Monday, December 3, 2018

Pastrana & Higgins RC Cars - 1:18 Scale

In February of 2018, there was a pre-order for a group buy of 1:18 Scale Remote Control WRX STI cars donning David Higgins' and Travis Pastrana's 2017 SRT USA Liveries.  These were originally offered to employees of Subaru of America and their retailers and were expected to arrive in August of 2018.  Being the massive rally fan that I am, I jumped at the opportunity and placed an order for both versions.  After a few delays through months of waiting, they finally arrived in December of 2018!

Produced by AeroPro Promotions LLC and distributed through Staples Promotional Products (who distribute most of the products for, these RC Cars are loaded with features.  A full assembly diagram and list of parts are included in the instructions.  Whether you get the red Travis Pastrana version or the blue David Higgins version, they come with their own 7.4V 1100 mAh rechargeable LiPo battery.  Included is a battery charger and a remote control dialed in to the specific car, so you could run both at the same time independently.  You'll need 4 AA batteries for the remote, but otherwise they're ready to go once you've charged up the included battery for them.  The cars have 4-wheel independent suspension and continuous All-Wheel Drive being fed power from the electric motor.  The specifications state that these cars can reach speeds up to 40kph, or about 25 mph.  They are admittedly quick and the rally-style tires they have seem to get grip on just about any surface.  It even states that these are Waterproof, though I don't know that I want to test this claim just yet!

The packaging and product look identical to the computer-generated images that were supplied during the pre-order period nearly a year ago, so I was impressed and surprised to see how accurate the initial projections were!  The Method Race Wheels, DirtFish, DMACK, and other logos are nice and crisp and they even have the correct Vermont license plates for each!  The only thing I find odd is the complete omission of any sort of names or numbers on the cars.  The boxes simply state that they're "Subaru Rally Team USA" and have accompanying photos of the cars on the boxes.  While the pictures on the boxes have their respective numbers on them, they have edited out any "Higgins" or "Pastrana" names that would've been on the cars.  Even in the Parts list, the shells are simply differentiated as "Red Car Shell" and "Blue Car Shell".  The omission of any names on them is really my only complaint, so it's not really the end of the world!

The only other thing to keep in mind with these is a slightly limited run time.  Under constant use, these cars will only last for about 10-15 minutes of use with about 4 hours needed to recharge the batteries.  The 7.4 battery is relatively small, so I'm not completely surprised by the limited running time, but it does leave you wanting more when they're spent.  They're a blast to drive around the house on carpet and flooring and even more fun when you can open up the throttle outdoors on pavement or dirt!  These things fly and they look fantastic!  Whether you're a diehard rally fan like me or just a RC car collector, these will certainly put a smile on your face.

As I mentioned earlier, these were a pre-order item only offered to Subaru employees when they were initially announced.  However, they have since been released to the general public through  Below are the links to both versions if you'd like to purchase them!

Red "Pastrana" RC Car
Blue "Higgins" RC Car

Saturday, December 1, 2018

RedFogo Racing: Nebraska Rally Team

A year or so ago I took my first step towards Stage Rally by attending a Co-Driving Course at DirtFish Rally School with Craig Drew.  All I needed then was an opportunity to race!  Turns out that it's tricky to find people in the Heartland of America to co-drive for... let alone find someone who knows what Stage Rally is in the first place!  Luckily, that has changed... and I'm getting ready for my first rally!

A friend of mine I know from NRSCCA Rallycross took the plunge and purchased a 2002 Subaru WRX that has been racing in Rally events for a few years now.  Known to some as "Bender", this car has changed hands a few times, but has ties to Nebraska.

Christy Carlson competed with this car in Regional and National level events for several years.  Everything from Sno*Drift to Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, Bender is a "Misbehaving piece of metal that bends the road to its will. And drinks a sh*t ton of gasoline. Smokes. All-around bad a** car."  It came into our hands in need of an engine and a willing team of newbies dumb enough to rally it again.  Luckily, Bender has found all of that with RedFogo Racing!

Under it's new ownership, Bender has undergone a bit of a facelift.  A 2006 Subaru WRX provided a new engine for us and, as it turns out, also provided a complete front and rear end to convert this car to "Bender 2.5".  To the untrained eye, this is a completely different car, but under that fancy Hawkeye body, Bender lives!

After a few successful test runs at local rallycross events, Bender was registered with the American Rally Association and is slated to compete at the 2019 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood!  Somehow, I've been entrusted to co-drive in this Franken-Subie... and I couldn't be more excited!

Stay tuned for more info as RedFogo Racing prepares for our first Stage Rally event next spring!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

ProClip Subaru WRX Mount

UntitledI've had my 2016 Subaru WRX STI tuned for awhile now, but I struggled to find a mount for my COBB AP Tuner that I liked.  Real Estate on the dashboard is already tough to come by in most cars and the mounting choices I had seen weren't really my thing.  I didn't wanna go the "tape it to the dashboard" route, nor did I like the idea of covering up an air vent to do it, and installing aftermarket gauges seemed like a hassle.  I wanted a simple solution that would look right, be sturdy, and put my COBB AP Tuner well within reach.  Then I found out about ProClip USA and saw a product that seemed like it would fit my criteria.  I thought I'd give it a shot!

