Going into this, I wasn’t entirely sure it was a great idea. I certainly had second thoughts. I had stumbled upon a Facebook page of a local rallycross track that was opening up. The page informed me that they were having the year’s first event for Texas Rally Cross in two weeks — and it was shockingly reasonable to enter. Let’s face it, that was just too tempting to pass up.
[Editor's Note: Our Own Phillip Thomas sent this in, thinking you'd all like to share in his adventures. Well I do believe he might be right! -D]
The rally car of choice for me? Why that would be my 1996 Firebird Formula; essentially a LT1 V8 Trans-Am with V6 body-trim and interior options. From previous shenanigans with my old Third-Gen Firebird, I knew these cars could be lots of fun in the dirt, and the Formula’s stock suspension had plenty of travel to take some dirt-abuse. Nevertheless, I wanted to see the course before entering, so I shot an email to the track’s owner, and arranged to preview the course.
The Thursday before the event I drove out to the track to preview it, since I had never entered a rallycross before. I pull in and meet with the gang that’s hanging outside the garage, prepping a few freshly aquired Craigslist-Special Foresters. Most importantly, I met this stranger named Brianne Corn, the lady who runs the track. It was too dark for me to comfortably run the course, and they still had some work to do to it, but she offered to give me a ride around it in her car.
I suppose when someone says, “Good luck!” I should have been worried, but I didn’t know what to expect. The car was a little ’93 Impreza, rolling on bald tires – an unassuming little car. However, at the hands of this madwoman, the thing was instantly sideways, pulling a 100 foot drift around the garage and onto the track. Now, it’s pitch black, and the little Subby had stock headlights, so my visibility was nil. I glance at the speedo to see 45 mph… (in the dirt at night, this feels damn fast) And then we’re sideways. I mean, almost looking through the driver’s side window at the track sideways! Handbrake turns everywhere! The mad little Subaru pegging off the limiter as she whips it around the first s-bends. There’s another wide drift around the back stretch, a quick 180, and then more wild hand-brake enforced s-bends before the final big drift back around the garage, right into the car’s original parking spot.
To say that I was impressed would have been an understatement. I haven’t had this much fun riding in a car since I was a kid. Turns out the Subaru has little more than STi suspension, AWD conversion, and a carbon-fiber rear strut tower bar. The little 1.8 was left untouched, and still spittin’ with 250,000 miles on it. And as I later learned, this madwoman behind the wheel wasn’t some ballsy weekend warrior… She was a very successful racer: “To this end Brianne has trophied in several SCCA National events and even a National Championship in 2008, competed in the 40th anniversary of the Baja 1000, joined the Texas Mile 200 mph club (on a motorcycle) and set a world record at Bonneville on the four year anniversary of her first race. In 2011 she set her sites on 3 major goals, the All Wheel Drive Time Attack Championship at Pikes Peak, the Rally America Open Light class Championship and the SCCA B Mod National Championship. She won all three!” (http://briannecorn.com/)
Honestly when I woke up Saturday morning… at 6 a.m., I wasn’t planning on entering. I had replaced the water pump in the Formula earlier in the week, but was having problems with the cooling system holding a stable temperature. For those who don’t know, 4th gen F-Body cooling systems are a royal pain in the ass to bleed… And up until Saturday, I thought that was my problem. The drive to the track was no different; erratic coolant temps, but not over heating. I pulled over to once again open the bleeder screws and try and burp the system when… HA-HA! In the cold morning, the steam from the radiator cap was clear. A half-mile detour to Autozone, a new cap, and a happy LT1.
I get to the course and see a usual rally crowd – Subarus, SUBARUS EVERYWHERE. There were a few odd-balls; an S10 X-Treme (Even more oddball that it had a 4.3 V6 with a 5-speed manual), a Honda Wagovan, some sort of “Cosworth” 2012 Focus… rental… and of all things, a ’94 Grand Cherokee.
Yup, my class was going to be interesting.
