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!

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