Friday, August 3, 2018

My Climb to the Clouds

In 2011 I was starting to think that my next car would be a Subaru. When I took to YouTube to look up "Subaru Racing", the first thing that showed up was a recent record attempt up a mountain that hit home for me. David Higgins took a Vermont SportsCar-prepared Subaru WRX STI #75 up the Mt Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire where I grew up. By the end of his 6-minute streak up the twisty road to the 6,800 ft peak, I not only wanted a Subaru, but I also wanted to get into rally.


You could say I was bitten by the Rally bug hard. I've owned 5 Subarus, competed in 25 NRSCCA Rallycross events (so far), and have attended 3 National-level stage rally events since seeing that video 7 years ago. It's been so much fun learning, competing, and getting to know the community around rally. Starting out with local NRSCCA Rallycross events really got me hooked on competing not just for the thrill of racing, but the people who raced and worked at events were so encouraging and great to learn from. From there I met even more people in the rally community from all around the country by attending events when I could.

Recently, I decided to take a trip that would take me full-circle back to that initial spark that got me hooked on rallying. Nowadays I live 1,500 Miles away from that mountain, which accounts for a 22.5 Hour drive. Still, I took my own WRX STI wearing that familiar "#75" on the rear wing and made it to Mt Washington to drive up it myself. Upon arriving there were instantly memories of growing up there as a kid, but also remembering all the videos and in-car footage from the record attempts that I have watched over the years. I pulled up to where the starting line was, let the minivan full of kids get a nice long gap ahead of me, and set off up the mountain. 


I wasn't ripping up at full throttle by any means, but it was still a thrill to take that turn and feel that bump and see the sun flickering through trees. With the windows down, I could hear the rumble of my exhaust echoing through the canopy of trees overhead. As I got closer to the top, the treeline withered away as sharp rocks took their place. These narrow twisting bumpy roads I was climbing up had seen much faster cars and much braver drivers than I was, so it was humbling to think about the speed and talent that hurled these hillclimb drivers to the top. 

When I reached the 6,800 ft peak of Mt Washington, my cheekbones were killing me from all the smiling I had endured. Never before had just a few miles of road made me that satisfied. Somewhere between the long journey to get there, the trip in this car flying my hero's number on the wing, and the spectacular view from the top, I just had to pause for a moment to take it all in. It's not the tallest mountain in the world, it's not the longest hillclimb event ever, but just a few years ago I was watching professional rally drivers and hillclimb experts try to make their way up. Now here I was with my Subaru parked at the peak. Thinking of everything that had led me to this point really made me grateful for the support of the community that keep me coming back to race, to keep improving, and to share more experiences with people as crazy as I am... and then some.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

STI Intercooler Custom Shroud - Part 2

Measure twice, cut once.  It sounds simple, but it can lead to a few finicky hours of trial-and-error before you get things right.  That's not exactly why it's taken me a month between updates on this project, but it's all hopefully going to pay off!  My custom intercooler shroud for the STI is nearly done!

Part of what took so long was trying to decide exactly how to get the best airflow from the ViS Carbon Fiber Hood into my STI Intercooler.  I flip-flopped on several ideas before settling on this one.  Due to the fiberglass frame of the hood, I had to get creative with the back portion of the shroud.  The sides of the shroud are angled a bit, too and the curvature should flow well with the shape of the hood.  We cut back on the original design templates to account for engine movement, but the space between the shroud and the hood should still be mostly sealed with a rubber bumper running along each edge that meets the hood.

There's still a mesh cover to block bugs and rocks from bending the fragile intercooler fins that still needs to be added and a few brackets to fit this properly to the intercooler.  If final fitment goes well, it'll go on the car just in time for my 1,500 Mile journey to New England.  The mesh to block bugs and rocks from bending the fragile intercooler fins still needs to be added and a few brackets to fit this properly to the intercooler are really all that's left for this.

