Driving sideways – really sideways, in the mud, at high speed, on purpose, in a fully prepped race car – is ridiculous insane fun. Hopefully my observation is not shocking, and if your response involved a big grin then you should probably register now for the new rally driving school called DirtFish just outside Seattle, Washington. Think of it as the perfect way to keep your car control skills polished in the off season!
Perched in the middle of what was once Weyerhauser’s international headquarters, the school offers vast expanses of rolling terrain just begging to be attacked by the DirtFish fleet of Subarus. The cars are properly race prepped, sporting rally racing suspension, giant turbos, launch control, dog ring gearboxes, hydraulic e-brakes, full cages and harnesses – seriously the real deal.
Rally cars have no grip. This is great news! Slippery surfaces, soft suspensions and too much power all make it difficult to go around corners fast without sliding the cars a lot. So what is a rally driver to do? Simply pitch the car sideways into a massive slide before every corner, get all your rotation done long before the apex, then bang on the throttle as soon as you’re pointed in the right exit direction. The team of instructors guide us would be rally racers through a sequence of skill building exercises. First learn to create slides, then bigger slides, then big fast slides, and at last sequences of big fast slides. Cool, right?
For those with a road racing background (mostly) constrained to dry asphalt like us, some features of rally driving are very different: It is bewildering just how little steering is actually performed using the wheel – virtually all rotation of the car is created and controlled using your feet plus just small hand movements. No surface grip means no sensation of g-forces while cornering! An immense racket is generated by thousands of rocks pelting the under carriage and fenders – all with enough force that DirtFish applies extra layers of think vinyl to keep paint on the cars. Forget perfecting your line on the course since the road changes with every lap – deepening muddy troughs, shifting puddles, loose soil getting packed down – be prepared to adapt.
If you stay for more than just introductory sliding lessons, the next step at DirtFish is to head out of the open yard cone courses and into the wild wild woods to make your debut as a real rally driver. An instructor sits in the right seat wired up with a mic so you can hear directions about the rally stage you have until now never driven. Unless you can see through trees listen very closely to your coach since sliding through the next corner means beginning that slide long before you can actually see where you are going. Cues from your copilot on the direction, speed and radius of the corner are the only hope for staying on the road.
Whether your goal is to attack the Pikes Peak Hill Climb next year or polish your car control skills DirtFish is sure to be an excellent winter diversion. More details and registration at www.dirtfish.com.
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