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Wet Weather Driving Tips From A DirtFish Driving Instructor

Rally School, Uncategorized | November 08, 2019

DirtFish Senior Instructor, Andrew Caddell is here to provide answers to some of the most common questions regarding driving on wet roads. Do you have a question we didn’t answer? Send it to info@dirtfish.com. We will get it answered for you!

What happens on the road when it rains? Why do we typically see more wrecks?

It depends on how much it rains as to what happens on the road. If there is only a little bit of rain, the road can become slick due to oil and other fluids being lifted from the road surface. If there is a lot of rain, you run the risk of hydroplaning which can cause you to easily lose control (hydroplaning is when a layer of water builds up between the tire and the road, and the tire no longer has traction). 

We typically see more wrecks due to a couple of variables: people not changing their braking distances when it begins to rain and get slick, or they don’t slow down enough for the conditions that the rain brings. That combined with the majority of the population not having proper car control education can lead to accidents.

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What are the three most important safety tips for people to consider while driving on wet roads?

Slow down! 
Drive slower in rainy and wet conditions, because you will have a lot less grip on the road. Slowing down will minimize the chances of your tires losing traction with the road surface.

Check your equipment. 
Ensure your car’s equipment is roadworthy. Check your windshield wipers to make sure they are doing their job, if they leave streaks, you should consider replacing them. Your tires are important! Make sure that have enough tread on them.

Always be alert. 
Be ready for the inevitable surprises of driving in the rain. This could be water splashing from other cars into your lane, or other cars drifting into your lane because they are hydroplaning. Always look far ahead to give yourself as much time as possible to deal with any situations that come at you, and plan for an exit strategy.

Is there anything you would suggest people to do to set their car up for driving in wet weather?

The number one priority is to make sure you have enough tread depth on your tires to ensure they can evacuate the water out as fast as possible and don’t hydroplane. All-season tires and even winter tires are designed to push water away from the tire to maintain contact with the road. That’s why you see V-shaped and “swooping” tread patterns on most tires; those grooves aren’t there to simply make the tire look cool, they are channels for the water to escape from beneath the tire.

Fun Fact: At full-speed, a Formula 1 rain tire can disperse nearly 22.5 gallons (85 liters) of water every second.

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Do you have any tips for different drivetrains?

Different drivetrains will drive the same if you are driving smart and safely. The biggest thing you need to remember is to brake early. Extending your braking distances gives you more time to react and avoid situations ahead of you.

Each drivetrain will wear out tires differently, so make sure you rotate them according to the manufacturer’s suggestions. That will make sure the equipment on your vehicle is as safe as possible.

What skills does DirtFish teach you to better prepare yourself for driving in adverse conditions?

Here at DirtFish, we really focus on car control. We get you to purposely slide a car around to teach you how to regain control and get it back in the direction that you want to go.

The most important skill that we teach that would prepare for driving in adverse conditions would be good vision. Make sure you are always looking ahead and paying attention to anything that could cause your vehicle to lose control. If you get into a situation where you lost control in your car, look where you want to go and DON’T PANIC.

We also teach you how to control the throttle and brakes, which is a very handy skill to have while driving in the rain. Most mistakes can be corrected with proper application of throttle and brakes.

What are antilock brakes, and what do they do? Will it help me on wet roads?

When your tires are completely locked (brakes on hard, tires stopped rolling), you don’t have traction. No traction means no turning and no control to avoid an accident. An Antilock Brake System (ABS) uses a computer to keep the tires from completely locking up, which helps you get the car slowed down more efficiently and still gives you the ability to steer out of a situation. Antilock brakes help drivers because if you hit the brakes too hard the tires lock and the car doesn’t slow down, so your natural instinct is to push on them even harder, which makes the situation worse. ABS controls the pressure to keep the tires from locking up. So antilock brakes can be a huge help to drivers on wet roads, especially in emergency situations. 

At DirtFish, we do not use antilock brakes in our school cars because we want students to learn how to deal with locked tires and how to manage slides.  We teach threshold braking which trains you to brake hard without locking up the brakes. This is a complicated technique that takes practice, so antilock systems are great for drivers with less experience to get the same results. 

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If the backend of my car starts sliding on a wet surface, what should I do?

The number one thing is to look where you want to go to find an option out of trouble. Most people get in an accident because they stare at what they could run into versus looking for an alternate route. The next is to countersteer, which means steering in the direction of the skid. If you are in an all-wheel or front-wheel drive car, gently squeezing the throttle will help transfer weight to the back end and keep the slide from getting bigger. In a rear-wheel drive car, stay off the gas as this will make the slide bigger and harder to control. Regardless of drivetrain, in this situation make sure all your inputs are gentle and small to avoid upsetting the car more than it already is.