With no time left for snags, I'm really hoping the rest of this project goes smoothly so I can button it up and hit the road worry-free.  Part 3 of this will showcase the final product, so stay tuned!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

New England Bound

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, child and outdoorWhen I was a kid growing up in New Hampshire, I loved traveling with my family.  We'd load our '92 Ford Aerostar up with everything we needed and make the weekend trips to the beach or the mountains with family and friends.  From finding seashells to spotting the Old Man of the Mountain, adventure was never too far away in New Hampshire.  Even though I now live in Nebraska, it's always fun to go back and visit friends and family in the northeast.

Since moving to the Midwest, I've become a bit of a Subaru nut.  When I was first checking out Subaru, I was fascinated by the things I was finding.  I'll never forget the "how on earth did I miss this" feeling I got when I stumbled across footage of David Higgins scaling Mt Washington in New Hampshire in his WRX STI.  I had visited Mt Washington before and knew there was an auto road that went up it, but had no idea anyone would be crazy enough to race up it... let alone accomplish the feat in 6 minutes!  I saw that video in 2011.  Now I work for Subaru, follow Subaru Rally Team USA religiously, and proudly drive around a STI with "75 Higgins" stickers on it.  But there's still something I have yet to do: take my Subaru "Home".

If you've missed it, my 2016 WRX STI is clad in support for SRT USA and my rally heroes.  I've brought the car to the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood and Ojibwe Forests Rally, which are a short 7-hour drive from my home.  Now it's poised to make a 22-hour trek to the northeast so I can cheer on David Higgins and Craig Drew at one of the most spectacular rally events in the United States: the New England Forest Rally.  Nestled in the mountains between New Hampshire and Maine, it's the home event I never knew existed until I managed to settle in 1,500 miles away.  It's time to change that.

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, tree and outdoorImage may contain: sky and outdoorThis trip is a little more than 2-days worth of driving to see a rally.  For starters, it's my family vacation.  We'll be visiting friends and family in the area and staying in the mountains.  Recent trips have kept close to the beaches and cities, so it'll be refreshing to head back into the mountains after a long hiatus.  It'll also be a great time to be an uncle, as my 2-year-old Nephew who is coming along is a big fan of trains.  From the Conway Scenic Railroad to the Cog Railway to the top of Mt Washington, there should be no shortage of things to wow him.  This will also be the first time I've taken my wife to the mountains, as the other trips we've made together have been closer to the coast.  I'll have about a week with them to enjoy before the rally, so I'm looking forward to some great memories to come!

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, car and outdoorFor the New England Forest Rally, I'll be joined by a good friend of mine who is making the trip up just to attend it with me.  We went to Ojibwe Forest Rally together last year, his first rally, and had a blast so I'm glad to share this experience with him there.  With all the teams there, the great mountain passes to wind through, and the excitement of competition that weekend, there will be a lot to do.  I hope we have enough time to see everything NEFR has to offer!

July can't come soon enough!  I'm sure I'll have a lot to share when we get back!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

STI Intercooler Custom Shroud - Part 1

If you've got a carbon fiber hood for your WRX or WRX STI, chances are there's no ducting to properly feed air to the top-mounted intercooler (TMIC) diminishing it's effectiveness and effectively cutting performance.  Either that, or you've just gone and switched to a front-mount intercooler and the scoop is purely decorative at this point.  When I added my ViS Racing carbon fiber hood to my 2016 WRX STI, the first thing I knew I'd need to do was build something to channel air properly from the intake to the intercooler.  It's been about a year now since I got the hood and my temporary solution (a hacked-up piece of the OEM shroud) is just that: temporary.  Now that I've got some time, some ideas, and a deadline... it's time to get crackin!

That deadline, by the way, is this car's longest trip to-date.  I'm headed from my home in the Midwest to New Hampshire to watch the New England Forest Rally.  Since I don't feel comfortable driving 3,000 miles (round trip) with a temporary fix, that means this needs to be complete before I head out.

