Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog


March 01, 2009

Ken Block Wins, Travis Pastrana Rolls, at 100 Acre Wood Rally

For the fourth year in a row Subaru Rally Team USA driver Ken Block has won the 100 Acre Wood Rally in Salem Missouri. The course is particularly suited to Block's flat-out style. He was quoted on Rally America as saying “I love the flow of the stages of this event,... I love the high speeds.”

NOS Energy’s Andrew Comrie-Picard finished in second place in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. Rockstar Energy’s Tanner Foust took third in his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.

Subaru Rally Team USA team mate Travis Pastrana really wanted to challenge Block for the top spot on the podium saying prior to the race “I’m going to drive like a bat out of hell until I either hit something, or we catch Ken,” Unfortunately for Travis he rolled it on day 1 and was unable to continue. To riff on the Subaru jingle, "that's what makes a Pastrana, a Pastrana"

Subaru Rally Team USA is run by Vermont SportsCar of Colchester, VT. The 100 Acre Wood Rally is round two of the Rally America Championship.

Here's some video of the 2009 100 Acre Wood Rally that I found on YouTube.

January 29, 2009

Team O'Neil Winter Rally

I've written a lot about Team O'Neil lately, but I had to get up these last videos of their Winter Rally, then I promise I'm done ;-) The first video is some quick interviews with some of the instructors from Team O'Neil who were driving in the rally, Wyatt Knox - Lead Instructor, Chris Duplessis - Instructor and 4-time Rally Champion, Chris Komar - Instructor and Crew Member for Ken Block on Subaru Rally Team USA. It ends with Dave Mirra - X Games Champion and Driver for Subaru Rally Team USA. The 2nd and 3rd videos here are of the 2nd, 4th and 5th stages of the rally shot from Chick's Sand and Gravel pit.

A funny story- After my interview with Dave Mirra I left my gloves behind (not so funny so far). So I'm out on the course trying to video and it's about 10 degrees F. My hands were freezing! (still not funny) As Chris Duplessis comes by on stage 5, flying along with his car skidding half-sideways something flies off (from?) his VW. It sort of looked like a glove... or a pair of gloves? I'm thinking no way, they can't be mine. I figured at least I'd get some gloves, but no! Once I got over there they were mine. Chris carried them along until he spotted our crew and then tossed them out. What a trip! So many thanks Chris, I'll see you at the New England Forest Rally and I'm buying the beers. You can see their "ejection" near the end of the 3rd video in this group.

Team O'Neil Winter Rally Pre-Race Interviews

Team O'Neil Winter Rally 2009 Stage 2

Team O'Neil Winter Rally 2009 Stages 4 & 5

January 28, 2009

Driving On The Edge

Team_oneil_rally1 With a full class of 12 students of varying backgrounds and skill levels, I recently attended a four-day driving course at the 12-year old Team O’Neil Rally School & Car Control Center in Dalton, New Hampshire. Rally driving is an extreme motor sport where cars race on limited-traction surfaces such as dirt, snow and ice. Combining a curriculum of classroom work and hands-on driving, the school’s mission is to teach people — novice to expert — driving skills that include skid control, accident avoidance and vehicle dynamics.
My goal was to learn the skills required to compete in local rally events. By the end of the week I was executing high-speed turns on snow-covered roads like a champ. While in Dalton, I had the opportunity to sit down with the man who started it all, Tim O’Neil, 49, a five-time U.S. and North American Rally Racing Champion, to ask him some questions about the school and his motivation for operating it.

BOB KILPATRICK: Though my dad has been road racing all of my life, I have had no hands-on experience with motor sports until recently, while writing and shooting videos for Seven Days Auto Finder. Something about rally really piqued my interest. Rather than choosing another motor sport, I had to give rally a try.
TIM O’NEIL: I say there are two kinds of people: those who like total control and everything precise, and those who like to wing it. And the over-steer [rally] crowd seems to be better at winging things than having everything perfect.

BK: That makes sense. I like to push my limits. I like things a little on the edge.
TO: That’s why the new generation is so hot on rally, because a lot of them are like that. They’ve seen stock car racing and they think, That’s foolish, and they’ve seen drag racing and they think, That’s foolish, but this [rally] is completely wacky.

