Heavy Metal Affliction – DirtFish Subaru BRZ

Uncategorized | April 08, 2016

When the folks at DirtFish Rally School asked me to come out and experience their One Day Rear Wheel Rally Fundamentals class, the answer was simple: of course I would! After having taken the All-Wheel-Drive course and shared the thrill of it through Heavy Metal Affliction last year around this time, the taste of rally driving has lingered and I have yearned for more. 

Driving rally cars, RWD or AWD, is a pure driving thrill and the perfect mix of surfaces, cars, and instruction is found in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains at the DirtFish facility. Through the course of the day, either as a passenger with your instructor showing you techniques that you will soon be applying, or behind the wheel, the only challenge you will face is focusing on the instruction versus just having a blast.

For me, now a veteran of the AWD class, I had the added challenge of throwing much of what I had learned out the window. After all, RWD cars are an entirely different animal. Many of the same concepts apply, such as weight transfer, vision, traction, left-foot braking, and the “lift/turn/brake” sequence. How these concepts are applied is different, as elements like throttle steer are introduced. 

There are key differences in the school’s AWD Subaru STis versus its RWD Subaru BRZs. The way they deliver traction is obviously different; the STi’s AWD will pull you straight, while the BRZ loves to slide. The STi is a turbo and, while very quick, the way the BRZ accelerates is smoother, still with more than enough power to become a gravel machine gun given enough throttle.

For me, when I think of rally cars, I instantly think of Global Rallycross and the World Rally Championship, and that means AWD. Closer to the truth is that rally driving got its start in RWD. AWD was an evolution first seen in the Audi quattro, that evolved into the unbelievable cars of Group B, where eventually cars got so dangerously fast they were banned. 

So taking a RWD rally driving class is really like taking a trip back to the roots of rally driving. It’s also worth noting that many entry-level rally drivers don’t have the luxury of AWD. The other glorious benefit of taking a RWD course is to drive the Subaru BRZ. A car that along with its sister-ships the Scion FRS and Toyota 86 has brought back the thrill of what an economical sports car can be. It’s also a car that I have been longing to experience in real life.

What better way to get to know one of the coolest affordable cars on the road than to do so with a personal instructor teaching you how to get the most out of it in a safe and legal environment? A place where the only thing to slow you down are your own limits. Throughout the day, I made good use of second gear and the BRZ’s broad power band to point and shoot through the slalom, blast sideways through “The Boneyard” at nearly 60 mph, and manage my throttle control to accelerate quickly out of corners on a loose surface.

As may be obvious, the BRZ is the perfect RWD car for this kind of driving; it’s no wonder it’s a common choice for drifters as well. Let’s be clear though, RWD rally driving is NOT drifting. It’s a different type of getting sideways. More angle is not better, in this case. The goal is to always keep the car, and your eyes, pointed at where you want to go. Less throttle to straighten out, a little more throttle to steer with the rear.

Believe it or not, the DirtFish BRZ’s are mostly stock. A beefed up suspension, rally tires and wheels, a full roll cage with four-point harnesses and a gutted interior are the only real differences, along with the awesome sound of that boxer motor through a straight-pipe exhaust. All of this is done to strengthen an already very capable package; one that gets heavy use all-types of students; from pro-drivers like Bucky Lasek to people attending as part of a corporate event who may have no motorsport inclinations whatsoever. Some cars even have air-conditioning!

The RWD Rally Fundamentals classroom and my instructor Winston de Wurdt

When I drove the STi previously, I never came close to spinning it. During my first session on the handling course in the BRZ, I spun it on my last lap while testing my limits. A bit later on my first pass through the slalom, I over-rotated near the end of the run and had to reel the car in quickly to save it. While those mistakes were humbling to a certain degree, the car gave me great feedback as I was rapidly getting comfortable in the driver’s seat.

Having experienced both cars and classes I truly cannot say one is better than the other, only that they are different. If you were trying to choose one or the other, I would say think about how you are going to apply what you take away from the class. Do you drive a RWD or AWD car? Both classes teach students about car control that can be applied to street driving and both classes are a thrill.

Once that final lap was over, all of the students reveled in our greatest moments and we all considered our next steps. Some talked of their next class, some spoke of their upcoming real-life rally driving opportunities, some considered stopping by the nearest Subaru dealer. One thing we all shared was the pride in the accomplishment of increasing our driving skills and experience. That is something that will last a lifetime and comes free with admission into any DirtFish class.

For more information on our Rear-Wheel, please click here.

Article by John Schommer

Photo credit to Justin Fitch of DirtFish Rally School