Most Subaru fans are familiar with the Subaru "Launch Control" YouTube Series.  In the very first season, they take a trip to Bucky Lasek's home and check out his STI.  He solved the same issue I'm tackling with a custom-built intercooler shroud, and I'm using that idea as the basis for this build with one extra element.  The shroud will be aluminium and covered in a heat-resistant powder coating.  The edges will be lined with a foam / rubber edge to complete the seal when the hood comes down to meet it.  However, the entire unit will be built around a protective mesh guard to keep rocks and bugs from dinging up the delicate intercooler fins.  For ease of installation and removal, the shroud will bolt to the outer edges of the stock STI intercooler.

Currently I'm mocking up pieces of cardboard to find clearances and build up a model that can be measured for dimensions to build the actual piece.  Part of the fiberglass frame on the ViS hood comes down right over the rear section of the STI intercooler, so getting the ducting to work around that has been a little tricky.  Also, the STI intercoole leans slightly to the passenger side (even unmodified STIs have this) so making sure each side has proper clearance is important.  The cardboard templates are done and I've made the cuts a little bit lower to account for engine movement.  A rubber seal around the edge of the shroud should keep any contact to a minimum and help create a good seal. when the hood is closed.  Once that's all sorted, it'll get measured and built!  More progress to come later!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Baja Blast: Methods and KO2s

After the Baja's turbocharged Boxer got rebuilt earlier this year, it also got a bit of a lift kit.  While nothing crazy, the 1" Spacers from Anderson Design Fabrication gave it a little more clearance.  This time the Baja gets taller by way of bigger angrier tires fitted to some of my favorite wheels ever!

Here's the Baja Blast as it sits on it's new METHOD 502 Rally VT Spec wheels and BF Goodrich KO2 tires!  They're 215/75 R15 and only needed minor tweaking to the inner fender well to get 'em to fit right without rubbing.  I could've gone with a smaller tire, but after seeing them on the car, I have no regrets.  Besides looking mean, these tires are nice and wide thanks to the offset of the Method wheels, which has helped give this Baja some well needed stability in the corners as well as adding to the already aggressive look of the All-Terrain tires.

The off-road capability of this little "truck" has been vastly improved.  Since getting them on, I've wasted no time in finding as many treacherous and tricky roads to test it out on.  With the ADF Lift fitted to OEM Suspension and the taller tires, the distance from the differential to the ground is 10.5 inches, so it hasn't had any trouble on Nebraska's B Roads.  The grip from these tires is incredible.  They drive fine for the daily commute on asphalt, but they really come alive on dirt, gravel, mud, really anything I managed to throw at it.  I even forded a small creek in my adventures!  Road noise isn't too much worse than it already was, but the 2006 Subaru Baja wasn't known for a whisper-quiet ride to begin with.  And thanks to the wider offset provided by the Method wheels, it doesn't feel as top-heavy or unstable during tight cornering. 

I've already driven 300 miles on this setup and am absolutely satisfied with how they perform and feel.  Then, once I'm out of the car to take a picture of whatever terrain I've managed to tackle, I'm also drawn to how much more aggressive this Baja looks because of 'em.  Whether it's dirty from it's latest excursion or cleaned up, the meaty tires, wider stance, and added height these add makes me really glad I went with this setup.

Time to go have more adventures!

Friday, May 11, 2018

WRX: The Badge Tax

What's in a name?  Pedigree, reputation, past achievements, something important that gives a name value.  So when you consider the gap in cost between a WRX to a WRX STI to a WRX STI Type RA, those names printed on fancy badges need to make sense.  A name can't stand on fluff alone, so I decided to give these three tenants of Subaru performance a hard look to see if these cars put their money where the mile marker is or if it's just a case of "The Badge Tax".

