Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Battle of Teammates

"There's nothing better than battling your teammate." - David Higgins

I remember hearing him say that at one of the rallies when Travis Pastrana made his return to Subaru Rally Team USA in 2014... and it couldn't be more true.  Need proof?  Just look at the results from the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood and Oregon Trail Rally from the 2016 Rally America series!  Both rallies have been hard-fought nail-biters with two identical Vermont Sportscar prepared WRX STIs going head to head all the way to the end.  David Higgins and Craig Drew made quick work of their Perfect Season last year and have been a force to be reckoned with since this dynamic duo started driving for SRT USA in 2011.  Travis Pastrana and Christian Edstrom also have an impressive history with SRT USA but have been out of the fight until recently.  The recent battles between them have been close, and are getting even closer in recent events.  It's Subaru vs Subaru, teammate vs teammate, and it couldn't be any better! 

Last year, Vermont Sportscar proved how epic of a stage monster they have built with their new VT15r when Higgins and Drew drove their WRX STI to a perfect season (the first since 1987).  While performing a busy schedule with his Nitro Circus series, Travis Pastrana also competed in select events during the 2015 season, but in the previous generation car.  He showed great potential, especially considering how little seat time the X Games Legend had accrued through the year.  Still, the few races he participated in showed impressive speed and ability with Chrissie Beavis as his Co-Driver.

Subaru Rally Team USA has one hellofuh situation fitting both of these drivers with matching weapons this year, but it's also good to note that Travis' co-driver from his victories in the early 2000s has come back to the team.  Christian Edstrom had left rallying after his 2010 season with Travis, but adding that familiar face in the shotgun seat of the #199 car shows that this duo is as sharp as ever.  It's as if the two just picked up where they left off!

In the #75 car, David Higgins and Craig Drew have established themselves as a dominant force in US Rallying, winning a seemingly endless stream of championships.  Since 2011, when they started driving for SRT USA to replace the seat left by Pastrana and Edstrom, they've won every Rally America National Championship.  Even when Ken Block and Antoine L'Estage were fighting for the top, Higgins and Drew proved their consistency and strategy to reign in the championship year after year. 

This brings me back to that quote at the beginning.  It's always good to have competition to make you better and get you to sharpen what you already thought was a sure thing.  I've learned through my own competition with Rallycross in my Impreza that I'm always challenged to improve when I share the wheel.  If I win, I know I've managed to apply what I've learned and feel a great sense of accomplishment.  If I lose, I know that there's room to improve and the desire to keep racing is strengthened.  Whether I win or my other driver wins, it's that competition that raises us both to the next level throughout the race.  And, while I'm sure Higgins and Pastrana are on a COMPLETELY different level of racing than I am, I know they're both growing and learning and improving because of each other.

Naturally, combining the rocketships that Vermont Sportscar has built with these competitors who have been so successful before makes for an exciting battle.  Mere tenths of seconds have separated their times on the stages, but either way, it's the best kind of battle.  Higgins and Pastrana are good teammates and friends.  They can only grow and improve more in this competitive environment.    Both #75 and #199 are pushing their limits to inch out the top spots, and it only looks to get MORE fun as the 2016 Season continues. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

RS meets Prodrive

When my car isn't working the way it should, I buy parts to fix and improve it.  When my car IS working the way it should, I buy parts to dress it up!  Recently, my RS Project Car was absolutely brilliant at the NRSCCA Rallycross Points #3 event, landing 1st in Class and 3rd overall times at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, NE.  To celebrate how epic this car has been, I decided to go find something... fun!

I managed to track down a rear spoiler from a Subaru Impreza RB5 Prodrive!  I've always loved the look of the factory wings on the WRX STIs in Japan and the UK, but the RB5 wing is a little different.  Plus, there's that cool inset "PRODRIVE" logo stamped on each side that help distinguish it from other Version 5 and 6 WRX STI wings.  As an added bonus, mine had already been repainted in Silverthorn Metallic (the color on my RS Coupe).  The bolts all lined up perfectly with the original mounting points for my old RS wing after I removed it.  The wiring for the 3rd brake light hooked up flawlessly so I went out and took it for a spin.

For those who don't know, the "RB5" was released to celebrate the return of British driver Richard Burns to the Subaru World Rally Team competing in the FIA World Rally Championship.  The Prodrive versions of these limited-edition cars featured a distinctive rear spoiler.  Originally, the wings were dark gray (as all the RB5 units were) but the previous owner of this wing had it painted to match his silver WRX that it was on.  I'm not sure how many times this wing changed hands, but it's in very good shape and compliments the car nicely.  Fitting for a UK part, it was misting when I put the wing on... so I went out and got sideways on some "B Roads" for some fun.  The wing was nice and solid and didn't leak anything from all the wet gravel and dirt I was throwing around for a nice haul through the back roads.  I'm really happy with how it looks now and can't wait to hit the rallycross course again with it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hyper Blue Around the World

In Summer of 2015, Subaru announced the Series.Hyper Blue WRX STI and BRZ as a limited edition color.  The US Market received 500 BRZ Limited models and 700 WRX STI models appointed with a racing pastel Blue color, black badges and wheels, and interior trim to match.  It's a spot-on match with the blue that Subaru Rally Team USA uses for their logos and the #75 car with Higgins and Drew at the helm.  While the Hyper Blue also made its way on to the new 2016 Subaru Crosstrek as an available color, other parts of the world also got to cash in on this bright blue color that you might not know about.

