Sunday, August 28, 2011
My Ford Fiesta rally experience
I recently participated in the 1-day Ford Fiesta Rally Experience at Team O'Neil Rally School in Dalton, NH. My father accompanied me, and while he did not want to drive, he was able to take some awesome pictures (thanks dad!). I was taught basic rally techniques in both a classroom and track setting. For $569, the 7-hour class for 15 people was an amazing value and more fun than I could ever imagine. Click through to see more.
We started off learning how to left-foot brake by spinning the Fiesta around in a circular track. At first, it seems counterintuitive, since most people use their right foot for gas OR brake, but ralliers hold the gas and tap the brake at the same time to drift-turn the car on loose surfaces, rather than turning the steering wheel.
Once we learned how to left-foot brake, we went to the slalom, which sat at the bottom of a steep hill to gain speed. The instructors had us whip the cars around like there was no tomorrow, providing rapid-fire instructions like, "left, tap the brake, countersteer, keep your foot on the gas, right, tap the brake, countersteer" and after a few tries, I was picking up the technique. They had to continually wet the track to maximize the looseness of the dirt track.
By the way, the car in front with the busted bumper was actually the most souped up model of the bunch. It had previously been in a minor accident, so Team O'Neil gave it a sport exhaust system an real alloys.
Then things started to get more difficult...Pendulum turns and Trail Braking. Both techniques are ways to quickly turn the car at a sharp degree, and demand a strong understanding of when to use braking and how much pressure.
Pendulum turns involve counterintuitively turning the car in the opposite direction of the turn while braking, then letting off the brake and countersteering to use the car's momentum to correct itself and turn in the correct direction. To be honest, I will need quite a few more runs before I could master this one...
Trail braking is a bit simpler: as you approach a turn, you apply brake pressure. Once you release the brake, the car's weight shifts and slides you into the turn at the correct angle.
The next set of exercises were related to accident avoidance and were actually quite practical, in addition to being fun. The instructor had us ramp up speed to 40 mph and approach a set of cones (we were supposed to visualize a moose in the middle of the road), and he would randomly shout one of three instructions: 1) stop, 2) stop turn (left or right), and 3) no stop turn (left or right). Similar to a real accident scenario, the randomness of the instruction required us to stay on our toes.
The Fiesta itself was a joy to drive and is very easy on the eyes. The little subcompact is probably the best looking car in its class and fits nicely with the rest of Ford's design language. The interior is exceptionally high-class for a car at this price range. The models we were driving were stripped of carpeting for safety and to save weight, but the dashboard is smartly designed with easy to operate buttons. The cars we were driving are heavily flogged on a daily basis, but have held up quite nicely, which is a testament to Ford's quality. The steering was direct, the acceleration was peppy, and the brakes were responsive. By the end of the day, I was convinced - if I was in the market for a subcompact, the Fiesta would be at the top of my list.
As a treat for finishing the long day of exercises, the instructors took us on a lap around the track at full speed. I am sitting in the back seat of this red Fiesta pictured above, and was clinging on for dear life! The pro driver took us off small jumps, sped down a tiny wooded path at 40+ mph, and did huge powerslides - much larger than the ones I was attempting to do earlier. This experience was almost more fun than driving the cars myself!
In sum, I would recommend this course to anyone who is a car enthusiast. Every single person who participated left with a huge grin on their face (myself included). The program was professional, educational, and excellent value compared to some of the other driving schools out there. I hope to do the 2 or 3 day school, which goes into more depth in some of the more advanced techniques. Plus, they have a full stable of Audi, Subaru, Jeep, VW vehicles of all drivetrains. I could see this getting pretty addictive...