Sno*Drift 2013. A wild and crazy journey from New Hampshire to Atlanta, Michigan. The journey begins at Kinetic Motor Works, where at 7:00pm tuesday night before the event, we pick up the beast known as Bender, fresh from the last minute changes and vinyl done to make it not only look good, but work better. The GTX2860RS turbo setup complete, and that works like a champ, np. No dyno, np problem as Mike and crew worked their magic to make it all happen. The custom catch can to finally catch the overflow of oil (Rings in #4 are already starting to go after Pikes, dumping excessive oil into the system.), the custom rotated setup looking beautiful and makes it easy to work on. All in all, hats off to the crew for putting together a great turbo setup for us! Lots of small details that made this car great, and a new effort to get started into the world of rally racing. Hopefully we don’t scare them away with all the work Rally takes.
We weren’t very prepared for Sno*Drift. For the first time, I felt as if I had dropped the ball on my performance. We had very limited amount of time with snow on the ground up in New Hampshire, due to a dry winter. This led us to have a very limited amount of testing time at Team Oneil after the setup was complete enough to test. [only a 2 week window]. Our first test runs showed constant brake lock-up in the fronts, which we ended up dialing back the brake bias as far to the rear as we dared to go. No more ABS, we cut the cord with this event for the first time. Another addition to the braking system was the hydraulic hand brake. However, we didn’t take out the vacuum assist. I believe this, combined with the fluid flows between the rear and front brakes, and the general lack of seat time before the event, led us to having the ‘learn’ the car, power & brakes, at the event. All and all not a good idea. [Kids, don't try this at home.] We also had suspension issues during our test period which masked some of the braking issues as the suspension issues were a huge problem. We had a complete lock-up of the AST 5100′s which needed to be addressed. At first we thought the problem was a miscommunication and we had put the spring rates for Pikes Peak back on the car, but it turns out that the suspension may have been completely locked up at Pikes Peak too! It ran as though it was on sticks very stiff, no dampening, no movement, no momentum transfer from side to side. This meant no control and the transfer of motion to the ground directly leading to slide-out conditions on the contact patch. We ended up switching to a stock STi suspension after just one run practice stage at Sno*Drift after just because we knew, we simply couldn’t run on the AST suspension we had. We thought we had fixed the problems, but the cold just brought them out again.
So with the brake problems masked by suspension worries at testing, we ended up always double-braking. Testing and riding the brakes into every corner.. worrying about knock-back and inconsistant pedal feel. Where one amount of pressure would be perfect for initiating a slide in one corner, the next corner there may have been a different run-up to and thus the same pressure led to a complete lock-up of the fronts. This is exactly why you should never have vacuum assist or learn on vacuum assist without ABS. Too many issues to tackle and only one practice session to tackle them in. Never a good idea.
So, after hitting the ditch pretty much every stage, but managing somehow to crawl out each time, we tried some changes overnight. Next day was slightly better, but still as a driver I was lacking confidence in the car (which translated to having a little less confidence in myself). The last stretch, we went out trying to make a good overall time.. but ended up high-sided on a higher speed stretch in a ditch. Several people tried to pull us out but couldn’t [thank you to every competitor that stopped to help. You have true spirit!]. We made it out, about 1/2 hour later.. but only to see the sweep truck a-coming and only to discover a flat tire! Knowing that we needed to finish the stage before the sweep truck, we hauled ass on the flat for the next several miles.. on a flat. We made it, managed to change the flat with some ‘luck’, and then the very next stage, ended up with another flat that we drive for a few miles on, on stage.. to avoid the sweep truck again (because we knew we were the last competitors at this point and knew that we needed to beat them in to finish). With the different wheels (different tires on the spares, different offsets) the steering was completely out of whack driving on it.. but luckily we made it back in one piece, turn in the time card, and finish of all the places.. 2nd in class.
Important lessons were learned from Sno*Drift. Less is more. Vet the car before. Seat time is priceless. And never, ever, ever underestimate the value of being able to trust your brakes. Being late or overbraking will cost you an event.. everytime. Power means nothing in the snow.