Keep in mind that all of this assumes that you are in not in danger of running into a fellow motorist or solid object. The above should be considered informational to understand what happens to a car during a slide, and any of these techniques should NOT be practiced on public roads without extensive practice in a controlled environment.

For most drivers in a modern car with properly functioning equipment and good tires, the best advice is to look where you want to go, stay on the brake pedal, and steer where you want to go. This ensures that all of the stability and ABS systems are engaged and able to work as they are designed. For more understanding of how to handle a vehicle at its limits in slippery conditions, take a class at DirtFish!

Hopefully, this helped answer a few questions that you have about driving in wet weather. To learn more about DirtFish driving classes, please click here to visit our Driving Programs page.

DirtFish Driving Programs Make Teens Safer Behind The Wheel

Rally School | March 29, 2019

According to AAA, teenagers have an 89.2% chance of being involved in a crash during the first three years of driving. That is staggering! So how does DirtFish help your teen driver become safer on the road?

As an instructor at DirtFish, I have the pleasure of interacting with drivers from all walks of life and driving backgrounds. Teen drivers are some of my favorite students to coach. Typically, they come to us with a clean slate of inexperience on which we can instill proper driving techniques and confidence- with loads of fun along the way! According to the National Safety Council, “Teens crash most often because they are inexperienced. They struggle judging gaps in traffic, driving the right speed for conditions, and turning safely.” Our loose surface driving curriculum is designed to challenge and improve even the most experienced of drivers, so it is the perfect place for new drivers to gain experience with all types of situations in a controlled, safe environment. Here are three main reasons why:

Understanding Why Cars Loses Control

A person can lose control of their car for any number of reasons including being distracted, overconfidence, road conditions, or not understanding how a vehicle works. A car can only have as much control as there is grip. Understanding how that grip is created or lost is fundamental to car control, and it is the basis for rally driving at DirtFish.

Grip is translated through a car’s tires. The weight transfer of a vehicle can create an unsafe reduction of grip to those tires, or it can help regain grip. For example, imagine yourself accelerating away from a stoplight aggressively. You feel the car and yourself lean back, right? That is weight transferring to the rear of the vehicle. With more weight over the rear tires, they have more grip. Conversely, the front tires have less weight over them meaning they have less grip. Now imagine trying to turn the car on a slippery surface like snow when all the weight of the vehicle is on the rear tires. It won’t turn very well, and this results in a loss of control. Your tires only have 100% of their grip available to provide you with steering, acceleration, or braking. If you have already used 100% for any one of those inputs, there will be nothing left for the other two. Too much brake, too much throttle, too much steering or any combination of those can dramatically affect your control over the car.

Regardless of the surface you are driving on, it is crucial to understand that what you are doing behind the wheel, can affect the weight transfer of the vehicle. Unexpected weight transfers can occur from overreactions caused by being distracted behind the wheel, not looking far enough ahead to scan the road, or simply by overconfidence and going too fast. As an instructor, I find many teens don’t fully understand these physics yet because of their lack of driving experience, playing racing video games, or watching viral YouTube videos, among other things. Even adults with many years of driving can misjudge the staggering affect weight transfer has over a car. At DirtFish, through the art of weight transfer, we work with our students to understand fundamentally how throttle, brake, and steering inputs mix to achieve the desired result from a car.

Understanding How to Regain Control

If you have watched any bit of professional rally racing, you would probably wonder how in control those drivers are sliding like that. In rally racing, you are at the mercy of the road conditions, understanding how weight transfer causes a loss of control will also help you to know how to regain control. At DirtFish, we have an idea that it is easier to control a slide that you ask for versus trying to control one that has caught you off guard.

Remembering that weight transfer of a car vastly affects how the tires grip the road surface, let’s say you purposely throw the car’s weight forward and turn the steering wheel. The front tires gain a lot of the car’s weight, and the rear tires get lighter—meaning the front gets grip and the rear loses grip. This causes the backend of the car to slide out. If you weren’t expecting this, you might panic and flail about, overcorrecting and making the issue worse. Overcorrecting is the number one mistake my students make that causes a spin or a field trip beyond the boundaries of the course. For this example, in a panic, adding more brake input might cause more of the car’s weight to go to the front only provoking the car’s backend to slide out more. One solution to this dilemma might be to add a bit of throttle. Crazy as that may seem, it could help transfer the car’s weight back to the rear, returning grip to the sliding tires. Several factors, including the road conditions and the drivetrain of the car, can affect this delicate balance between these inputs. Between the rear-wheel drive Subaru BRZ and the all-wheel drive Subaru WRX STI rally fleet offered at DirtFish, new drivers can experience numerous complex scenarios and learn how to regain control of the car safely.

