“Being able to race through the forest was a crazy and impossible dream for me just a few years ago. It is phenomenal that those daydreams have now been replaced by real memories of an actual race weekend. Those memories are better than any daydream I could ever have.”
Influenced by her mother’s love of cars, Kris Saada grew up watching racing. She fell in love with rallying, seeing it as the most challenging and interesting form of motorsport. For Kris, the chance to compete in rallying remained only as a daydream. She did not grow up racing. So as an adult, her dream felt even more out of reach. However, after extensive training at the DirtFish Rally School and developing a close relationship with the DirtFish team, those fantasies came to fruition in a way she never would have expected.
A Thrill Ride that Sparked a Journey
For Kris, the first realization that it might be possible to compete happened when she first learned of DirtFish. A thrill ride in a rally-prepped Subaru BRZ was the catalyst that convinced her to jump all in on her dream of learning to rally. And now, she had a place to go to learn all she needed in order to compete.
In the time between the thrill ride and her first class at DirtFish, she had purchased a Subaru BRZ and began learning manual transmission. She chose the BRZ, she says, because of that first thrill ride – she had experienced what the car could do.
“I figured the BRZ must be a good car to eventually make into a rally car,” is Kris’s summary.
Every class she took was in a rally-prepped BRZ in order to directly translate the skills and feelings back to her own car.
In the summer of 2018, Kris competed in her first local rallycross event. At the time, her BRZ was stock.
The excitement from the event, however, ultimately convinced her it was time to convert it into a stage car. After partnering with the DirtFish shop to build out her car, she continued taking classes with the goal of being ready to compete on stage in the next year or so.
She knew it would be a daunting test to make the jump to stage rally.
“Like when you take piano lessons and, every so often, you have to go and perform in front of an audience to test your skills under pressure,” she says. “It felt like a way to pull together everything I’d been learning and practicing and put it to the test.”
After numerous classes where she honed not only her driving skills but other skills she would need in competition – recce planning, pacenote writing, rally protocols – she felt prepared to make the jump. By the summer of 2020, her car had been fully converted into a stage car ready to compete.
The DirtFish Performance shop built the car to compete in the Limited two-wheel-drive class, so from its production chassis had it fitted with a Custom Cages t45 cage, Reiger Rally suspension, CUSCO limited slip rear differential with a re-gear, a PPG helical short ratio gear kit and a Motec ECU.
According to the technicians who worked on the car, alongside those upgrades were “all of our regular modifications to the chassis and body protection to make the car as indestructible and reliable as possible”.
Time to Rally
In November of 2020, Kris competed in her first stage rally, the Olympus Rally in Washington state. The transition proved to be a big leap, but one she felt she was equipped to handle thanks to her training.
“Most of the fundamentals I needed were in my reflexes from training. It didn’t feel completely new to be in the woods,” Kris says.
“However, rally stages are longer than DirtFish training courses, so it required a leap in focus and stamina. The increase in consequences—trees, ditches, mountainside exposures—for a serious mistake are much larger, and many parts of the stages are much rougher than at DirtFish. But I’d had enough seat time training in my car—that I felt I could adapt quickly. It’s definitely a big leap, but not an impossible one.”
Kris says she began to realize just how much mental muscle memory she’d gained.
“There were techniques and skills that I [didn’t] use fully until I had to apply them [on a rally stage]. I spent so much of the weekend feeling grateful for all the prep at DirtFish. My co-driver and I genuinely had everything we needed to make it through the event and have fun.
“It was overwhelming because we were new at it, but there was nothing missing from our training. It was all there in our minds, our notes, and in the experience of our support team when we needed it.”
Being her first event, Kris’s only goal was to get as much experience as she could driving as many stage miles as possible. At that time of year, the Olympus Rally featured truly challenging conditions—torrential rain, night stages, and even snow.
Her strategy was to drive smart and not take any big risks. She knew there would be future events.
Her strategy paid off in a big way. The car came home in one piece, and second place in class. The only damage to the car was a tiny evergreen sprig found wedged into the front reflector at the end of the event, a little souvenir from the Olympic forest to complement Kris’s first trophy.
The experience and success from the first event fuels Kris’s desire to compete in as many events as possible in 2021. She has definitely caught the rallying bug, and plans to build a four-wheel-drive rally car for additional training and seat time in the coming year.
“There are 1000 reasons I love rally, and even more reasons I love DirtFish,” reflects Kris. “But my favorite thing is how open and welcoming the rally community is towards anyone who loves to drive and wants to improve their skills. Even if I’d never done a single competition, everything I’ve learned and experienced at DirtFish has made me a better, more confident driver, and has permanently instilled a lifelong love of the joy of driving.”
Making it a Reality
Justin Simpson, DirtFish CEO, says of Kris’s journey: “Supporting our customers to pursue their personal rallying goals is our objective. That can mean many things depending on the person.
“For Kris, it meant building her Subaru BRZ rally car from the ground up, training her every step of the way to prepare her for her first race, and finally, supporting her on the race weekend to take her first podium. For others, it could mean something completely different. This is why we personalize our development plans to fit each of our customer’s needs.”
Rallying is a magical and alluring part of motorsport. Many of us daydream about the adrenaline rush of sliding sideways inches from trees while the sound of gravel spray roars out from the car.
For Kris, DirtFish was a place that helped turn her daydreams into real-life memories. Whatever your daydreams of rally might be, turn them into reality with DirtFish.