BFGoodrich Hosts X Games Ride Day with Dirt Fish Rally School
When it comes to dirt, BFGoodrich has been a staple in off-road racing scene for decades. But off-roaders may not know the brand also has a strong street presence, especially within the street-dirt discipline of rally racing.
For X Games 17 this weekend, BFG stepped up its presence at the X by sponsoring the event, though the team has already works with a number of world-class drivers in sport such as Samuel Hubinette, Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust, Kenny Brack, David Higgins, Dave Mirra and more. To kick off X Games 17 in style, BFGoodrich invited us out to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, to gain some knowledge of what it takes to drive a rally car. BFG enlisted the help of Dirt Fish Rally School (yes, the same school that taught Shaun White how to tackle the mud and dirt) brought out four Subaru rally cars to teach us how to drive, while BFGoodrich tagged along to show us just what kind of beating its tires take in a rally car.
Dirt Fish Rally School of Snoqualmie, Washington, is one of only three rally schools and facilities on the West Coast. The school operates out of the Old Mill Adventure Park, which is a 315-acre facility about 30 minutes from Seattle, offering tarmac, gravel and dirt terrain in open and forest settings. It also offers five purpose-built stage sections.
The morning started off with an introduction by Dirt Fish instructor Ross Bentley, who explained some of the basics of the sport. He broke down for the group of journalists the difference between stage rally racing (driving from point A to point B in the fastest time) versus rally cross (racing on a closed course usually for a number of laps). X Games 17 will feature a rally cross version on the streets of downtown LA. A dirt jump will be built into the course, and we’re also told that more dirt will be added to a few corners on the course, so although this course will have more road than usual it might not be 90 percent of tarmac we were originally led to believe.
Bentley went on to explain our activities of learning to loosen, yet control, the back end to oversteer by running the car around a cone circle at speed, and then learn reaction time and car control on a slalom course, finished up with laps on a closed course incorporating a number of different turns. As he spoke about braking, accelerating, and shifting the vehicle’s weight to your advantage in turns, one piece of advice really stood out, “In high-performance driving situations, the steering wheel becomes the brake, and the gas and brakes become the steering,” Bentley said. This proved to be the greatest single piece of advice all day.
We ran on stock BFGoodrich street tires during our runs to prove these off-the-shelf tires could hang, but we did get a look at BFGoodrich’s RC01 competition tire that each of the BFG rally teams plan to run at X Games 17. These tires have a very sticky compound that BFG’s Donni Wilson described as a “racing slick with a tread pattern.” This tire will offer great traction on tarmac surfaces but the tread will also provide great grip in sandy sections – which will surely be part of the dirt portions for this weekend’s racing.
Once it was time to get behind the wheel, our track was wet down by water trucks and we took to the circle course with a Dirt Fish instructor riding as co-driver. Our instructor, Adam "A-Bomb" Newell quickly aided us in learning that quickly gassing hard and then braking hard would loosen the rear wheels to allow an oversteer situation where the rear end slides around quicker - almost the more gas and hard braking the better. But too much turning of the steering wheel would result in a rougher turn, as you would end up fighting to get the wheel straight after coming out of a turn. The gas and brakes truly became a major steering influence, and only a small turn of the wheel would get the racecar through the turn smoothly.
Next was the slalom course, where we practiced driving while looking ahead. As we weaved in and out of the cones, an instructor held a cone at the end of the line, and when that cone was lifted we would skip a turn. This helped us to truly look ahead and not focus on the next cone in front of us. Looking only at the next cone prevents you from setting up your movements down the line and often draws your direction toward that cone – something Bentley wisely also warned us about.
Then it was time to take our skills to a course, where we used out new-found oversteer techniques, hard acceleration and hard braking to control the vehicle, which would conclude with a movement off the brake and back onto the gas. We also had the chance to use the hard brake to help pull the rear end around more quickly on certain turns.
With X Games rally practice beginning Friday, a number of teams are getting their vehicles prepped. Just across the way from us, Subaru Rally Team USA (http://www.rally.subaru.com/) was finishing up its testing. Pastrana, Mirra and Higgins were all taking runs, coming in to make changes and then heading back out on the track. The group was also treated to co-driver runs with Higgins and Mirra throughout the day.
The experience was great, and most importantly it got a lot of the media excited about a sport that is very different from road racing or off-road racing. This hybrid sport has really gained steam in America after having great popularity overseas, and it’s about to take Los Angeles by storm this weekend. Be sure to check back with Off-Road.com for X Games coverage throughout the weekend.