Granted, I’ve had plenty of time on dirt roads with RWD cars, but laying down the Formula’s V8 power on such a tight course proved to be a chore at first; my 1st lap was all sideways, slow, and ended with my GoPro hanging in a tree branch after a brush with nature. But, everything was still on the car! Each lap was faster. The first section of the track was tough, it’s tight for my car, but on the back stretch I could open it up and take it sideways. The killer, the most difficult turn was the hair-pin 180; I’m not used to hand-brake turns, and as it turns out, the Formula is not the easiest car to whip around on it. I wasn’t the only one, and it caught a lot of drivers. At worst caused one spectacularly slow roll over in a rally-prepped Datsun 510; he entered the corner sideways at a good clip, about 90* into the turn, and just happened to catch a small rut. The narrow 510 just rolled right on 2 wheels, and then tipped over onto the roof. The driver was fine, other than the 5-point harness causing a “My balls!” moment.
2WD ended with me running mid-pack, the Cossie rental just behind me after a DNF – tire and rim had a nasty divorce at the hair-pin, the S10 and I were running close, and the lead pack involved an Impreza, Miata, Spectra (yes, really), and an Integra.
I corner worked for the 4WD class, on the back straight. My area was mostly cone-killing-free, but the radio was almost always blurting “Car number (blah), 3… 4… 5… cones” from the hair-pin. Every now and then everyone would cheer as a car successfully whipped around, and made it out with speed. There was another rollover, this time at a bit more serious speed. Apparently the Forester driver pulled off the track while braking at the finish, caught a rut, and flipped over the nose. Not a single straight body panel on the truck, but the driver walked away with no injury… Y’all remember those “My Subaru saved my life!” commercials? Yeah, totally lived up to it.
Lunch was fun, sharing videos (with the Datsun 510’s slow rollover on loop), and a bit of repair. I was stuffing my face with a Frito Pie when I noticed one of the 2WD cars finishing a lap… ROUND 2 HAD STARTED! Expletive, expletive, run run run. I got to the grid with plenty of time to spare. Round 2 was beautiful. I was nailing the first sections with reasonable speed finally, and smooth over the whole track. The 2nd to last lap I still derped up the hair pin, but it was some spectacular dirt drifting. The last lap however, things were smooth, really smooth. Less drift, but more speed, and FINALLY I conquered the hair-pin, in a gloriously smooth Smokey-and-the-Bandit-grade slide. It also resulted in my best time of the day, ~9 seconds faster to a time of 70.76! If I could have changed anything, I would have been less conservative on that turn. Oversteer is my glorious friend, I could have probably made a that hair-pin a few more times with a lot more throttle.
The day ended with the Miata in 1st, the Integra in 2nd, and the almighty Kia Spectra in 3rd in the 2WD class. I placed 6th out of the 12 cars in my class. Had I just nailed most of my laps like the last, I could have done much better. The 4wd class was dominated by Subarus, with the top three including an ’11 WRX, ’93 Impreza (The same one I rode in on thursday), and a Legacy. http://www.texasrallysport.com/pdf/TRS%20Results.pdf
Crazy good day, great people, and the Formula drove away with all of it’s nuts and bolts still attached, no worse for wear. If anything, it could use stiffer shocks, but the suspension handled the ruts very well, only bottoming out on the last lap after the track was torn up. Plenty of power to run around in 2nd gear at low revs, but right in the torque band for wicked skidz at any speed.
Next month is Event #2 for Texas Rally Sport, and the Formula and I will return. I want to thank Brianne Corn for her generosity introducing me to the event, the entire team at the race track, and Texas Rally Sport for a smooth running and welcoming event, and all of the racers who ran with huge grins on their face. If I had to offer any advice for someone considering rally-cross, DO IT. Just don’t over-drive the track (Slower, make errors), make sure the car is in good shape BEFORE the event (Shocks, tie rods, ball joints), and once again; know your limits.
Phillip’s Flickr page:
Google+ album, credit to Alex: Click Here