“Rally driving is about the fine balance of finesse with throttle, brake and steering input…”
Dalton, New Hampshire.
“Every day’s a school day,” is a popular saying of a good friend of mine.
Just because we’re not in a formal establishment, with books in hand, or loose leaf paper in front of us, it doesn’t mean we’re not learning. Some lessons are tougher than others are and we can’t wait for them to be over. Then again, there are some school days we just don’t want to end.
One of those days was with the Team O’Neil Rally School located in the middle of nowhere, New Hampshire. The school is housed on close to 600 acres of land meaning, there’s room to stretch out for those new to the art. I call it an art because it really is.
Rally driving is about the fine balance of finesse with throttle, brake and steering input. Like brushstrokes on a canvas! Make a few mistakes and, well, it’s not a pretty picture.
In the journey to master car control skills, there’s also about 10 kilometres of rally-ready trails – which can be driven in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction to mix things up – so there’s not much room for boredom.
While I’d been to the school previously, the conditions were completely different.
The dry, dirt-covered earth from summertime was now replaced with snow, ice and all the slipperiness your heart desires, thanks to Old Man Winter.
Equipped with newfound knowledge, or knowledge that was sitting on the shelf and just needed a little dusting off, the short opening classroom session was not only educational, but fantastically entertaining and funny. With that completed, the group of Canadian journalists headed out to our chariots. They just happened to be Ford Fiestas.
If Ford’s subcompact wasn’t fun enough to drive in a “normal” setting, it sure was here.
The Fiestas have mainly stock components, aside from rollover bars, four-point seat belts, Bilstein heavy-duty suspension components and performance brake pads. Perhaps that’s what was so appealing. Here were these 120 horsepowered cars, slipping and sliding (sometimes) with grace and poise, and the amount of mirth to be had was limitless.
The objective of the day was to factor in left-foot braking techniques on an oval, in a slalom and via what rallying calls the Scandinavian flick. It’s frustrating and rewarding at the same time knowing that the difference between doing it correctly or screwing it up is really only within the gentle feathering of the brakes or the addition of a little more throttle.
Once you find the sweet spot, you want to ride it out for as long as you can. Or until you get too confident and end up in a snow bank! Oops. You still have to be mindful of the surface conditions underneath. But that’s what the school is for.
Should your vehicle start dancing when you don’t want it too, you’ll be ready to mitigate damage, or avoid it all together. It gives you a feel for the ever-changing environment and how to be proactive rather than reactive.
And while it was all fun and games behind the wheel, it was equally a treat to have a fellow Canuck, a pro nonetheless, take us for a couple of hot laps and show us how it’s really done.
Andrew Comrie-Picard (ACP for short) was on hand and put my day’s efforts to shame when he combined all the techniques we had learned, blended them seamlessly together, and then did it a hundred times faster.
This day, I learned that speed and finesse go hand-in-hand. That no matter how many times we drove around the same course, it was always different.
That school is a lot of fun and that car control is an art. And that I want to be a rally driver in my next life.
Visit http://teamoneil.com for more information.