Roshambo Racing

Sunday, April 24, 2011

DirtFish Rally School

Dan wrote this about our experience at DirtFish...
We've been rallying for over 7 years.  Despite that fact, we really haven't had much rally practice.  Ever.  See, we have a somewhat unique arrangement where we share driving and co-driving.  We share the fun, and we share the investment.  The result is, however, we each only get half the drive time on stage roads.  And since we both have young families, we limit our rally weekends to 3-4 per year.  All that being said, with one year under our belt in our new Subaru, it long-past was time to get some concentrated seat time.

We first met the DirtFish guys at Oregon Trail 2010.  Beautiful sunny day in the Square, downtown Portland, surrounded by rally cars.  We said we needed to test, and to practice.  In our own car.  They squinted at us, and said maybe.  So we waited.  Last fall they were headed towards opening their 300 acre playground, and we checked in to see if they'd have us.  Again, maybe.  But persistence often pays off, and two weeks ago we got our chance.  Doug and I were the first to bring our own car to DirtFish.  After tacking a long-dong silencer onto our tailpipe we were almost as quiet as the school cars.

DirtFish offers a lot of seat time.  That's a very good thing.  We also got an experienced local rally guy, Nate Tennis, riding shotgun.  That sweetened the deal.  Nate's a mighty fine guy, and a helpful instructor to boot.  

Day 1 consisted of some brief chalk-talk, followed by basic skills development on the gravel skidpad, 90-box, and slalom.  Our car didn't want to do any of it.  What the heck?  We fussed with differential settings, tried to bed the new rear brakes, and got marginal performance.  We got what we deserved, I guess.  Just before arriving in Snoqualmie we'd upgraded transmission, differentials, rear sub-frame & links, and rear brakes.  And we had an unproven tarmac-based center diff controller to fiddle with.  Needless to say, nothing was dialed in.  Thank goodness they have a well equipped shop on the premises, and lots of open tarmac to do things like repeated 45-to-zeros, and figure-eight differential break-ins.  Our car must have been up on the lift 8 times in three days.  Talk about a good pre-season shakedown!

Despite all that, plus both a coolant leak and exhaust issues, we were able to participate in nearly all the Day 1 activities.  We did some pavement work to quicken reflexes, and practiced finding the limits.  we learned the simple lift-turn-brake rhythm of gravel slalom speediness.  And we got a lot of exercise for our left foot.  Trail braking practice was difficult for everyone.  Driving an AWD car (or FWD for that matter) requires a fine-tuned left foot.  Doug and I, being RWD rally guys, were still getting used to this whole concept.  Pulling the booster line off the brakes helped with consistency, and we soon acclimated to standing on the brakes sans assistance. 

Day 2 started with some Ken Block action.  Get the car sideways on pavement and keep it there around a giant skidpad.  Maintain the slip angle.  Minimal steering input required.  The school cars (Group N Vermont Sports Car prepared beauties) did a fine job of this task.  Our car was all or nothing.  All push, or full lock sideways.  What the heck?  Double-to-triple the rear negative camber might have had something to do with it, along with our massive COBB Tuning, ethanol fueled powwah (bwaahaahaaha).  Another trip to the lift and some twisting of our fancy rear links is all it took for a field alignment.

Day 2 afternoon we started to stretch out the fun with longer runs.  Pavement, then back to gravel.  By mid-afternoon we were playing in the Boneyard, a 2nd and 3rd gear gravel romp.  Our skills were building.

Day 3 was all gravel, all the time.  Longer and longer runs, linking the Boneyard, the Wedge and the Mill Run.  Lots o' seat time, especially since Nate let us drive most of the instruction laps (since it was our car, and since we were rally guys already, he figured the more driving time we got the better).  We got some nice video from our new camera setup, check the links!

So, what did we learn?  Was it worth the green, and the time?  I can't speak for everyone . . . but for me it was a slam dunk.  I learn best with some light instruction, then drilling.  I need to build it in, make the techniques natural.  This afforded me that luxury.  A luxury stage rally does not afford.  What did I take away?  Really, I learned how to turn the car with the brake.  Amazing what that pedal can do.  And on gravel things happen slowly, so braking, plus patience, plus judicious use of the go-pedal is what it takes to corner smoothly in our car.  

The DirtFish environment was a great one for learning.  And a great one for shaking down and getting to know a car.  They have a lot of pavement of all consistencies, and a lot of gravel.  Do I wish for more "real" rally roads?  Sure I do.  But do I fault them for what they do have?  Absolutely not.  We now have, right here in the Northwest, a true rally school property.  It's about time!  And I mean no offense to Paul Eklund's school, but at DirtFish there's just a lot more room to stretch your legs, to hit 4th gear and to drive with some real consequences.

The DirtFish people were all great.  Very friendly, very flexible, very accommodating.  The quality of instruction was solid.  The facility was beautiful.  Personally I love the decrepit buildings, the open expanses, the mill pond and the broken pavement.  Oh, and the water truck girl is hot.  At least I THINK she is. . . 

So yeah, go do DirtFish.  Take your rally car, or use one of theirs.  I'm certain it'll make you a faster, better driver.  We are. . .  :-)

PS for those considering bringing your car to DirtFish.  Make sure your exhaust is super secure.  The silencer hanging off the back of the tailpipe is a true rally test of your hanger quality and design.  Trust us on that one.

Photos and Video from DirtFish

Here are some great video and photos from our 3 days at the DirtFish Rally School.

We were the first team to drive our own car during the school.  The DirtFish cars are all orange.  So, for the school, we were the "blue car".

Our car looks similar, but there are a lot of differences under the skin.

To keep the neighbors happy, our loud car had to wear this extra muffler...

Here's Dan in the "Boneyard"...

Fun on the wet-down tarmac skidpad.

Here's Dan with our instructor, Nate Tennis. Nate is well know in the Northwest for being ridiculously fast in an underpowered Saab.  He had plenty of good advice for us.

Here's a video of Dan doing the Mill Run - The Mill Run connects several sections of the DirtFish property.  In this Video, Dan starts in the Boneyard, then through the Slalom, then finishes up in the Wedge.

Here's a video of Doug taking a turn in the Mill Run.  This was toward the end of the school when we were putting everything together....