DirtFish Instructor, Sam Albert, and DirtFish Motorsports Team Manager/Instructor, Michelle Miller, made their way to Rally Colorado last weekend to compete in the 4th round of the 2017 Rally America National Series. As with most rally weekends, Rally Colorado was an adventure. The rally was held in hills surrounding Rangley, Colorado at over 5,000 feet of elevation and a charming small town with an economy based in the oil industry. The drivers and organizers were welcomed with open arms by a community that was very excited to have the teams in their town.
The car, a 2004 Subaru STI, was back following a total rebuild/refresh and better than ever. With a lighter overall weight, a new sequential gearbox, CUSCO differentials, suspension parts, Hoosier tires and improvements in driver and co-driver skills, the duo was ready to attack. Sam, Michelle, the crew at DirtFish, Mike McGinnis of Innovative Tuning and our service crew, Tony Torchia and Lenny Sithong, worked tirelessly to complete all of the last minute checks and work to have the car race-ready.
The stage roads wound high into the hills of Northwestern Colorado reaching over 7000 feet and before dropping back down into the valleys. The views were fantastic, the roads were very challenging with changing surfaces, large exposures (drop-offs) and many crests and jumps, making them interesting around every corner. The organizers gave each team one pass of reconnaissance to prepare their pace notes. Sam and Michelle used that time wisely, writing the best, detailed notes they could.
What seemed like the entire population of the town showed up to Parc Expose on Friday morning, lining the streets for the parade of rally cars to kick-off the event. Racing began mid-day with 6 stages covering over 60 miles and one service slipped into the middle. This is where the excitement began. On the first stage, with about 2 miles remaining, the hood pins on the car managed to wiggle themselves out and the hood ended up on the windshield while Sam had his foot to the floor in 5th gear. Surprisingly, they were able to make it to the finish by looking through a small gap at the bottom of the windshield. Thanks to their pace notes and driving at the beginning of the stage they were able to walk away with a stage-win!
After zip tying the hood in place, Sam and Michelle proceeded to stages 2 and 3 where they were again able to win stage 2! Unfortunately, on stage 3 Sam caught up to the car in front of them and had a small off thanks to thick dust from the car in front of them. Luckily, they were still able to finish stage. At the first service, the crew was able to fix everything and send the car back out on the road for the next three stages. They even managed to find a new windshield for the car that was delivered later that evening. On the 4th stage, Sam and Michelle again caught up to the car in front of them and finished the stage practically touching their bumper. That team ended up pulling out of the race, which meant the duo were the first car on the road for stage 5. With no dust ahead and vehicle issues seemingly resolved, Sam was finally able to put their new Garrett GTX2860R turbo to work, allowing he and Michelle to win the stage by 35 seconds and finish the day in 2nd place overall.
After making a few edits to the pace notes and a good night’s sleep, Sam and Michelle proceed to day two with the vision of the podium in their sights. However, the problems from day one seemed minor in comparison to day two. Thanks to the roughness of the roads, their right rear axle snapped on the first stage of the day. If that wasn’t enough, the car was plagued with vapor lock on the following stage, which cost them time as they had to wait for the engine to restart. Once it fired back up, they were again stuck in another competitors dust on stage 9, then realized that one of their rear brake calipers was leaking and not functioning properly. However, that didn’t stop the team and they were able to make it back to service without any further issues. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the problems for day two. Following that service, the car entirely lost one of the wheels bearings, which only left Sam with power being sent to three wheels. Luck was not on their side. Later in the day, they again lost the rear brakes from rock that was stuck in the wheel breaking the caliper, then one of the bolts connecting the shifter wiggled itself loose, which meant the car was stuck in 6th gear for the remaining hairpins of the stage. Still sitting in 3rd overall at the end of the stage, Sam and Michelle felt that they had nothing to lose at that point and they just needed to press on to the final stage. Trying to shift with vice-grips attached to the linkage and breaking another axle, Sam limped the car to the finish for a 7th place finish overall.
Although the rally was tough, the team was tougher. That is the challenge of the sport. It’s not always about the fastest car and the fastest drivers, but which ones can make it all the way through to the end. “We saw huge progress in our teamwork as a driver, co-driver and a team.” Says Michelle, “we are always learning what we are able to take from one race to the next. We will be back; better, faster and stronger than ever. “
A huge appreciation goes out to the organizers who worked hard to find these great roads and put on a brand new event! Sam and Michelle would also like to send out a thank you to everyone who has supported us along the way, including DirtFish, Hoosier Tire, Method Race Wheels, Innovative Tuning, Honeywell Garrett, CUSCO USA and 425 Motorsports. They are an essential part of their success.
To follow our racing adventures check out