Monday, September 24, 2018

AOS - Every turbocharged Subaru should have one

When I bought my first turbocharged Subaru, I started learning all sorts of things to better understand my car.  From maintenance to modifications, there was a lot I needed to know so I could properly care for my car.  I'm still learning things as I take each step with modifying my WRX STI to my liking but when I noticed a puff of blue smoke coming from my exhaust on startup, I ran back to the drawing board and realized I had been holding off on a modification that I probably should've done the second I got the car: an Air-Oil Separator.


While common on modified cars, an Air-Oil Separator (AOS) can still be beneficial.  Even in stock form, oil can still make it's way through the intake system.  Boxer engines, or horizontally opposed engines, have pistons that move side to side. When running, the G-Forces push excess oil to the tops of the pistons. Because oil is just as combustible as fuel, this causes irregularities with the controlled explosions in the engine, subsequently creating multiple explosions or "detonation".  This can lead to causing the ever-popular "ringland failure" problem.  Installing an AOS eliminates the oil vapors in an intake system thus eliminating the loss of octane.  Without oil being burned off and the octane levels up, the engine can make more power!

On a stock turbocharged boxer engine, that oil getting through the intercooler doesn't make its way back to the engine.  As it is subsequently burned off, your oil levels start to drop a little.  It's not a significant amount, but over a long period of time it can be detrimental to the piston rings if the engine oil level isn't kept up.  Tie in the fact that the detonation and oil buildup in the engine are already wreaking havoc on those same rings and it's an accident waiting to happen.  Again, this can still happen on a bone-stock WRX, so even those who have been careful with their cars run the risk.

I've not noticed a single issue since installing the AOS on my car.  No loss in power, no puff of blue smoke, nothing but good things to report.  If you've got a turbocharged Subaru and you enjoy getting after it like I do, an Air-Oil Separator may not be the most glamorous modification you can spend your money on.  However, it'll certainly allow you to to have more fun and more peace-of-mind as you push your car further!

Will the Turbo Forester return?

Well, I can't avoid the facts anymore.  The Forester XT has joined the mausoleum of fun turbocharged Subarus that I loved like the Outback XT and Legacy GT.  Sure, the new 2019 Forester has a "Sport" model, but there's only so much you can do with 182 horsepower and some fancy trim.  While their overall lineup seems to be heading in the vanilla direction, we might still have some hope from our friends at Subaru Tecnica International - STI.


In years past, the US market has been largely ignored for the the Fast and Furious models that guys like me crave.  Look through just about any imported model and you'll find cool variations and homologation models that we've never had on US soil... and the STI lineup from Subaru is no exception.  However, that trend has been starting to change with a few limited production units we've managed to snag in recent years.  Subaru has brought over some STI fun with the BRZ tS and the WRX STI Type RA before, so is a quicker turbocharged Forester a possibility for us in the future?


Foresters have never worn the STI badge here in the states before, but there have been STI versions made in Japan before.  Much like the tweaked BRZ they made, the Forester tS has brought Subaru's racing boys to their family-sized crossover SUV before.  Improved aero, revised suspension, and interior and exterior tweaks to make it feel special.  These features have graced the Forester tS models in Japan before... but those have also been built around the existing turbocharged Forester XT to begin with.  One could say if the US were to get a Forester with STI treatment that it would still only come in the form of aero and handling and leave the naturally aspirated Boxer engine under the hood alone.

Still the possibility of more STI models in the US isn't out of the question.  As part of Subaru's "Prominence 2020 Plan", the STI Brand is charged with bringing more racing support, more performance parts, and more complete cars to the US market.  While the year 2020 is bearing down on us quickly, we've already seen a spike in special edition and limited production performance models coming to the states.

The possibility exists for Subaru to bring a Turbocharged Forester back to the US Market, but it's uncertain if they recognize enough of a demand in the market for something like this.  Don't hold your breath, as Subaru seems to lean more on the WRX and BRZ as their options for performance-minded customers.  Even the 6-cylinder Outback and Legacy have their days numbered and it's uncertain if those models will go back to a single engine option like the Forester has for 2019.  As 2020 approaches with the new Outback and Legacy design, the new WRX and WRX STI design, and the target point for their plans, we'll have to wait and see if STI will deliver us anything more than they already have.  Dear Forester... I'll be waiting.





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!