We'll start at the very beginning.  The very best place to start.  The figures being used are all based around 2018 MSRP without any extra destination fees, accessories, or Honda Civic Type R dealer markup.  Even if we were to add all those things, it's likely that the price gap between each of our three turbocharged sedans would stay the same.
2018 Subaru WRX: $26,995 USD
2018 Subaru WRX STI: $36,095 USD
2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA: $48,995 USD
Straight away, there's some very noticable gaps in price for a car that basically looks the same across all three lines with different things attached to the trunk serving as the only obvious aesthetic differentiation points.  The jump from a WRX to the WRX STI will tack an additional $9,100 to the price tag while step from the STI to the Type RA sits at $12,900.  Another step back from those staggering figures shows that a base model WRX is $22,000 less than the top tier Type RA.  That's enough difference to allow the WRX owner to purchase another car!  Surely, there's got to be some sense to these gaps.

To start us off, the base model WRX comes equipped with a 2.0 liter Turbocharged Boxer 4 developing 268 horsepower.  It's mated to a 6-Speed Transmission and a Continuous All-Wheel Drive System.  Cloth upholstery, 17 inch wheels, and some basic infotainment round out the rest of the equipment.  At the WRX's core, all we're really changing from here are interior creature features, engine and drivetrain components, exterior flair, and badges.  Again, if you strip each of these three cars we're comparing down to the unibody frame, you'll find they're all the same car.

Our first price jump goes from the WRX to the WRX STI.  Those extra three letters change quite a bit inside and out.  The interior gets Leather and Alcantara trimmed upholstery, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, windshield wiper de-icers, and nicer infotainment.  Outside things improve with LED Low/High beam steering-responsive headlights, 6-Piston Brembo brakes with drilled rotors, 19 inch wheels, STI tuned suspension, and a big "please pull me over, Officer" spoiler.  To ensure the Officer has something to pull you over, the STI gets a 2.5 liter Turbocharged Boxer 4 developing 305 horsepower.  It's mated to a 6-Speed close-ratio transmission and a fancier All-Wheel Drive System along with a Driver Controlled Center Differential and a "SI Drive" that allows you to select between 3 different drive maps.  To get a WRX to perform like this and to have those fancy creature comforts, you'd have to do a hefty bit of upgrades.

You could argue that it would take less than $9,100 to upgrade a base model WRX to perform like a STI, but there's still all the "value added" creature comforts that add around $2,500 to that alone.  So even if we figure about $5,500 for the performance upgrades, there's $1,100 unaccounted for.  There's our "Badge Tax".  I was expecting that.

Now we're onto the bigger gap.  From the WRX STI to the WRX STI Type RA, there's $12,900 to make up.  All of your creature comforts remain the same on the inside, although the front seats upgrade to "Recaros", a Push-Button Start with a fancy Key Fob, and a Ultrasuede-wrapped steering wheel adds a sporting touch.  Minus that steering wheel upholstery, the other two options would run you $2,500 more on a base STI, so we'll factor that in at the end.  The 2.5 liter Boxer 4 Engine now makes 310 Horsepower (5 more) with reinforced pistons, a high-flow air intake system, a high-flow exhaust system, and retuned ECU.  Add 19-inch lightweight forged BBS gold alloy wheels and High performance Bilstein® STI Sport Tuned suspension to the mix and it's a sharper car than before.  There's also a revised 3rd gear ratio for better mid-range acceleration, an adjustable STI Carbon Fiber rear wing, a STI Front bumper under spoiler, air outlets in the rear bumper, and the whole roof is Carbon Fiber for reduced weight.

Outside of the Carbon Fiber bits, the rest feel like tweaks to the existing STI parts instead of entirely different components (like you get between the WRX and the STI).  The improvements to performance are the key to making the STI Type RA a special car, but to figure in $10,000 or so (+ those interior bits we figured in) in the price gap goes to a roof, a wing, and some altered STI parts seems like a stretch.  I'm not entirely certain how much it would actually cost to upgrade all those things in a stock STI, but I'd hazard a guess that there's a hefty bit of "Badge Tax" worked into that price.  I would also hazard a guess that putting $10k into a WRX STI would gain you more than 5 extra horsepower and tighter handling... but that's just a guess.