UntitledIt's a pretty foolproof system for making just about any device easy to access and see.  ProClip USA's website lets you find a mounting plate that will work with your specific make and model car and then select the appropriate adapter plate to attach the device you want to use.  In my case, I got the ProClip Left Mount for my WRX STI along with the 2 Prong (Dual-T) Mounting Plate with Tilt Swivel to use with my COBB V3 Holster.   The ProClip mount comes with double-sided tape on the back side of each arm, but I didn't use it at first so that I could test-fit things and see what angle I wanted the mount to be at.  There were also four self-tapping screws included with the adapter plate that screw tightly into the mounting plate.  I found that attaching the adapter plate to the mounting plate was best when it wasn't attached to the car, so I was glad I hadn't used that double-sided tape to permanently install it just yet!

Things really fit like a glove when I installed everything.  The colors and textures on my STI's A-pillar matched up with the mounting plate great and the adapter plate connected with the COBB V3 Holster nice and tight.  There were no noticeable rattling or loose fitting parts, but it also was not so tight that you couldn't move things.  The swivel base on the adapter plate was easy to adjust and the 2 Prong mounts still let me detatch the COBB V3 Holster with minimal effort.  This was important to me, as I didn't want to struggle with making adjustments but I also wanted it to be secure.  The roads in my area are bumpy, uneven, and ridden with potholes so I was really pleased to see how well the ProClip stuff worked.

In the month that I've had the clip installed, I have yet to experience any issues with it.  October and November are transitional periods for weather here in the Midwest, and sometimes the back-and-forth mix of warm and cold days can cause creaks and rattles with the plastics used in Subaru interiors.  The ProClip Left Mount, Dual-T adapter plate, and the COBB V3 holster were steadfast all month long and continue to be.  In fact, the COBB Access Port accessories page even lists ProClip products like this one on their own website for the performance cars they tune with there.  Just recently I remembered that I still hadn't used the double-sided tape on the Pillar Mount, so I was even more surprised that it hadn't shifted or rattled at all for a month!  I went ahead and used the tape upon discovering this and, unsurprisingly, have still had no issues.


Based on my experience thus far I can easily recommend these products to friends after seeing how easily and seamlessly things have worked with mine.  There's a wide array of adapters and mounting plates available for a good numbe of vehicles.  Cell-phone holders, Navigation stands, really anything you want to put within reach in a secure fashion and the ProClip products should be able to achieve that with ease. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

2019 Rallycross Season Wrap-Up

The Nebraska Region SCCA Rallycross program finished out the 2019 season strong, albeit some challenging conditions for the last event!  Throughout the year, the program enjoyed strong steady turnout, a great variety of course designs, and a community that continues to build around the competitors and workers.  It's really been rewarding for me to be part of the great experiences shared by everyone connected to this program, so here's a "Thank You" to everyone involved this year!

For the final event of the season, Timmy Milliman took on course design for the first time.  On a dry and windy Saturday, they set up a great course that challenged drivers with tight turns and rewarded them with a few nice flowing sections to open up the taps on their cars.  It really would've been a fantastic course to finish the season on.  However, Mother Nature had different plans!

Mid-day Saturday, snow that was originally forecast to dip south of the area creeped north and dropped about an inch of blustery snow on I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, NE.  With temperatures in the teens on Sunday, the fresh powder made for tricky conditions in a course that demanded grip and precision.  Still, 14 Competitors showed up to try their hand at it for the last Points Event of the season.  Typically, conditions are dry enough to get away with using simple All-Season tires, but the snow and mud turned these into slicks and forced competitors to a crawl through much of the course.  Those with Snow Tires or Rally Tires didn't fare much better!

As the day progressed and the sun came out to start warming things up, things were looking even trickier!  Typically, the course gets faster as the day goes on, but with snow turning to slush and mud turning to soup, times dropped as conditions worsened.  Competitors put up a valiant effort to get through the course, but at the lunch break, it was decided to halt competition and settle on the 5 runs of times that we had accumulated in the morning runs as the final times.

After our lunch break, we kept the cones out there and allowed "Fun Runs" to those eager to take part in the Slip-N-Slide conditions before calling it a day.  While some packed up for the day, a handful of drivers had a ball getting sideways through the course.  We even had a few spectators grab helmets and ride along for the roller-coaster ride through the mud and snow!  Whatever blues we had about stopping competition early were vanquished by the fun we had out there before calling it a day.

At the end of the day, this event capped off a great season of competition and showcased the resilience of our competitors seen all year.  From rescheduled events to tough weather and site conditions, this program continued to grow and flourish.  We had a lot of great close competition this year and got some good exposure with spectators showing up to each event to watch and ride along.  Of our 8 Points Events this season, we only managed to hold 7 of them... and two of those were cut short due to weather.  Even without being able to secure alternate competition sites this year, we still made everything work and ended up with a great season.  I'm really happy with how the NRSCCA Rallycross program continues to grow and improve!

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!

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!