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M Mad
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Not exactly BMW, but something for BMW fans.

A couple of weekends ago two friends and I did a 1 day course at the European Rally School in Florida (www.gorally.com). They do various courses, but we did a 1 day group course. The group is limited to 3 people. And if you have some driving background, I suggest you try to get two others of similar background to go along.

The course starts with the general stuff on safety and such, as well as some time spent talking about what you will learn. Then off to the driving. They supply a single layer suit and helmets, you need your own gloves (they do sell OMP gloves there).

We drove a Subaru Impreza with racing seats, harnesses, racing steering wheel, suspension mods, intercom, and roll cage. They also have a Ford Focus, but the A/C didn't work in that and it was warm. Both these cars are front wheel drive. They also have all wheel drive cars, but those are for more advanced training if you want it.

The first thing was the Skill Pad. This is part of an abandoned runway that has something like an autocross course laid out on it. It is concrete, but with a healthy helping of dirt, sand, dust and gravel on it. You lap this getting used to the car and the lack of traction. This doesn't mean you can't go fast, but you have to do it differently than we are used to from street, autox, and track. A lot more oversteer (a rally driver's friend) and even the use of the handbrake.

Since my two friends and I have some background in driving we each did two sessions on the skill pad and then on to other stuff. The reason I said that you might want to find two other people to make up your group is that some people have been known to need to spend all day on the skill pad.

The next thing was to go to one of the rally stages they have set up and to learn how to deal with hairpin turns. No late apex/double apex here. Using LOTS of steering, pitch the car sideways, grab the handbrake and pivot, dropping to 1st and driving away. If you count it takes one foot on the gas, one foot on the brake, one foot on the clutch, one hand on the shifter, one hand on the handbrake, and two hands on the wheel. So you are somewhat busy. :)

The difference between this and the handbrake turns most of us have done sometime in our past is that instead of pivoting in place you need to go around the corner. So while you use the handbrake to pivot the rear end, you need to do so at such a rate that the car still moves around the corner. This takes a good bit of work to get right.

And as you start to get this right, you add the "flick" to the mix. We all know that once the rear end looses traction, you have to catch it because once it swings one way, it swings even more the other way. Well, in rally driving you WANT it to swing a lot, so you actually turn the wrong way at first. Strange, but it does work. The way it goes is, as you come to a tight corner, you move to the INSIDE of the road/path. As you start your braking, you turn HARD to the outside to induce oversteer (quick steering motion combined with braking). As soon as the rear end swings, you quickly turn the steering wheel back the other way to induce a BIG swing to pivot the car. And in the middle of this you grap lots of handbrake to lock the rears and swing the rear more.

Done right you end up facing down the road on the other side of the turn, downshift and go.

We each had two sessions learning this along with negotiating some "normal" corners. Even in the normal corners you can use the flick to get the rear out and then oversteer through the turn. And with a "normal" turn, you are trying to do this on a typical racing line. Wide in, tight apex, track out under full throttle. All sideways.

In between these sessions we had a lunch (provided by the school) and watched rally crash videos. Nothing like watching cars flip, roll, crash, etc to get the juices flowing. This was combined with some additional talking about what was going on.

The second session after lunch saw this new stuff coming together, so on to the real thing. Running a rally stage at any speed you desired.

The training rally stage used has LOTS of hairpins, some nice sweepers, some swithcbacks and a couple of long straights with jumps. The shorter straight is a solid 3rd gear straight (you have to wait until you land off the jump to shift). The longer straight has you thinking about 4th. Only thing is, this is on gravel and sand so the car is not exactly tracking. For those who are concerned about tramlining in their street car should try flat out on a loose surface feeling like you are sort of floating and not realy in total control. Oh, and the "road" snakes through some piles of tires, with the slot seeming to be too narrow for the car. :D

The first lap is pretty tame and then you start to increase your speed. Many of the corners are actually easier to do right at speed. The flick works better, the switchbacks take care of themselves, and you are having a great time making LARGE clouds of dust.

After a period while your classmates do the same run, you get another session. This is the one where things get exciting. You think you have it wired. You are in the groove. You are getting used to things. So you press, hard. And you may end up on the bank facing the wrong way. Don't ask how I learned that. :tsk:

But it does feel good, and I felt like I had learned a lot about car control.

The last thing we did was to ride as co-driver with our instructor for a lap of one of the other stages. That was eye opening. And it also showed how good we got on some things.

Overall, it was a great time, and I feel money well spent even if you will never drive a rally car for real. Reading the account it doesn't sound like you do much drinvg, but at the end of the day you are tired, and you have learned a LOT. You do more than you think.

The cost was $675 per person (cheaper on weekdays). And I know we ate up a full set of tires that day.

The only warning, the boss has NO CLUE when it comes to time and distance. He thinks the place is about 90 minutes/95 miles from Orlando airport (the school is near Gainesvile). It is actually 146 miles (Garmin StrretPilot III) and about a 2 hour 10 minute drive from the airport area.

I don't have pictures yet as they are film and I have to take time to get in the darkroom and develop them.

My two friends and I are already planning going back next winter (cooler) and do a day in the all wheel drive cars. :thumb:
 
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