Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Still a Rally Car

When the WRX STI first came to the US fifteen years ago, it was an out-of-the-box rally car.  Raw, rumbly, and ready for the rough stuff, it was honest about it's intentions.  Over time, I had thought that the WRX STI had become diluted with frills and convenience features and lost sight of that.  However, if there's one thing the WRX STI has been criticized for: it's the aging driveline still at it's core.  Regardless of what shell it's attached to, the guts that made the first car great are still there... and that has never been more obvious than last weekend.

That's because last weekend I was forced to use my 2016 WRX STI Series.HyperBlue in a local rallycross event as my '99 RS was having suspension issues.  Brilliantly, I had sold my all-season tires for the STI a month before and had nothing but summer tires to run on.  Still, I needed to get through the event and I knew if I just took it easy, this street car would be fine.  After it's first surprisingly good lap... I had a feeling I could open it up a little more.  Then a little more after that.  And after a few laps finding the limits of Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires on dirt, I had managed to land the second fastest time of the day.  Oh, and that was 2 tenths off of the fastest time set that day by a 6-time SCCA Rallycross Champion.  

Sure it's got push-button start and a Harman Kardon audio system.  But the beating heart of the WRX STI that came to us years ago is still in there... and it still knows what to do.  This car really impressed me given that I had a generous helping of power with minimal grip at my disposal, but I found speed and confidence with a car I had expected to only be good for some pretty pictures.

I can only imagine what this car would've done with some more appropriate tires.  In fact, I'm starting to wonder why I don't use this instead of my '99 Impreza Coupe.  Despite all the creature features and the slammed tuner brotella vape scene that has been associated with some of these newer cars, it's so great to see how capable and focused this car still is.

Monday, April 24, 2017

WRX STi: Get a GRiP!

The iconic "Boxer Rumble" of the Subaru WRX STI, brought out by Unequal Length (or UEL) headers, may be going the way of the Dodo by 2020.  When I decided to finally give mine some aftermarket exhaust, I spent a lot of time researching to find the right one.  Reading reviews, watching YouTube videos, and talking with owners helped me get an idea of the different features, designs, and brands available to get the "right" sound.  Of course, there's not really any one right answer for this.  There are trade-offs and compromises to everything, so finding the right mix is important.

For me, it came down to minimizing cabin drone and producing a throaty rumble without being too obnoxious.  When my research was complete, the exhaust I felt had the best of these characteristics was the ARK GRiP Catback Exhaust.  This exhaust utilizes Helmholtz resonators to alter the sound of the exhaust note and for differences in power delivery by adding two chambers to the exhaust.  In turn, these resonators help cancel out unpleasant frequencies of sound in the exhaust.  This technology and build quality comes at a price, so to save money, I managed to find one that was used and in great shape!

I paired this exhaust system with a Grimmspeed Catless Downpipe (now out of production), a Grimmspeed Electronic Boost Controller, an Innovate Motorsports LC-2 Digital Wideband, and had it professionally tuned by Boosted Performance Tuning.  Numbers are running around 300whp and around 330tq.  The power increase is instantly noticeable and, thanks to the added flow of the downpipe, there's a significant reduction in turbo lag.  It's also more consistent and predictable so driving it is even more of a blast than before.  Installation was relatively simple for everything.  The only thing that tends to be a pain is the STI's intercooler, which needed to be removed to install the Downpipe and heat shield.

Overall I'm incredibly happy with it.  All the sound I love without ruining the cabin with obnoxious drone.  Put up the windows and you can still talk to the passenger while you row through the gears.  Add in the music being created by the ARK GRiP exhaust and it's too easy to smile with each pull.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rallycross Super Weekend 2017

On April 22nd and 23rd, the Nebraska Region SCCA Rallycross program hosted a Super Weekend at I-80 Speedway.  Saturday saw a Rallycross School instructed by veteran drivers during the day with a Twilight Rallycross competition held in the evening under the stars.  Sunday served as the main points event with a full day of competition.  Given that the first two events before this had been cancelled due to poor site conditions, participants were eager to hit the dirt in this 2-Day event.  

Students worked with national-level talent during the Rallycross School.  Instructors Jon Simmons and Alex Reinkordt are both Rallycross veterans and have extensive experience.  They teamed up with Jan Gerber, a 5-Time SCCA Rallycross Champion, to help students improve their rallycross skills considerably.  Tie that in with hours of invaluable seat time and two consecutive competition events to put their new abilities to work and the Rallycross school was a big hit!  
The Twilight Rally, held at dusk going into the cover of night, saw record turnout.  18 competitors drove through a Glow-Stick marked course adapted from the Rallycross School held earlier in the day.  Dry and Dusty conditions paired with a setting sun made visibility a challenge, but the group powered through and kept the pace right up to the final run.  Some competitors even saw their times improve despite the low visibility!
The weekend continued with Sunday's Rallycross Points event for the NRSCCA.  26 competitors were welcomed by dry sunny conditions and a gentle breeze to help move the clouds of dirt and dust along for each pass.  Using a course adapted from the previous two events, competition went strong through morning and afternoon heats.  There were a few stops for mechanical issues and a course adjustment for safety near the end of the day, but everything ran smoothly.  

