for a WRX or just buy an old Fiesta to thrash just so I could get back out there as quickly and often as possible. I confess to searching the web for Fiestas and early naturally aspirated WRXs for weeks despite my wife’s protest. So what made the difference? What is the concoction that makes rallycross so danged attractive?
The answer is rally driving takes deep technical skill, but also quite a a bit of art, timing and intuition. It’s that sand between your toes phenomenon that somehow feels better than wearing shoes. There is hard acceleration and sharp turns but when done well, they flow into one another and one almost feels the sensation of low altitude flying. That's something I only recall feeling during the accent and decent of grades and lateral Gs of road course driving.
One of the most difficult things to get used to on your first day of rally driving is that your controls are all backward. Obviously, it's not the steering wheel or the brakes that are fitted wrongly. It's your brain. For example, in order to turn on a lose surface at speed, you lift, turn, then brake. In every other driving experience I'd had, you brake, turn then accelerate. When the good people at DirtFish told me this in the classroom, anxiety washed over me. I thought to myself, am I going to be one of those students with just enough driving experience that I won't be able to transition into this new doctrine? Will I be lapped by automotive newbies and motorsport lookyloiuz? There was a person in the class that had never driven a manual car before (which were mandatory) and who was only there because her husband thought it would be fun. That's the driver, I thought to myself. That's the driver who because of her inexperience, will absorb this new style of driving and I on the other hand would fail to launch. And my ego would be battered beyond recognition.
What were my bad habits? As mentioned, on a loose surface, you only suggest which direction the car should go with the steering wheel. You actually change its direction with your feet. One catch... you can do it the right way or the wrong way. My road course driving experience had me lifting, turning, braking like instructed and then powering out of the apex. That last bit of powering out, gave me a nice little power slide and I was quite pleased with myself, but my instructor was banging his head against the wall. His feed back was, yes, your moving quick and yes your keeping the car stable, but your wasting time. Slide into the turn, not out of it.
I thought to myself... Why would you slide if you’re already done turning? Light bulb. What I needed was even more brake while turning in. This was the most difficult thing to unlearn. Once I did, however, things started to make sense. Apply hard brake and the tires dig in and carve a turn like a pair of giant slalom skies. Once I slid into and not out of my first turn, the euphoria set in and I wanted to feel that sense of accomplishment, skill and speed over and over again. Transferring to left foot braking was less a bother for me. I’ve always dabbled in left foot braking and heel toeing during street driving for fun and doing it at speed only sharpened the practice.
The instruction was great. And here’s the proof. I had purchased the video game, Dirt 4 for my Xbox One and stopped playing it within an hour or two due to the frustration of not being able to steer. After my day at dirt fish, I started playing the game again and instantly was able to not only finish stages, but increase my difficulty levels and beat previous stage times. I know it’s just a game, but these days, the physics in games are becoming a great learning tool for what you’ll do in the real world. But how do they really stack up to strapping yourself into a real live fire breathing beast? I’ll talk about that next.
In signing off, I will say that rallycross is the ultimate motorsport for the everyday driver. Essentially, you get all of the sensations of road course driving at about a third of the speed. This makes rallycross massively appealing for folks that aren’t necessarily ready to sacrifice their daily to the Gods of caged track driving and can’t afford to purchase or rent caged cars and all of the stipulations it comes with. Rally circuits are a different thing entirely. They need arguably the most expensive and comprehensive gages and safety tech. If I ever get there, believe me, you’ll read about it at CAFFEINE GT.