One of your most essential tools to help regain control of a car is almost always the first thing we forget to use- Vision. Teen drivers today have too many distractions readily available to them while they are driving: friends in the car, playing with the apps on the car’s infotainment system or trying to pick the right emoji to send as a text message on their cell phones. Vision is something every single one of my students struggles with, regardless of their experience or age. So it is imperative for new drivers to learn the importance of vision and develop good habits early on in their driving.

When they first start, many of my students drive with their eyes looking too closely in front of the car, usually just over the hood. This makes them late to react to upcoming obstacles or overreact to the car’s motion because they aren’t seeing the overall picture. Their spatial awareness suffers, and looking too closely causes target fixation. Humans have evolved to target fixate. If we didn’t want to be eaten by the lion, we would look at the lion to keep track of what it was doing. We do this in cars as well. If the car starts sliding towards a tree, we look at the tree because we don’t want to hit it. Despite our best efforts, most likely we’ll end up driving ourselves right into the tree because that is what we were so focused on. Like a magnet, our bodies naturally and subconsciously drive the car right into it. By teaching our students to use their peripheral vision and continuously scan the terrain ahead rather than where the car is going, they can more easily understand what they need to do to regain control of the car.

Our rally courses challenge a student’s ability to “read the road” and assess the grip and weight transfer of a car, along with their ability to keep their vision working for them. Understanding how these two factors mix together gives them a much higher chance of regaining control when the car does something unexpectedly in the real world.

Comfort When a Car Acts Unexpectedly

The benefits of learning rally driving goes far beyond driving sideways fast on dirt. This is evident in the number of return students we have each year (38% of our clients come back for more). Many of our students experience those benefits when they go back to their racing and everyday driving. Racers from all disciplines come to DirtFish for cross training. I had a teen driver who raced in Formula Mazda come back for a second program. What was the deciding factor for coming back? During one of his races, it was raining heavily, and the car began to slide on him. He believes he would have ended up in the wall had it not been for his previous rally training at DirtFish. Even my own housemate who has very little interest in cars benefitted from our courses. I remember her coming home one day being quite proud of herself. She said my voice from our DirtFish program had been in her head, reminding her what to do when her car began sliding on a snowy hill in Seattle. Many parents who have completed programs bring their teenagers here to complement Driver’s Education training for those reasons.

DirtFish is a diverse rally playground. Our courses offer a wide variety of situations and conditions. There is gravel, mud, tarmac, narrow tree-lined roads, and undulations in the surface. As drivers, we can have the best intentions with our vision and weight transfer; yet rarely do things go exactly as planned in the sport of rally. In the real world, there are even more unpredictable conditions that we confront every day.

By learning the proper techniques and understanding the physics of car control, DirtFish students gain the confidence to respond correctly when their car acts unexpectedly in real-world conditions. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that “the three main reasons teens crash include being distracted by something inside or outside of the vehicle, going too fast for road conditions, and lack of scanning the road that is needed to detect and react to hazards.” DirtFish training helps mitigate these risks. EVERY driver will have a better chance of correcting it and keeping themselves safe.

If you have any further questions or would like to book a DirtFish Driving Program for your teen, please feel free to give us a call at 866-285-1332 or shoot us an email to info@DirtFish.com.

Article by DirtFish Instructor, Eric Schofhauser

Dsport Magazine Editor Gives Rally a Shot

Rally School | June 26, 2016

Cameron Parsons, DSport Technical Editor and Formula Car Instructor, decided to see what our Three Day All Wheel Drive Program was all about. Click here to read his article!

DirtFish Teaming Up With David Higgins in Vegas!

Motorsports, Rally School, Uncategorized | October 29, 2015

DirtFish is very excited to announce; we are teaming up with David Higgins and Subaru Rally Team USA for the final round of the Red Bull Global Rallycross in Las Vegas! Earlier in 2015 we partnered with David, for obvious reasons, he was the best choice to help maximize the exposure of DirtFish in North American rally. Prior to the 2015 season he was already a 6-time Rally America Champion.

“I am very proud to be representing two great brands in American motorsport with DirtFish and Subaru”, says Higgins, “the car looks fantastic and after a very positive test last weekend I really feel I can put on a great show in Vegas.”