Team_oneil_rally2 BK: They’re raised on video games and hanging by the seat of their pants — on a game controller. So that’s what they look for, I guess. I was really impressed with the course and instructors; I never felt like I was thrown into something. It was a very steady progression. How long did it take you to develop the course and the steps we go through?
TO: It’s still evolving today, but for the most part it took me about two years. I come from military and flight training. I need to be able to train a group of 12 people, and they’re all different. If I was training some rally champion, it would be different, but I have to train people who are scared of driving or who don’t know how to drive with a standard transmission. You have to create a crawl-walk-run process that’s made for everybody.
We get about 90 percent success, which means that, with nine out of 10 students, I would ride anywhere with them after this training. We are still evolving. Techniques like trail braking — we didn’t really have it as an official exercise until about six years ago. And learning about lines and apexes — standing outside the car and looking at the cones that outline the course and judging where to point the vehicle — we didn’t do that six years ago . . .
This training program is not very cost-effective for us. If I were looking for 30 percent profit, like most people, I would never run the business this way. I would have to increase the ratio of students to teachers. At the end of the day, though, I would not be able to provide the same level of high-quality instruction. If you said you wanted to learn this all in one day, I couldn’t do it. I need that first day to teach you a technique and then let that sink in. The second day, we teach you another technique and let that sink in. Now, the third day, we’re taking those techniques and putting them together. And now we let that sink in.
It’s got to be over time. There have to be failures. Part of the problem we have in our society, I think, is there aren’t enough failures. If you went for your driving test in Europe, you’d fail the first time. With our system, if you don’t do it exactly right, you spin out immediately and hit the bank. Then you’re like, all right, I’ll learn, I’ll listen.

BK: So if there’s not great revenue in this, what led you to do it?
TO: The satisfaction of seeing you come from where you were to where you are now. I love being outside. I love driving cars. This is my passion. I don’t do anything for money. You have to make money to pay your bills and pay your people, but I just really get a buzz from seeing people learn. I think it’s a life-changing experience. People come back and tell me they saved their own life because of what I taught them. I won’t die when I see a moose in front of me because I know how to react. People tell me that three or four months or a year later, a moose jumped out in front of them and they went right around him and their wife goes, “Wow! Where’d you learn that?” Then they realize I made them visualize what they would do in that situation. So, when it happens, you react appropriately because you’ve already worked it through.

BK: What are your long-term goals for Team O’Neil?
TO: We’re going to continue doing what we do. We’re going to do it better, like we always do, everything better. We will provide synthetic [simulation-based] training with live training. That will make the live training better. We’ll do motor-sport testing and development. But everything is all about driver improvement.

Interested in rally racing or in dramatically improving your foul-weather or accident-avoidance driving skills at Team O’Neil? I encourage you to read more about my day-by-day experience at the school and see videos of my exploits in the rally section here on my Good Carma blog. I’ll warn you, though, this training may sound like work, but in reality it’s more fun than you could imagine. And fun like that is contagious.

January 25, 2009

MOTOGP In The Woods Of New Hampshire?

John_hopkins_rally One of my co-students at Team O’Neil Rally School last week turned out to be MOTOGP (Motorcycle Grand Prix) racer John Hopkins. John had a rough 2008 that included 3 serious crashes on his Kawasaki motorcycle. He is now back in great shape and like any champion looking forward to his next challenge.

BOB KILPATRICK: You’re a motorcycle racer. What are you doing here in the snow and woods of New Hampshire in a rally car?
JOHN HOPKINS: Basically just getting my car control down and getting some experience behind the wheel. I got the chance to drive the Subaru [prepared by Vermont SportsCar] on the last day. I’ve always had an interest in rally. Alpinestars, my main sponsor and Arai and Monster thought it would be a really good event if I can get myself enough experience to compete in the X Games this summer. And so I said, “Yeah man, I would love it!”

BK: So the primary goal is to get into the rally event at X Games this Summer?
JH: Yeah, I'm working to get into the X Games this summer, I hope to be competing there this year.