You can see my photos from this event in my Flickr album.  Pictures for this event start on Page 2.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Refreshed Outback adds More

Alongside the mid-cycle refreshes for the 2018 WRX STI and 2018 Legacy, the Outback is poised to take yet another step towards refinement.  Since it's redesign as a 2015 model, the Outback has built on and improved it's flagship status for Subaru.  The changes for it's 2018 version (being released in the Summer of 2017) go further than the usual updates Subaru usually addresses.

Space and size remain as they had from the 2015-2017 Outback models, but the entire infotainment system in the Outback has been revamped to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  The display itself is larger, has better resolution, and multi-gesture touch control has been improved from the previous system.  The climate controls just below the 8" Touchscreen have also been revamped and simplified.  

Among other interior updates, the Outback receives an additional interior color option: Titanium Gray.  The existing Slate Black and Warm Ivory interiors remain as well as the Java Brown leather that is exclusive to the "Touring" trim levels.  That's a total of four different interior colors available on the Outback (double what was offered in 2015).

There's the usual suspects for updates on the exterior.  New steering-responsive headlights grace the redesigned front bumper and grille.  There's also new 18" wheels for the Limited trim Outbacks.  Enhancements made throughout the Subaru Outback chassis include revamped suspension dampers for a smoother ride, along with retuned Electronic Power Steering and brake systems for a more direct feel.

Subaru's quietest riding vehicle just got quieter.  The Lineartronic CVT for 2.5i models now uses a quieter short-pitch chain, and adjustments to engine timing under acceleration that reduces powertrain noise. It's reshaped exterior mirrors, new sound-insulating glass for the front side windows, and thicker rear wheel well aprons all reduce cabin noise.

For revisions that will only stick around for the 2018 and 2019 model years, seeing this level of improvement is impressive.  These updates will keep the Outback competitive and fresh until it moves to the Subaru Global Platform in 2020.   

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Next Stage - "Higgins Blue" STI

When I first picked up my Series.HyperBlue WRX STI in October of 2015, it was the quickest car I had ever owned.  For the first few months of driving, I was convinced the car was driving me around but after I got used to the power, I had a better understanding of how to use it without getting out of sorts.  Shortly after, I had it tuned by a professional to smooth out the power and make the car more predictable to use and have really enjoyed it.  But now it's time to take my "Higgins Blue" STI another notch up.

It took me awhile to even decide if I wanted to start modifying this car at all.  The subtle rumble from the exhaust, the point-and-click passing power, it's still fun.  There's more power that can be tapped into without going bonkers under the hood.  More free-flowing exhaust and boost control can go a long way, so I did a little research through the seemingly endless supply of forums, online stores, and reviews to find some things to get to the next stage.  "Stage 2, Bro!"

Cliche tuner culture remarks aside, I'm getting it all put together this month.  A GrimmSpeed Catless Downpipe, GrimmSpeed Turbo Heat Shield, GrimmSpeed Electronic Boost Controller, Innovate Wideband, and a ARK GRiP Catback Exhaust should transform how this car moves.  More power, less turbo lag, and better control throughout the powerband... not to mention the music that the ARK GRiP will create out of the Titanium quad tips.  There aren't many other folks in my area using this exhaust either, so getting something unique was a plus.  It also will reduce cabin drone, which will make long trips a little easier on my ears.

Once it's all installed, I'm off to go get it tuned the next day and be ready to roll just in time for the Wednesday Night Meet.  I'll post an update with sound clips once it's all done!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Behind the Boxersled

While one Higgins is dominating the American rally circuit, the other is seemingly doing Subaru's stunt work.  Mark Higgins, brother of rally champion David Higgins, has undertaken several challenges behind the wheel of a Subaru in the last few years.  Most of these have been in the form of tackling the Isle of Man's "TT Course" for motorcycles in a Subaru WRX STI.  However this year Subaru decided to send Mark down a different course intended for a different craft altogether: bobsleds.

The bobsleigh track used is the oldest in the world.  St Mortiz-Celerina was home to the bobsleigh events for the 1928 and 1948 Olympics.  While the track has changed over the years, for 2017 it was 1,722 meters long with an elevation difference of 130 meters and an average grade of 8.14%.