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David is coming off a fantastic Rally America season, dominating all eight rounds across the country and adding another championship title to his extensive list of accolades. He’s only the 2nd person in 28 years to achieve this monumental feat. David will be rounding off his 2015 season by competing in the Red Bull Global Rallycross race in Las Vegas on November 4th, following that race he heads back to the UK to race in the infamous Rally GB, piloting a 2015 Group N Subaru STi.

At DirtFish, we’re continually striving to provide the highest level of instruction possible. In April, David joined our instructors to collaborate on innovative rally driving techniques, ensuring that DirtFish continues to provide the highest level of rally education in the world.

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Photos by: Ben Haulenbeek | subaru.com/rally

 

DirtFish Rally Team Update

Rally School | July 14, 2015

You’ve heard all about our new Red Bull Global Rallycross Lites team recently, but that’s not the only DirtFish team out there racing and representing us! Last fall, we set the goal of building two Subaru BRZ stage rally cars to compete in the 2015 Cascadia International Rally Championship (CIRC). The first rally car was expected to be race ready for the Oregon Trail Rally (OTR) which would be the season opener, and the other to be completed halfway through the season.

In the process of making sure the first car was perfect before it ever saw any real stage miles, our timeline was set back a bit and we decided to forego the first event. Our crew of mechanics, technicians and engineers worked hard to get the car finished and running in top shape for the second round of the CIRC, the Olympus Rally in Shelton, Washington.

I had the chance to take a ride with our Motorsports Manager, Derik Nelson, as he put the car through its paces around The Grid course here at DirtFish, and I have to say… it was like nothing else I’ve ever been in! The car moved around so fluidly; he was able to position the nose right where he wanted with very little effort. It was obvious that it was well worth the wait and time it took to re-engineer the suspension geometry to accommodate 12” of suspension travel.

Not only was Olympus Rally the first rally for the brand new BRZ, but it was also the first rally for DirtFish’s own rookie driver, James Rimmer. Jason Grahn, James’s co-driver, has over 14 years of experience sitting shotgun, making him the perfect person to show James the ropes for his first time. The main goals for James were to focus on completing his first rally and just have fun!

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The first day of rally was an eventful one to say the least! James was able to make it through the first set of stages without any issues, but the same couldn’t be said for the second time through… on the fifth stage, the car lost all brakes due to a faulty banjo bolt, causing them to tap a tree on the outside of a medium speed corner. James was able to baby the car back to service, where the crew got it fixed up and back out on the road for the final two stages of night. Unfortunately, the night ended early after losing all power to the rear wheels, caused by the clutch blowing itself up!

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Thankfully, the team had a spare clutch that was a bit stronger, so the entire crew stayed up until 2 am to replace it, making the car rally ready yet again! However, it wasn’t meant to be… a few miles into one of the first stages of the morning on Sunday, the car went into limp mode and was extremely low on power, all because a wiring harness coming loose. This would require a complete reset of the ECU, so the team decided it was best to call it a day and retire from the race.

There was about a month post rally to work through all the issues and have it ready for the next race, the Idaho Rally, in Boise, Idaho. Being James’ second rally ever, the goal was still for him to focus on completing the rally to receive the coefficients towards his unrestricted rally license and become more accustomed to how a rally functions.

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The Idaho rally is a unique rally in the mountains north of Boise. The race and the team service areas are based in the town square of Placerville, a once booming, scenic mining town that is half abandoned and includes a whopping population of 53. It is definitely one of the more unique towns visited on the CIRC tour. There are about 4-5 roads leading in and out of the town, three of which are the stages for the rally. Many competitors say this is one of their absolute favorite rallies since the roads are smooth and fast, with flowing corners and elevation changes.

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The first day went very well for James and Jason. James was beginning to feel comfortable with the BRZ and learning the awesome Idahoan roads. They ended up laying down some solid, consistent times throughout the day and ended the day in 5th place for his class. The following day had an early morning start, with the first stage starting at 6 am with an hour drive to the start of the rally. With the stages only running on a total of three roads run multiple times in different directions, James was much more comfortable and able to start pushing a bit harder. He looked great all day and yet again put down some good stage times! Combine those stage times with driving smart and clean, the car running flawlessly, and the crew working hard around the clock, James completed his first ever rally and took 6th place in the CIRC 2 Wheel Drive class!

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The team has a three month break before hopping across the border to Merritt, British Columbia for the Pacific Forest Rally. The race is October 2nd and 3rd, so come on out to cheer on James, Jason and the DirtFish team! If you can’t make it to the actual rally, be sure to follow the event on our social media! We may have a pretty bad ass surprise for you guys!

Article and Photos by Trevor Wert (DirtFish)