BK: What do you need to do to get that far?
JH:  Basically I’ve got some races that we’re going to attend to. Today was the make it or break it day, where I decided “okay, I think I’m good enough where I can get to the next level”. Now I'll start progressing from here. If I didn’t like it we would have taken the car experience and moved on, but I’ve come away today just so damn excited about it. I just had a blast. A really, really good time. I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn, but I can progress strongly. Now the next stage is to get on the phone with my agents and managers back in Carlsbad, that manage Pastrana and Mirra, all the same guys, and say “Okay, what’s next? Get me in the next rally.” They’ll line it all up and I think the first race will be in Canada. And from there we’ll do more races and try to get as much testing under our belts as possible, just drive as much as possible leading up to the X Games.

John_hopkins_rally_ BK: We all agree rally is fun. I know I’ve felt like a kid on a roller coaster all week. Is it similar to riding the motorcycle?
JH: It’s similar for me as far as just the adrenaline and the excitement that I get. That’s what got me to the level that I’m at with my motorcycle racing. My instinct, my excitement and my passion for racing and this just brought it all back. It was something new today that I really, really enjoyed. I’ve definitely got a passion for it.

BK: I would think that on the motorcycle it would be more precision, there’s one particular line to ride as opposed to rally where you’re bouncing around and you’re switching things up.
JH: It’s a completely different discipline, but I’ve done a lot of off-road stuff as well. I’m always out in the desert off-roading my trucks. It’s a similar concept. It’s whether you can get yourself into that tunnel vision, you start getting into that focus in rally, you’re bouncing around everywhere. I’ve grown up in motocross where you’re flying everywhere. You’ve got legs flying off the bike and you’re still staying on it. It’s a similar sort of mental focus. I think rally drivers are probably the smartest drivers on the planet as compared to any other discipline of driving. You’ve got to work with a co-driver. You’ve got to know what’s coming up. If you slide off the track in Formula 1 or anything like that you’re going to go in a gravel trap. You’re going to be safe. In rally you’re doing a hundred miles an hour in the forest. Man, you hit a tree and there’s going to be some consequences. That brings tons of excitement back to it. I love it.

January 24, 2009

Team O'Neil Day 4

Well the good times had to end sometime and so I find myself at the end of my four days at Team O'Neil Rally Driving School. We came out to the course after lunch and it hit me, darn it, this is it.
As long as everyone's driving skills had progressed appropriately, and ours had, we got to drive one last long run on a particularly tough course. This last winding run included a scary looking, off-camber, icy, narrow, steep downhill section that in preview had me spooked. Instructor Chris Duplessis (a two-time, two-wheel drive Rally Champion) took us through the course at top speed which was a wicked blast. That really inspired me to give it a go. How did I do? Check out the video. It was a great ending to a fantastic week. Thanks to Tim O'Neil and all of the superb Team O'Neil instructors, you guys all kick ass!

January 23, 2009

Team O'Neil Day 3

Each day (and each skill for that matter) at Team O'Neil is a well thought out progression into the following one. They don't push you too hard, but at the same time you are constantly challenged. Each vehicle has two students and an instructor on board. For each new technique first lead instructor Wyatt Knox explains the technique on a white board. Then another instructor takes you out on a few runs showing you how it's done. Then you and the other student switch back and forth each taking about 4 runs and then swapping seats to watch the other guy try it. The pauses allow you to think about what you're doing, then you get to hit it again. Towards the end of the day we got to extend the course a bit and included a big loop around the garage. This added about 6 turns on narrower roads and it was really a blast. I started getting the hang of linking my turns and that felt great. Today we get to push it further and go out on some longer roads. I can't wait!

January 22, 2009

Team O'Neil Day 2

We began Day 2 running a slalom course driving the same front-wheel drive Volkswagen Jettas that we started with on Day 1. The slalom started with long turns that grew steadily tighter. It was a good way to re-acclimate to the vehicles and also to get the feel for weight transfer which would lead us into the second maneuver of the day, Pendulum Turns. A pendulum turn is used to whip you around a tight corner at a reasonably high speed. You first turn hard enough in the opposite direction of the turn to start a skid and then counter steer to whip the car back around and accelerate out. Good luck. This was the first time in the course that I really started getting frustrated. I could get the first skid down pretty well, but found myself somewhat overwhelmed mid-way through and half the time ended up chowing down on the cones that marked our desired path on the exit. Then we added the slalom again, finishing it with a pendulum turn. This actually seemed to settle me down. I was over-thinking it less and instinctively feeling the turns a little better. To end the driving portion of the day we switched over to all-wheel drive Audi 4000s. Of course this meant more changes to our driving technique, but not so much that we couldn't hit the slalom and pendulum turns fairly well right away. At the very end of the day there was an optional classroom course that earned you co-efficients (or points) towards a rally license. I'm not sure that I'll ever drive in a pro rally, but I stayed on nonetheless just to increase my understanding of the sport. All in all another great day at Team O'Neil!

