In A World of WRXs and Miatas; Be a RallyVan
Read up on my first rallycross event in a very unorthodox rallycross vehicle
*This originally was posted on Kinja's Oppositelock in May of 2018*
After snoozing my alarm 8 times, I finally rolled out of the hotel bed. Toby pops his head up and starts following me to the bathroom as he always does. I look at myself in the hotel bathroom mirror; hair looks like I stuck my finger in a socket, undershirt and tie still on my body, head feels like Neil Peart was doing a drum solo inside it. A good chunk of me wanted to call the whole thing off, and go back to sleep. Waking up at 6:30 AM after attending a rowdy wedding in a barn should be an extreme sport. I am glad I chose to tough it out, because I now want to enter every rallycross event in a 300 mile radius.
Prior to the event, I received this e-mail from the organizer:
He initially asked if the van I registered was the tow vehicle. I politely informed him that the van is the competing vehicle.
I arrived with the van packed to the brim with snow tires, tools, jack, stands, our suitcases, cooler, tent, and a dog crate. Eyes and fingers immediately were pointed in my direction. I begin to unload the van and set up the tent. People start walking by asking “you racin’ this?” Lot of worried looks when they learn this is not only my daily driver, but I also have to trek 3 hours home after today.
There was a debate on whether or not the lack of rear seats put the car into the “Prepared” class. Rules state the car’s certain features have to be in condition from the factory. Technically, all Transit Connects leave the factory with passenger seats. When they arrive to the States from Spain, they remove the seats and send them back. They let that slide, fortunately.
I was shopping for some winter tires for the event. Since I wanted to stay in stock class, gravel/dirt rally tires were off the list. I had to find a set of winter tires. I debated on a few different brands and price ranges ranging from premium Nokia tires, to very cheap tires from Thailand. I settled on the cheap end, and bought some 215/60r 16 Sumitomo Ice Edge winter tires. The stock sidewall ratio is 55, and I was slightly worried about interference and rubbing in the front wheel well. Everything ended up working out, which was a huge relief.
I could not do too much to the van in prep. I wanted to keep it in a stock class, and didn’t have enough funds or time for any fancy work. I did the usual prep work: oil change, fluid check, battery check. Put a K&N filter in the box, put E3 plugs in, I cut the rear muffler which I discovered weighed about 45 lbs. Gave it some sound, but nothing fancy (I plan on removing the resonator, and try a few aftermarket mufflers out to help the sound, I read a Flowmaster 10 series works well with the 2.5). I also dropped the spare tire, I figured it could lose the weight, and I’m already carrying a full set inside, I wont need a dry spare.
There were 3 other cars in my “Stock Front” wheel drive class: Chevy Aveo that lost its flex-pipe exhaust mid event, a GM era Saab wagon with a baby seat in the back, and a 1993 VW Corrado with overheating issues. There were four WRX’s, four Miata’s, two Lancer X’s, and four Neon’s. There was an FB RX7 that sounded like it was operated by a million angry bees. There was a ‘93 Civic that burned oil so bad, it smoked through 90% of the course. There was an ‘02 X-Type that was well prepped for rally. There was a third gen Camaro, and a Sentra SE/R that reminded me how great those looked before Nissan ruined it. Someone competed in a Subaru Crosstrek that actually looked very sharp.
*All photos unless specified are credited to Josh Sharp and Tim Spellman*
My first run was full of nerves and fear. I never pushed the van to its max yet. And I still have to haul gear, and two loved ones back home, so my main goal was to not wreck. The course was still fresh, so there was the factor of fresh grass affecting it. They let the slower cars (me) run first to prep it for the faster ones.
I had no idea how the van would handle throwing its 3600 lb curb weight around the course. I took the turns much more slow than I should. There is plenty of understeer in the van. My first run was a slow 65.387. My next few runs all were improvements, and I worked on tapping the brakes to get the weight to the front and rear end out. I improved to a 59.736 best for the morning runs.
I would recommend snow tires if you can afford them. I can feel them working underneath me, and played a huge role in my improvement. There was another first driver with bald autocross tires on his Miata. It looked like he was on ice out there. The poor 2.5 duratec screams like its moving fast, but does not. The highest speed I saw was 36 MPH. I do need to work on using both feet on the pedals. I still do everything with one.
We split the group in half to help work the course when not competing. I got to see the prepared and modified classes tear the course up. The RX7 was ridiculously loud and angry sounding. The driver tows a small trailer carrying a tool box and a set of tires to the event. Pure grit. I loved it. The Civic burned so much oil, there was billowing smoke coming from the welded Cherry Bomb exhaust. It looked like an old school locomotive passed trough the field. There also was the Jaguar that was everyone’s favorite. It was very impressive seeing them throw that boat around. I got to see what some front drive vehicles do around the course. Some of them nailing the Scandinavian Flick with ease.
She's the Spartan fan; Not I
We broke for lunch, and the tent we set up collapsed in the wind. One of the plastic joints broke near the top. So that was the end of that tent. I checked all fluids and underbody. Everything looked good. The course was modified a little bit. The hairpins were shortened making the track faster.
The course is now turned to dirt after the morning runs. I found myself throwing the van into the turns more comfortably, and can feel the rear end kick out more. I still felt hesitant in my first run, and turned up a slow time of 52.986.
Those shorter hairpins came a lot quicker than I expected, and braked much later than I should. By runs 3 and up, I felt like I had a great rhythm going. I also was having so much fun, I wanted to run this course all day. My best time was clocked after a re-run due to a timer malfunction. I managed to cut almost 5 seconds off my first time nailing a 48.218.
It was these runs when I started feeling the van’s height. It did not feel top heavy, so I did not fear tipping; but there was plenty of body roll from the stock suspension set up. It never felt like I was turning IN to the curve, more like following the curve.
I ended up placing 2nd in the Stock Forward class, being 12 seconds behind the Corrado, and 12 seconds ahead of the Saab wagon. Overall, there were 28 competitors, and I finished 20th overall. I was impressed with where I placed. I fully expected to finish dead last, or worse, not finish. I also had zero cone violations, which could be a good or bad sign depending on how you see it.
Another decal for the van
This was so much fun. I met a bunch of new people, and now have another hobby to throw money at. I don’t see myself getting into stage rally, but I will try to compete in every rallycross I can. It’s super convenient to be able to pack everything into the back of the van too. I wish I rallycrossed the Renegade I leased when I worked at Chrysler. That stick shift turbo toaster would have been a riot. Definitely doing this again. 10/10 would recommend to anyone.
Best pit crew member