In my never ending quest to get my speed fix, I took advantage of my recent trip to Seattle to attend a half day rally car racing course at Dirtfish Rally School in Snoqualmie. Who wouldn’t want to throw some stones while taking corners fast on a wet gravel turn – especially when it’s someone else’s car??
The half day Intro to Rally course was a condensed version of the full day course that covered three areas: skid pad, slalom, and the “boneyard.” In order to teach us proper car control techniques, it was necessary to get us accustomed to the car’s capabilities and to a point where we trusted the car. So, all courses start on the skid pad – a large square gravel lot surrounded by a circle of orange “stick” cones and with one cone in the center. On this course, we mastered the rally car turning techniques: (1) “lift – turn – wait” and (2) “lift – turn – brake” for a tighter turn. Beginning with the “lift – turn – wait” allowed us to appreciate the physics of using weight transfer to get the car to do what you want it to do. By lifting off the gas pedal, the weight transfers to the front two wheels of the car, which in an all wheel rally car is enough to get the car to turn on a loose surface, eventually – hence, the “wait.” Adding the brake only increased the precision of the turn. For the braking part, we had to also get used to left foot braking. Fortunately, we kept the car in 2nd gear the whole day, so we didn’t have to complicated the lesson by shifting a lot!
Next, we got to turn both left and right on the slalom course, learning how to maximize the amount of time driving and accelerating in a straight line by utilizing the “lift – turn – brake” technique we practiced on the skid pad. We also got to learn a trail brake, or a hard straight line brake that trailed off on the turn in order to get through a more rounded turn fast and efficiently.
Finally, it was time to put all the techniques together to tackle the Boneyard, an actual 6 or 7 turn course!!! To add even more fun to this section of the class, we not only got to toss the car around the track, in a controlled manner of course, but on the exit we got to accelerate down a line of sticks only to slam the clutch in, turn the wheel 180 degrees, and yank on the handbrake for a thrilling u-turn! After which we lined up to return back through the course to the start line.
While I’m definitely not going to be a rally car driver any time soon, heading out to Dirtfish not only satisfied my desire to get my fill of unconventional driving every so often, but I also learned some really good techniques that I think are practical for everyday driving in extreme situations. I also now know that the way I thought I was done, and the way I used to fool around in my car as a teenager, is completely wrong (it was fun at the time, though!). Now, if only it wasn’t so expensive to fix a car with gravel damage!