Friday, May 19, 2017

Launch Control Season 5 Release!

For most "petrol heads", the words Launch Control usually refers to an electronic aid drivers accellerate quickly from a standing start. Supercars, Hypercars, fancy exotics, hoonigan machines, they've usually got something like this to get them off the line in a flurry of smoke. For Subaru Fans, Launch Control usually signals something else: it's time to watch rally!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My '12 Impreza Modifications

It's "Throwback Thursday" so I thought I'd write up an article on a car I get questions about weekly.  From blog comments to e-mails to NASIOC messages, I'm always surprised how many questions I receive about the 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i that I owned.  The car started life as a base model with a CVT and I did a good amount of modifications to it before I sold it.  There aren't many folks out there modifying these 4th Generation Imprezas so, when I was doing my own research for the car, I learned quickly that a lot of what I wanted to do hadn't really been done before.  I relied heavily on the experience of those around me.  From local Subaru enthusiasts to friends at the dealership I work at, I was able to learn a lot and get things to work the way I had hoped on the car.

2012 Subaru Impreza 
In this post, I'm hoping to answer a lot of the common questions I get about my Impreza Hatchback.  Below, the modifications are listed with links to more details about them.  Otherwise, this might be a pretty long read if I list everything about each modification!  Enjoy!!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Co-Driving with Craig Drew

On April 15th and 16th there was a special Co-Driving Course held at DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, WA.  Heading up the instruction was Craig Drew of Subaru Rally Team USA.  Craig and David have won the last 6 Rally America National Championships together and I've been following this duo since I got hooked on rallying in 2011.  To learn about co-driving from one of my rally heroes was an incredible experience, one that I won't soon forget.  Not only was this a great amount of fun, but the detailed information Craig shared with us about his job as a co-driver was engaging and eye-opening.  There's so much more to Co-driving than I ever imagined!

The class began on Saturday with introductions of the classmates we'd be working with.  There was a wide variety of talent in the room.  Some were like me, new to rallying with little-to-no experience outside of spectating.  Others were doing regional and national level rallies and seeking to build on what they already knew.  Craig's instruction really catered to everyone, explaining the basics while also giving insight and details that veterans could use to strengthen and build upon what they already knew.  

We focused a lot on the duties and preparation a co-driver takes on before a rally.  The amount of pre-event work was surprising to me at first, but his motto rang true: If you Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail.  There's so many things going on during the weekend of a rally that, if your team isn't properly organized, you're already at a disadvantage before the car even hits the first stage.  Craig stressed the importance of preparation but also gave us helpful tips and things to check that would make things work out easier.  He's done this once or twice.

In the mind of an enthusiast, people like Craig Drew can seem like super heroes.  He made it a point to compare things between his Championship-level work with SRT USA and his beginning days with privateer teams to give a proper perspective on the scope of work being done.  This made the instruction much more accessible to people like me who could easily seem in over our heads with top-level advice.  As long as the basic skills needed to be a good co-driver existed, there was a confidence that these abilities could be built upon to get to a level like this as long as the desire to get there existed.

The second day was a bit more hands-on.  After a morning of studying and creating pacenotes, our class headed out to the WRX STIs at DirtFish Rally School.  Piloted by the instructors for the school, these mobile classrooms were the best opportunity for us to take what we had learned and put it to use.  Craig's setup simulated elements of an actual rally.  We took a 2-Pass Recce through the course with the drivers to get our pacenotes set.  Craig checked our notes after our runs to help us tweak them to flow better and be easier to read at speed.  Before we did our first run at speed, Craig had set up a timecard for us to use to check in at the start.  After we got through the time controls, it was time to get our pacing down with the notes as the instructors whipped us through the course at competition speed.  Each student got 3 runs at speed to help us make adjustments as we went through.  After every run, Craig checked in with the driver and co-driver to get feedback and see if there were more adjustments to be made and any advice he could give to help improve the next run.  

The instructors were easy to work with, too.  At times during our runs at speed they would chime in over the intercom to give us feedback for the pace of the notes being delivered which helped us make necessary adjustments on the fly.  Craig's input between each of our runs reaffirmed what we had been taught and allowed the drivers to give feedback to him as well.  I really can't think of a better way to have been introduced to co-driving.  From the classroom to the course, there was a lot to take in, but it never felt overwhelming.  Each step was a gradual progression to the next which helped even the most novice co-drivers get a handle on everything that was going on.  Craig's experience as a co-driver in various levels of the sport made him easily approachable for just about any question the class had for him which made the atmosphere of the classroom easy and inviting.

Our class left that weekend armed to the teeth with everything we needed to know about Co-Driving.  The notes I have from this course will be invaluable as I start to get into this sport and work towards competing at my first Stage Rally someday.  It can be harder to find opportunities to gain experience on rallying here in the US, but with two national-level rallies within driving distance to my home I should be able to grow my rally legs and get at this.

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.