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.

Monday, April 9, 2018

NSOC Summer Meets Resume!


It's been a strange spring so far, but with 70 Degree temperatures on the way for the region starting Wednesday, now seems as good a time as ever to get back into gear with Subaru Meets!  For several years, the Nebraska Subaru Owners Club has convened on a weekly basis at Baxter Subaru in Omaha, NE.  In the wintertime, the group typically meets up, decides where to grab dinner together, and roll out shortly thereafter.  In the warmer summer months though, the NSOC hangs out from 7pm-10pm.  The better the weather, the better the turnout! 

While the group is predominantly WRX and WRX STI owners, there's a good mix of cars at every meet.  Legacy GTs, BRZs, Foresters, Outbacks, Imprezas, Crosstreks, even some older Subarus manage to make it out.  From street machines to off-road crawlers, there's quite the variety of Subarus there, too.  Sometimes local Subaru Ambassadors make it out and have Subie Swag to give away, too!

If you're in the area, plan on Wednesday Nights for your weekly dose of Subaru!  Meet up with the Nerbaska Subaru Owners Club this summer!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Goodbye Red Bull GRC, Hello ARX!

The rallying landscape in the United States continues to shift with recent news of Red Bull Global Rallycross making a major change with this season.  In a recent announcement about new class formations for the 2018 season, they've parted ways with the Supercar series along with the manufacturers that brought their production-based rallycross cars to compete for the podium.  With this sudden departure, one would expect Volkswagen, Honda, Subaru, and Ford to be done with Rallycross in the US... but another new organization as emerged to take on these Supercars.

The "Americas Rallycross", or ARX, will be launching their own championship.  Spearheaded by IMG, the ones behind promotion of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, the series will incorporate the manufacturer-led teams into a similar format.  Not only that, but fans won't have to wait long for the ARX to make it's competition debut in May (one month earlier than the existing Red Bull GRC series).  It may seem odd that a racing series named "Americas Rallycross" will see it's inaugural event held at Silverstone in the UK, but it's good to see the series coming together so quickly.  With commitment from Subaru and Volkswagen already, many of the top stars that led the GRC last year are already confirmed to move forward with the newly formed ARX.

While GRC ventures into their new class-based racing for 2018, the ARX seems to have the makings of success early on.  Red Bull GRC's loss of the Supercars could be the ARX's gain.  It'll be interesting to see how each plays out this season!

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Day On Ice: Subaru Winter Experience

When I heard that Patrik Sandell of Subaru Rally Team USA was bringing his Flatout Sweden ice driving school to a frozen lake near me, I was already looking at my calendar to see when I could make it.  All that stood between me and spinning studded tires on ice was a 10-hour drive from my home in Nebraska to Eagle River, Wisconsin.  Game on!

The Subaru Winter Experience featured a day-long driving school held on Dollar Lake in Wisconsin.  Carved into the iced-over lake, 5 different courses were set to teach drivers in BRZs, WRXs, and WRX STIs how to handle these machines in frozen conditions.  Instructors from DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, WA were also on hand to run the event alongside Patrik and his team from Sweden.

I took Friday to travel up to Chanticleer Inn, where the event was being hosted from.  Night was falling as I reached the snowy town in my STI, so I pulled up to the lodge to get an idea on where to go the next day.  It was easy to see where the Subaru Winter Experience would be based out of.  BRZs, WRXs, and WRX STIs clad in Method Race Wheels and studded ice tires lined the entrance to the lodge.  Inside I found drivers who had just completed their day on the lake.  They had nothing but praise for the course they had just completed and were excited to share their stories of Subarus out on the ice.  Talking with them got me even more excited for my chance the next day, so sleeping was a little difficult that night!


That morning I spent a good hour driving through snow-covered back roads around the area.  The scenery was postcard-worthy and my STI was loving the conditions with my snow tires.  After my morning joyride, I met up with the drivers and instructors at the lodge.  Once we were done with breakfast, they gave us a brief explanation of what to expect and sent us out to a fleet of Subarus to drive to the lake and start the course.  I jumped in a WRX STI with another student and followed the caravan through the narrow road to the lake.  Upon arriving, we jumped right in to some driving courses.  The WRXs and WRX STIs we were in started things off with accelerating and braking to feel out how the cars handled in the slick conditions.  I was surprised at how much grip these cars still had until I learned that 400 studs on each tire were likely responsible for keeping us glued to the surface.