January 21, 2009

Team O'Neil Day 1

So here I am in Dalton, NH at Team O'Neil Rally School. The day started with a rendezvous at the Hampton Inn in Littleton, NH and then we convoyed out to the school's remote location. The site is beautiful. The school sits in a small valley or dale surrounded by rugged evergreen and birch covered hills. We started with an hour of classroom instruction and then headed out to the skid pad to start practicing left-foot braking and how to use that technique to turn the vehicle on the snow and ice covered low-traction surface. Then we hit the slalom course to start to get some rhythm and commit the technique to muscle-memory. All in all a great start to the week. These guys know what they're doing. I can't wait to see what day 2 brings!

January 19, 2009

I'm Going To Team O'Neil Rally School This Week

Tomorrow morning I'll be heading out bright and early, at about 6am, so I can get over to Littleton, NH for a 4-day Rally Driving School put on by Team O'Neil. We'll spend a portion of each day in a classroom, learning about rally driving techniques, then we'll head out for practice on the miles of snow covered roads their compound encompasses.

Owner and lead instructor, Tim O'Neil is a five-time US and North America Rally Racing Champion.I'll be blogging each evening, describing the events of the day, so be sure to check back in.

December 10, 2008

Vermont’s Rally Royalty

This is the third in a series of Rally articles. See also "What is Rally?" and Rally Redux with Rally great John Buffum.

Af121008lance Lance Smith is the president of Vermont SportsCar in Colchester. He translated a love of rallying into a hugely successful business venture that keeps him right where he wants to be: in the heart of rally racing in America. Vermont SportsCar runs Subaru Rally Team USA, which has won the last three Rally America National Championships. Last week, Smith slowed down enough to share the ride.

BOB KILPATRICK: How long has Vermont SportsCar been around, and when did the focus turn to rally?
LANCE SMITH: We started in 1988 and our focus was restoring exotic sports cars. Though my background and education was with exotic sports cars, my passion was with rally. I always had a rally car and did my first rally school in ’79. I was 18.

BK: So, it’s been a lifelong passion?
LS: Yep . . . The collector car market slowed in 1990. I purchased what was left of the original company and carried on. Each of my former partners wanted to try rally. They said, “Jeez, we’d like to give that a go.” And I got to build their rally cars. I slowly changed the focus to be more rally oriented. We still do restorations now, but we do about one a year. It used to be 95 percent restorations and 5 percent rally, and now it’s totally the other way.

BK: Your specialty on the course is as a co-driver. Tell me about that experience.
LS: I used to be upset that I was born on the wrong side of the water [Atlantic Ocean]. There was no real rallying in the United States. You couldn’t get any funding. So I spent years frustrated with that. Then I went for a ride with John Buffum in his Audi Quattro when it was first delivered. Cutting-edge, state-of-the-art stuff, and here’s a guy in Vermont who had one! As soon as that happened, I could never change my focus again. I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life: I wanted to be a rally driver.
But I loved the sport of rallying even more than my desire to be a rally driver. So building the cars and co-driving was a really good way for me to stay involved. I was onboard for any issues. I co-drove for Dick Corley in town here for three or four years, and we were running at a high level in the national championship. That was really good. We were fighting with the big boys from a team that started with nothing. Then, riding with Carl Merrill, we actually won the North American Rally Cup. That was my highest achievement as a co-driver.

Block BK: What makes Vermont SportsCar unique?
LS: When I started looking at rally, I thought I could make a name for us there. I tried to bring the fit and finish of a restoration project into the world of rally in the United States. At the time, the fit and finish of rally vehicles was not very high. Our cars presented very well and performed well. Our attention to detail was different than everybody else’s. I found a little niche for myself there.