The Badge Tax is in full swing with each upgrade.  With performance comes pedigree that enthusiasts would (and sometimes do) follow off a cliff.  Some would rather go basic and build a racecar to their liking from the ground up.  If you took a standard WRX and used $22,000 worth of upgrades, you'd likely end up with a machine that far exceeds the production STI and STI Type RA.  Heck, you could even just keep the standard WRX and buy a second Impreza with that kind of money!  If you'd rather STI do the work for you, it's a matter of HOW much work you'd really like done.  While that badge certainly can mean something to people, it'll take a diehard to truly appreciate the details that make up the Type RA.  500 of them to be exact.

At it's core, all three are still a WRX.  STI owners can complain about seeing their wings worn on "undeserving WRXs", and Type RAs are certainly going to be a fitting sendoff for the EJ257, so it'll really come down to what the owner wants to get out of the experience.  If you want something enough, you'll find a way to justify whatever cost it takes to attain it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

10 Years of Gymkhana - Ken Block's Beginnings

Ken Block.  I really can't think of an easy way to describe him without a ridiculously long run-on sentence.  From his start in rallying to the head of Hoonigan Racing to all the products and swag he's created and supported over the years, there's just too much to cover.  A big part of his success today stems from a series of videos bearing the "Gymkhana" name.  2018 will mark not only the 10th year of that, but the release of the highly anticipated "Gymkhana Ten" where he'll travel to 5 different locations with 5 different cars being featured.  But amidst all the reminiscing I've seen over these, there's one thing that's been overlooked: it started with a Subaru.

Yeah, I know.  I'm a big Subaru fanboy.  And I used to be one of those "Ken shouldn't have left Subaru for Ford" people, but I eventually figured out why it was best that he made the switch.  Leaving Subaru was probably the smartest (and hardest) decision Kenny from the Block has made.  From achieving his dreams in competing in the World Rally Championship to building an incredibly successful franchise for himself, there's no plausible way I could say that leaving Subaru was a mistake.  If you're still whining about Ken's departure from Subaru like I was, you're missing the big picture.  Ken did what it took to be successful and achieve his dreams.  It just turned out that he couldn't do that with Subaru.

That being said, we can't celebrate 10 years of Gymkhana by just looking back at the last 8 years with Ford.  Therefore, my inner Subaru fanboy is turning the dial back two years before Block and Ford hooked up.  It wasn't even called "Gymkhana One".  Ken's first foray into becoming a YouTube sensation was in a 2-year-old Subaru in a run-down airfield.  Still, this is where Ken took Gymkhana from just cone-dodging and box drills to an elaborate cinematic choreographed spectacle of smoking tires and sideways driving.  Clipping past entire buildings, driving circles around a man driving a Segway, spinning figure-8s through a hangar... Gymkhana was redefined with this single video.



In the wake of that initial success, Ken took it another step further.  This time he did it with a shiny new 2008 Subaru WRX STI tuned by Crawford Performance, his friend Rob Dyrdek, and DC Shoes right in the spotlight.  Then take the same insane driving that got him famous with Gymkhana Practice, give that film team a pay raise, drizzle in shameless product placement, and you've got a recipe for a smashing sequel.  "Gymkhana Two: The Infomercial" checked all the boxes with flashier filming, explosions, tire-slaying driving, and Dyrdek got to shoot Ken with a paintball gun.  What's not to like?



While Gymkhana Practice was responsible for getting things started, the tone that Gymkhana Two set propelled the rest of the series forward.  These two films created the spark that would ignite the internet and fuel Ken's continued pursuit of creating some of the most jaw-dropping viral videos to date.  As the stunts, cars, and locations get more and more extreme with each production, we owe some thanks to Ken and his Subaru for starting things off right.