Around the same time as the US release, the boys and girls down under got an even-more-limited run of Hyper Blue offerings.  Australia received 50 BRZs in a manual and automatic, 50 WRX STIs, and 200 WRX Premium CVT models for a total of 300 in this distinctive color.  While the exterior features and interior upholstery are nearly identical to the US models, the options and offerings are a tad different.  The same can be said for the "Hikari" Edition Subarus released in Canada.  Nearly identical to the Series.HyperBlue, they account for another 100 BRZs and 200 WRX STIs bringing another 300 to North America.

Outside of the US, Canada, and Australia, Hyper Blue can be found on the Crosstrek in other countries, but not in a format for the WRX STI and BRZ... and not with the badging, wheels, or interior changes.  At 1,800 total vehicles in the world that are set up like this, it's a rare find.  Outside of their good looks, they still run and drive just like any other BRZ, WRX, or WRX STI so there's no performance gains to be had from these special edition models.  Unlike other limited-edition runs of cars like this, the Hyper Blue models are not numbered from the factory and don't have any "Series.HyperBlue" or "Hikari" markings to distinguish themselves outside of the aesthetic changes, but that stand-out color is plenty to set them apart.

Up to Par with my Project Car

This past weekend the NRSCCA held a "Super Weekend", cramming three events into one weekend.  Though the days were long and the dirt was everywhere, I made it through the weekend incredibly happy with the results.  I can now confidently say that I am no longer a limitation to my car's abilities.

When I first started doing rallycross, it was mostly to have fun and feel the changes in my 2000 Impreza 2.5 RS Project Car.  With each event, the car would feel more solid, easier to control, and closer to what I thought it should be like to be a rally-bred time slayer.  However, as I built up the car, I also wanted to improve as a driver so I started sharing the seat with other more experienced drivers.  My Co-Drivers were rallycross veterans, some of whom had even gone and competed at SCCA Rallycross Nationals... so there was a lot of experience to glean some help and advice from.  As expected, my instructors would routinely show me what my car could REALLY do, besting my quickest laps around the course by a handful of seconds.

Since I started competing seriously with rallycross over a year ago, I've been improving my car AND my skills.  Shaving tenths of seconds off each lap attacking and committing more with each lap started to close the gap between the times I was aiming for that my mentors were setting.  During the Super Weekend, I got a LOT of seat time to really focus on improving and trying new things out.  The Rallycross School really helped, as there wasn't a limit on how many laps you could take of the course.  Instead of being limited to 4 or 5 runs in competition, I now was able to keep running through putting what I had learned to the dirt.

By the end of the weekend, I not only managed to improve as a driver... but the times showed that I wasn't a hindrance to my car's abilities.  I was setting the same (and sometimes even faster) times as those who had instructed me!  It's a huge feeling of accomplishment to finally reach that point, but now even more promising to have this to keep building on.  My RS Coupe and I are finally on the same page and I can't WAIT to keep clawing back time as the season continues!

Friday, April 15, 2016

2017 Forester Information

Earlier this year I touched on some changes coming for the 2017 Subaru Forester.  Among the changes I already noted in that article, there are a few more new bits that are now confirmed as well as some nice surprising touches that add a level of refinement not seen on previous Foresters... or any other Subaru for that matter.

New for 2017 is the Active Torque Vectoring system from the Subaru WRX and WRX STI is now available on the Touring trim-level of the Forester XT.  This is the only Forester model that will feature this change.  The Forester also features a new heated steering wheel and an optional Saddle Brown leather package for Touring models.  Additionally, the Forester picks up the latest generation of Subaru's award-winning EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, gaining lane-keep assist and better detection abilities.  Aiding the front-based EyeSight system, the Forester finally got a blind-spot detection system, and rear cross-traffic alert thanks to two radar sensors placed under the rear bumper cover underneath each tail light.  Additionally, there's new Reverse Automatic Braking, Steering Responsive Headlights and High Beam Assist to fill out the suite of safety features on the revised Forester.

On the one hand, some of these updates are long overdue for the Forester.  However, the Forester is the first Subaru to feature things like Steering Responsive Headlights and the Heated Steering Wheel.  This update is a welcome refresh to one of Subaru's most popular models in the highly competitive Crossover SUV segment.  Round it all out with a slight bump in city MPG to keep it's overall fuel efficiency well within range (and sometimes above) it's other AWD competitors.

With this announcement, Subaru will likely roll out the 2017 Forester later this spring.  Dealerships are still receiving 2016 models into the month of May, so it could a month more or so before the revised 2017 models make it in.  Stay tuned for more updates!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rallycross Super Weekend

There's a double-header of rallycross action in Nebraska this weekend!  Saturday and Sunday (16th &17th of April) will be packed with opportunities for seat time.  The Nebraska Region SCCA is holding a Rallycross School during the day on the 16th that will let new drivers get some experience alongside veteran drivers instructing and giving advice as they go through the course.

After the Rallycross School, there's a Twilight Rallycross!  As the sun sets on the course, we'll still be goin strong dodging cones in the dark with nothing but our headlights and glow-stick-equipped cones to help us!  We don't get to do many rallycross events like this, so it's a unique experience that's pretty different from your regular daytime rallycross events.

Speaking of regular daytime rallycross events, the next day we'll b e at it again.  Sunday is a Points event for the NRSCCA Rallycross program and we'll be back to slinging dirt like normal on that day!  Plus, the NRSCCA is providing Lunch and Dinner on Saturday and Lunch on Sunday, so you can afford to stick around for hours of fun in the dirt.  So, between the Rallycross school, the twilight rallycross, and the points event... there's plenty of time to get dirty this weekend!