BK: How did you get involved with Subaru Rally Team USA?
LS: We collaborated with Prodrive in 2001, providing half of the people and the infrastructure for the team, and that was our first factory contract. In 2003 Subaru contacted us about running a program of just parts delivery, and since then we’ve grown the project. Two thousand-six was our first year as a full factory team for Subaru. Since then we’ve won the championship every year. We’ve also put a new emphasis on marketing the sport. We have different drivers now that have a big fan base, and that’s why we have this explosion of interest in rally. These drivers, Travis Pastrana, Ken Block and Dave Mirra — when they talk, people listen. We didn’t have that before.

BK: How big was getting rally into the X Games?
LS: A huge move, monumental. The story goes that when Travis was leaving the X Games in 2005, after he won a Gold Medal in Freestyle, he said, “Well, it’s too bad I’m not going to be back next year. You guys don’t have rally in the X Games and I’m going rallying next year.” The guys running the X Games stopped and took the time to find out “what is rally?” And because of that, it opened a whole bunch of eyes. ESPN was looking for some form of motorsport to transition the X Games, to get to a slightly older audience and get more eyeballs, and Travis gave it to them on a plate. They took a big chance with rally and it worked.
Our team of drivers is unbelievable. We’ve been given a real gift. Between [sponsors] Subaru of America, BFGoodrich Tires, Red Bull, Monster Energy Drink . . . and then we get three spokesmen [Pastrana, Block, Mirra] who are all enthusiastic. Each one of them is different. They’re all experts in their own field and they’ve decided to converge on rally at one time? And with us? It’s crazy.


See also "What is Rally?" and Rally Redux with Rally great John Buffum.

December 08, 2008

Wolf Chase SCCA Rallycross

This Saturday I competed in the NER SCCA Wolf Chase Rallycross with two goals in mind.
1) Don’t break the car (1998 Subaru Impreza)
2) Don’t be last

I’m happy to say that the car is fine and by the narrowest of margins I was not last. I placed 11th out of 12 entrants in my class (Stock AWD). So a victory of sorts, but the most important thing is that I had a great time and met some cool people like Scott Beliveau whose Toyota Tacoma can be seen in my Weaver Farm Rally video, Kathy Moody from Team O’Neil, Robert Champion creator of VTRides and Burt Wilcke who was nice enough to let me drive along with him for a run. There was a great turnout with about 50 participants. We each got 5 runs through the course. Thanks to Jeff Hall for the pics!

Here's a link to video of cars actually racing around the field.

Impreza3 The field at Barber Farm started out with a light covering of snow that was quickly blown away to reveal a field that was not yet frozen. It turned out to be a fun, slippery and muddy course that required adjustments throughout the day to keep it in a reasonable state.

On my third run through the course it had been changed. Being new to the sport I was totally unprepared. I think I drove right over the 4 cones pointing me to the new route! I got an off-course for that which knocked my time down a bit. Note to self: follow the cones, not the tracks!

Thanks to all who made this event possible!

Wolf Chase Rallycross - More Video

Here's some more video from the Wolf Chase NER SCCA Rallycross on Saturday, Dec. 6th, 2008.

You can check out my original post here Wolf Chase Rallycross

December 03, 2008

Rally Redux

Af120308buffum2 John Buffum is the best rally driver the U.S. has ever produced. He holds the U.S. record for rally wins with 11 national titles and 117 national championship event victories. He is also the only American to ever win a European Championship event. John came to Vermont in the early ’60s to attend Middlebury College and has lived here just about ever since. He continues to prepare winning rally cars from his company Libra Racing in Colchester, and is also an advisor to Vermont SportsCar and Subaru Rally Team USA.

BOB KILPATRICK: How were you first introduced to Rally?
JOHN BUFFUM: By a fraternity brother of mine, in ’64 in Middlebury. He said, “Let’s go to a rally,” and I said, “What’s a rally?” I had no idea. We borrowed another fraternity brother’s MGA. We went on this little local rally that a guy named Frank Churchill put on. We loved it — it was great, good competition; good trying to find our way around and also stay on the time.