St Mortiz-Celerina hosts Bobsleigh runs from November until February or March, so Subaru's stunt was scheduled just before the track dismantling began.  Running a car with studded tires through a bobsleigh course is obviously not ideal for future events but because the course is a natural track and it is rebuilt every year, the changes made for Subaru were not detrimental to the regular bobsleigh season.  Sections of the course obviously needed to be widened in order to fit a 2017 Subaru WRX STI down the track.

In 2016, Mark Higgins drove a Prodrive-prepared WRX STI to shatter the record set at the Isle of Man TT Course.  Nearly the entire car was modified to wring every ounce of performance out to tackle that challenge.  For this event, the 2017 WRX STI used for this run remained mostly stock aside from some necessary safety improvements..  A roll cage was added and a reinforced bumper beam was fitted behind the bumper skin to help if the car slid into the icy walls.  Minor modifications were made to the edges of the front and rear bumpers to help protect the car from those walls, too.  For grip, they added narrower studded tires fitted to Speedline Corse rally wheels but the rest was up to Mark.

Before these changes were made, Mark went for a run in a bobsleigh with Olympic Medalist Sean Olsson.  The run revealed that this would be much more than an icy run in a Subaru down the side of a mountain.  In most road courses, banked turns help guide cars around twisty sections and this is true of a bobsleigh course.  However, the banking is incredibly extreme, especially the "Horseshoe" section, where the car is practically horizontal to level ground as it whips around the corner.  Entering the corner is relatively easy, but exiting and straightening out is a different story.  The car's larger size and weight had a dramatic effect on cornering and the peak of those effects could be seen at the tail end of the run.  Thanks to the grip provided by the studded tires, the control through the car, and the abilities of Mark Higgins, the car managed to make it to the bottom in one piece (mostly).

To continue the showcase of Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, he turned right around in the same car and rocketed back up to the starting point.  It's an excellent display of what this car is capable of even with just a few changes made to it.  One could argue that it's an even better display of what this car can do in the capable hands of a professional, and Mark Higgins certainly earned a space in the record books for his incredible abilities behind the wheel!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

5 Years with Subarus

5 Years ago today, I picked up a 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Hatchback from Stan Olsen Subaru (now Baxter Subaru).  There's really been no looking back since then!  Ask anyone who knows me.  I bleed Subaru!

On the one hand, yeah I could probably be "Brand Bias" which can easily be frowned upon.  However, in the last 5 years, the experiences I've had with Subaru ownership and the community I've discovered around it, it's become a great part of my life.  Are Subarus the best cars ever built?  No, I'm not sure anyone can make that claim 100%.  But with everything I've experienced with Subaru so far, it's been the best for me.

Literally the day after I bought my car, I went to a local Subaru meet.  I already knew a couple of the guys there.  A friend had taken me to a meet even before I owned my Impreza.  But there were tuners, outdoor adventurers, mechanics, daily drivers, such a wide variety of people who enjoyed these cars but all came together to hang out.  Many of the people I met through those first couple of meets have become great friends over the years.  They've helped me fix my car, fix my house, come over for dinner, gone on trips together, it's a whole family!  I would've missed the chance to meet them had I owned something else.

Through owning Subarus, I've also been introduced to Rallying.  It's gone from casually watching videos online to building and competing with my own Rallycross car, to going to a Stage Rally to spectate and see this awesome form of motorsport unfold before me.  And now, thanks to people I've met through going to events, I'm going to start the pursuit of actually competing in a Stage Rally someday!  If you had asked me 6 years ago "hey Mike, are you ever going to be a rally driver?" I'd probably ask "what's that?".  It's been so fun working towards this new goal and the road taken so far has been rewarding!

Since I picked up that 2012 Impreza, I've had a few Subarus.  In September of 2013 I picked up a Project Car: a 2000 Impreza 2.5 RS Coupe in need of some serious care.  I turned that into a rallycross machine and sold it to a friend of mine.  In October of 2015 I picked up a 2016 WRX STI Series.HyperBlue and donned "Higgins 75" logos on the wing to support and commemorate the Perfect Season he and Craig Drew had that year.  Last summer I replaced my '00 Impreza rallycross car with a "new" '99 Impreza 2.5 RS Coupe and have been competing with that car now.

The running joke among my friends and family has been "If you know Mike, you either own a Subaru now or you will."  My Wife had a '04 Outback and has a '15 Forester XT now.  My mom has a '13 Outback.  My dad had a '14 Forester that he gave to my sister after he got a '16 Forester.  My father-in-law has had two Legacies and a Crosstrek.  Most of the Groomsmen in my wedding own Subarus, too!  These cars have taken care of the people I care about, so I keep recommending them to friends and family.

Consider this my "Thank You" to everything Subaru.  From the people who built my car in Japan to the friends I can now call 'family' that I've met over the years, thanks for all the great experiences so far!  Here's to "what's to come"