Alasdair Lindsay is taking DirtFish Rally School’s three-day program this week, and charting his progress! Here’s his account of day one:
I’d sat in the classroom, absorbed senior instructor Michelle Miller’s wise words about the 100% traction rule and weight transfer. I was familiar with said principles. Or so I thought.
I knew the theory, though I’d never had much of a chance to put it into practice. Being sat alongside Sean Edwards as he opened the taps on the #50 Subaru Impreza WRX STI and threw it into a turn on the skid pan was a wake up call.
I know nothing. This is much faster than I thought. I have zero concept of grip on gravel. All thoughts that raced through my head.
Luckily I hadn’t much time to dwell on this realization. After a couple of minutes, we’d swapped places and I was in the drivers’ seat for the first time.
It took about two minutes to get used to how good the brakes were; how easily a properly rally-prepped four-wheel-drive car turns in after lifting off the throttle.
Buoyed by my in-car instructor Sean’s relentless enthusiasm and encouragement to brake later than my woefully underdeveloped instincts were telling me, the nerves were immediately gone. It was down to business and straight to work, learning by doing rather than by thinking.
Getting it right once is tricky enough. Consistency is something else. Luckily, day one of the three-day DirtFish course is about techniques and the right drills to learn them.
After a stint at the skid pad, the slalom follows. This is no place to drive it like a Mk2 Escort – going sideways is no good here. It’s the first big test of driving at speed, controlling the car’s direction and momentum by using the pedals, not the steering wheel.
Mileage behind the wheel is key in rallying and there was plenty of it: racking up plentiful passes of the slalom course, my technique was incrementally improving. And yet, I was still a guilty party in the murder of several cones: why?
“You have to remember the mud flaps have a three-inch protrusion,” explained Sean. “You’re not hitting the cones down with the car – you’re clipping them with the flaps.”
It’s crucial to leave some margin in rallying – and I wasn’t. It’s why the taught approach at DirtFish for slowing from speed is to brake hard – a 8-9 out of 10, as their braking scale says – and early, then begin to ease off the brake to induce turn-in, hit the apex late and give yourself plenty of room on exit.
And that was the main topic of the afternoon’s drill: a simple square left after a long straight. Sounds easy. Turns out it’s not. More cones were murdered – I was too impatient to reach the apex and get out to the other side of the corner.
If anyone can turn me into a halfway-competent wheelman, this lot can
This, it transpires, is a mistake common with drivers transitioning from pavement to gravel. It’s about the most common issue newcomers to DirtFish encounter, as senior instructor Jack Harrison explained to me later between runs on The Boneyard.
Said short course is where the opening day concludes – a track that tests car control, using the techniques practiced throughout the day until that point. And consistency was my downfall – stringing a flawless run together was, it appeared, beyond my talent. For now, at least. I still have another two days to go.
“This is actually the least seat time you’ll have during the three days,” Michelle pointed out, having already spent a few hours behind the wheel on the opening day,
Rally on, as they say here at DirtFish. If anyone can turn me into a halfway-competent wheelman, this lot can.