BK: What was your first big race?
JB: I was stationed in the army in Germany and I’d always read about the Monte Carlo Rally. We bought an ex-factory training car (Porsche 911) and went and did the ’69 rally, which was as big a rally as you could get in the world. Talk about a minnow in the ocean: I was totally out of my realm, over my head, but it came out fine. Things just sort of flowed along and, after five days, we were really tired, but we ended up finishing 12th. It was an unbelievable achievement.

Af120308buffum1 BK: When you look back on all the years, are there any particular events or moments that really stand out in your memory as personal highlights?
JB: In ’84 we did a program in Europe. Joe Hoppen was the boss of Porsche, Audi & Volkswagen motorsports in America. He got me an Audi Quattro to race in ’82. Because of its four-wheel drive and turbo-charged power, it was head-and-shoulders above everything else at the time. In ’84, BF Goodrich had also been involved with Audi in the U.S. rally program. They said, “We want to sell tires in Europe, so why don’t you do this program in Europe with your Audi?” We did a five-event program. That was the World Championship level. We were fifth at the Acropolis rally, behind two factory (race-prepared) Lancias and two factory Audis. And then we won the Cyprus Rally, which was the European Rally Championship. That was as good a season as I could have.

BK: I’m getting ready to try my hand at rallying at the local level and I’d like to ask for your advice.
JB: If you’re interested in road rallies and some rallycrosses, that’s a great place to start. It’s exactly how I started. It gives you an idea of what you are getting into. It gives you some car control. You start to see tree lines.
BK: They start to have meaning.
JB: Yeah, and you start to put all these things together.

BK: Do you have any driving tips? How can someone learn to be a successful rally driver?
JB: Go to Tim O’Neil’s [rally school]. You need somebody to tell you all of these things. If you’re in the shade, if you’re coming down into trees, it’s apt to be more slippery, so leave yourself a little more buffer. You can use the tree line or the telephone pole line to guide you where the road may go. You want to look up. You don’t want to look two car lengths in front of you; look down the road. I did a German championship rally with the Quattro. I remember part way through the rally I started to try to drive fast. When you try to drive fast, a lot of times you get sloppy and you end up driving slower. And my co-driver said, “Easy, use the advantage of the car.” Don’t come barreling into the corner and do asshole over elbows around the corner. Make sure you get a nice acceleration and fast speed out of the corner. Carry the speed out of the corner.

BK: Do you see anything going on now with rally that gives you hope for its future?
JB: In the last two or three years Subaru has become heavily involved and (also) with Travis Pastrana and Ken Block. Travis’ name has been fantastic because people, especially younger people, know who Travis is. You’ve got the X Games — you’ve got a different segment of the population. Now you’ve got energy drinks coming in — Red Bull, Rockstar, Monster. And this is perfect to go along with rally. Yeah, there is some hope there.

BK: You’ve heard the saying, “If I knew then what I know now.” Is there anything you’d go back and do differently?
JB: I have a poem on my desk that my daughter gave me, by Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood . . .” which is a similar type of thing. There’s this guy walking along in the woods and there are two paths, a fork in the road, and he doesn’t know which one to take. It’s so true about life. Were there things I’d do differently? Sure, there would have been smaller things. I look back at what I’ve done and the people I’ve met and known with great fondness. You have what you have and live what you live.

This is part two of a three part series.
Part I: What is Rally?
Part III: Vermont's Rally Royalty with Lance Smith of Vermont SportsCar

November 26, 2008

What Is Rally?

Pastrana2 This is the first in a three-part series about rally competition and the internationally renowned drivers and organizations right here in Vermont.
See also-
Part II: Rally Redux with rally great John Buffum
Part III: Vermont's Rally Royalty with Lance Smith of Vermont SportsCar.

Rally is a motor sport in which drivers navigate from point to point. It is different from NASCAR or Formula 1 racing, in which drivers lap the same course over and over. The unmatched variability in rally provides a constant challenge, with hills, dips and turns coming often at breakneck speed and with little advance notice. A common saying sums up the sport: “Oval track racers see the same two corners 500 times, while rally racers see 1000 corners just once.”