Each run we made was followed by feedback from the DirtFish instructors who were keeping a watchful eye on us with each pass.  Radios in each car made instructions for our class easy to follow every time, so the course ran smoothly and efficiently the whole day.  I was impressed with their attention and observations made, even without being in the cars with us.  Everything from driving position to the movement of our hands on the wheel, they were able to pick up on all the details so we could make adjustments quick and make progress with every run.  It was great to have such insightful advice throughout the day as we moved from course to course.

As the day progressed, we changed from All-Wheel Drive courses for the WRX and WRX STI to rear-wheel drive courses for the BRZ.  Slalom courses and technical turns helped us dial in our tail-happy BRZs and open flowing courses let us put the AWD to the test with the WRXs.  There was plenty of time driving all of the vehicles, letting us make more adjustments each time and start mastering the basic skills we had started off the day with.  During the runs, we were also invited to explore the different traction control settings in the car not only from a safety aspect, but also to let us learn the limits of our cars without being towed out of a snow bank if we got a little too confident!

All the while, as we got to know our Subarus more, we also go to know each other more.  The camaraderie between the students and instructors made it feel less like a class and more like a good time out with friends.  Sharing the wheel with our fellow classmates, cheering each other on, and laughing at our mistakes kept the atmosphere light and fun.  Regardless of our driving backgrounds, our class collectively improved with each pass and it was rewarding not only to see that first-hand, but to feel your own skills getting dialed in with each run.

The last course had a bit of everything.  As such, we were invited to drive all three cars through as often as we liked.  Certain areas of this 2-mile long course favored the BRZ while other sections let the WRX and WRX STI shine, so we could appreciate both types of drive systems that we had been learning through the day.  My co-driver and I had been working our way toward turning the traction control nannies completely off to complete this monster of a course, so it was rewarding to make it through on skill alone.  Little did we know that we were about to go from feeling like Driving Gods to bed-wetting babies with the instructors parting gift.


Patrik Sandell rounded up the students and instructors one last time on the lake.  It was time for them to show us how it was really done!  One by one, each student got the ride of their life in a WRX STI and a BRZ with one of the instructors.  I managed to jump in with Patrik in a WRX STI and was absolutely floored at how effortlessly he drove through the course.  At a spot where I had managed to hit 52 mph, Patrik passed the same point doing 64... and he was sideways through most of it!  If that wasn't enough, Michelle Miller from DirtFish took me through the course in a BRZ and made poetry out of the course, transitioning each corner flawlessly.  It was a humbling experience in both cars!

I can't think of another time when I had so much fun and learned so much.  It was so easy to understand and feel the cars on ice, so I'm hoping the skills I honed on Dollar Lake will make their way into my rallycross driving at home.  More than that, it was such a great time enjoying a day of driving with my fellow classmates and our instructors.  The Subaru Winter Experience really lived up to it's name.  It's an experience I'll never forget.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Baja Blast: Heart Transplant

This 2006 Subaru Baja Turbo has a new lease on life.  Since October of 2017, I've managed to complete a long list of repairs, replacements, and improvements to turn back the clock on it's once dismal maintenance history (or lack thereof).  A new OEM short block now lies at the heart of this turbo truck along with a host of other goodies to help it along.  Here's the quick version of what we did!

Along with the new EJ25 short block, we rebuilt the heads, resealed valves, cleaned valves and valve seats as needed, and sealed it up with a OEM Master Gasket Kit. It's bolted up tight with ARP head studs. The turbo has been rebuilt along with a Perrin Up Pipe to delete one of the unnecessary catalytic converters.  To improve oil circulation, we replaced the stock oil pan with a '06 WRX STI oil pan along with a matching dipstick for proper oil level readings.  The Water Pump, Timing Belt, and all of the pretensioners were replaced as well as a handful of sensors and hoses that were going bad.  

After 1,000 miles of break-in, I'll put Full Synthetic oil back in and call it a day.  Outside of the head studs, up-pipe and STI oil pan, the rest of the replacement components were all OEM parts.  It took us awhile to get all of this done, but most of it was just waiting on parts to arrive.  Most of the major things were in stock but some of the hoses and lifters required a special order from Subaru.  

All-in-all with everything buttoned up, this Baja should be good to go for awhile.  Basic maintenance is easy for me to keep up on, so as long as this turbo truck is mine, it'll be running happy and healthy.