Rally, the first form of auto racing, started in the late 1800s. At that time it was primarily a competition between auto manufacturers as they tested their new machines. Courses were thousands of miles long, often running from city to city, such as Paris to Madrid or New York to Seattle.

As you can imagine, having vehicles racing through small towns and city streets was dangerous — injuries and deaths were not uncommon. As the 20th century wore on, most top-level rally races were moved to either remote corners of the world or closed courses. The primitive nature of the courses resulted in the “standard” road surface being anything but. Furthermore, rallies are at the mercy of weather conditions, as races are run in all seasons, in snow and rain, and on pavement, dirt and ice.

Sport seems to inspire human innovation, and rally is no exception. Cars that are now popular for normal transportation, such as the Mini Cooper and the Audi Quattro, were originally designed specifically for rallying.

Rally teams are composed of a driver and co-driver, or navigator. The latter shouts out directions about fast-approaching corners and hills just in time to enable the driver to take on the terrain at the fastest possible speeds. It is a unique relationship with both participants sharing responsibilities that can make or break their outcomes.

Rally comes in several types, including stage, road and rallycross.

Stage rallies are where you’ll likely find the pros. A race will usually include a number of “special stages” that take place on very fast, closed courses, and a series of “transit stages” in which the vehicles navigate between the special stages on public roads. The cars used for stage rallies are full-on racing vehicles with roll cages and safety equipment, but, like all rally cars, they must be registered for travel on public roads.

This type of rally, somewhat modified for television, was added to the Summer X Games in 2006. Well-known X Games competitors such as Travis Pastrana and Dave Mirra are helping to grow the popularity of rally in the U.S. The ultimate race in this country is the Rally America National Championship.

Road rallies, also known as Time-Speed-Distance, or TSD, rallies, take place on public roads and focus on navigation and maintaining a set speed rather than attempting to drive as fast as possible. Anyone can enter, and you don’t need a special vehicle. A recent example was the Covered Bridge Rally at Sugarbush on November 1, in which participants navigated some 150 miles back and forth across gap roads in the Green Mountains. These events provide opportunities to build the skills and teamwork a rally group needs to be competitive in more challenging events.

Rallycross Rallycross is the amateur version of a stage rally, except there are no stages, and takes place at a single location. Anyone can enter but must have a helmet. Events are generally organized by local branches of groups like the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Similar to autocross, drivers race around a course outlined by cones or snow banks, but, rather than driving on pavement, they’re on a limited-traction surface such as grass, dirt or snow. Courses are short — it usually takes about a minute to get from start to finish. Drivers run the course over and over throughout the day, and the fastest or best-accumulated time for the series determines the winner. While road rallies challenge navigation and teamwork skills, rallycross more directly challenges individual driving skills.

I checked out my first rallycross in Huntington a couple of weeks ago, and am hoping to debut as a driver on December 6 at the SCCA Wolf Cross Rallycross in Proctorsville. This is a great way to practice driving skills and have fun in a safe and supportive environment.

Speaking of learning driving skills, Team O’Neil Rally School & Car Control Center in New Hampshire is another great place to start. It runs multi-day classes almost every month throughout the year. I’ll be heading over there in January to report on what the school is all about.

One of the most successful and popular rally teams in the U.S. is Subaru Rally Team USA, winners of the Rally America National Championship for the past three years. It may come as a surprise to some readers that the Subaru team is based in Colchester, led by Lance Smith and Vermont SportsCar. There must be something in Colchester’s water, because John Buffum, the most successful rally driver in American history, also lives there.

Part II: Rally Redux with rally great John Buffum
Part III: Vermont's Rally Royalty with Lance Smith of Vermont SportsCar.

October 10, 2008

First Visit to Vermont SportsCar

I just got a quick tour of Vermont SportsCar in Colchester, VT from their Marketing Manager Chris Yandell. Their primary mission is keeping Subaru Rally Team USA up and running. They were busy prepping cars for the Lake Superior Rally October 17 & 18. It's more than a full-time job to keep their stable of Subarus race ready for the likes of drivers Travis Pastrana and Ken Block. It's relatively unknown that Colchester, Vermont is a hub of Rally activity, but with both Vermont SportsCar and Rally legend John Buffum in town it's practically the epicenter.

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