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Snow/Ice Rallycross in the Rabbit

My 07 Rabbit at BAC Rallycross #2 2018-2019 (I was having A LOT more fun than I look...) - Kevin Doubleday ©

FWD cars don't win the WRC anymore and they haven't in decades. In fact, all two wheel drive (2WD) cars have been rendered entirely obsolete on the world stage by the original legendary Audi Quattro. That's because 4 driven wheels are obviously far better at putting power down than just 2 and when you are on a loose surface such as mud, gravel, or snow, traction is in SERIOUS short supply. Thankfully, I'm not on the world rally stage or competing for the world title, so I'm happy with my little FWD rallycross car (for now anyway...).

I have already been to one event this season (which is my first rallycross season) in this car. You can read more about it here where I nearly caught air going over one of the bumps. Last time was on gravel, though. This time, it was a snow covered course and what I didn't know was that snow wasn't covering gravel. It was covering ice. What could possibly go wrong?

In what I seriously fear will turn into a tradition, I once again set the slowest time of the day in my first session: 96.47 seconds. If you haven't read my post (linked above) about my first rallycross event, the same thing happened at the last event where I set the slowest time of the day in my first session out. One big issue was my confidence. Feeling like I had got a handle on things after my first event, I pushed harder than I should have and the ice hiding underneath the snow in most corners rewarded me with an almost complete 180 degree spin.

FWD Cars Can Dance Too

My lack of experience doing hot laps on ice was made worse by my decision to fix the balance of the car. Having suffered all that understeer my first time out, I employed the quickest and cheapest guaranteed cure to understeer on snow and ice; leave all seasons tires in the back and put winter tires on the front. The car became more tail happy than a puppy dog discovering toys and treats for the first time. That's exactly what I wanted, but I had forgotten to adjust my driving into the corners to make up for the newfound handling balance. That led to the spin, which cost me several seconds. Fortunately, the rest of the day was much better.

My next session out, my time dropped to 83.63; a huge improvement of almost 13 seconds. I still wasn't competitive, though. My class (i.e. stock 2WD) leader had a best time of 79.41 s the first session out, which had dropped to 76.12 in the second session. As a result, I decided to go out with Dave H. He's a seasoned FWD rallycross driver and was around since the beginning of local rallycross. He pointed out a few problems.

(Rallycross) School is in Session

4WD/AWD cars are clearly a more popular choice for rallycross...

First, I was too cautious with my driving. I wasn't cutting close enough to the cones because I was too afraid to hit one and get a penalty. As with everything in motorsports, if you never find the limit, you never know exactly how close you are to it. He said it took him a few runs (and a few cones) to get a feel for exactly where the edge of the car is. I needed to do the same. I also shouldn't be afraid to hit the cones. If I focus on avoiding them, I will leave too much time on the table.

The second problem was that I was not committing enough to the throttle coming out of turns (sideways) to keep the front wheels pulling me in the direction I want to go. Sometimes, I would back off slightly out of habit to regain traction. That was slowing me down.

Finally, I was too busy with the handbrake. I was using the handbrake to adjust my line mid-corner and I should only use it in corner entry to provoke the back end of the car to rotate, but once I am in the middle of the corner, I shouldn't need to use it anymore (the real problem there, of course, was that I wasn't setting up my line in corner entry well enough to avoid the need for mid corner corrections in order stay on the proper line through the corner).

Not Quite Winning, but...

Yoda's guidance worked. My third session, my best time dropped to 77.10 seconds. Class leader? That dropped to 74.28 seconds; a gap of 2.82 seconds. Nearly 3 seconds is an eternity on a 70+ second lap. But what's important is progress. Last event, my best of the day was a whopping 6+ seconds off the class leader's best of the day and it was nearly 2 seconds slower than the class leader's WORST of the day. This event, the gap between my best and class leader's best was less than half the gap from the first event and it was also over 2 seconds quicker than his worst of the day.

Given that this course is nearly a third (32%) longer, a 2-3 second gap here is also closer than a 2-3 second gap at the last event. It's still an eternity, but some eternities are shorter than others, just like mathematicians will tell you that some infinities are smaller than others. The progress also confirms what I was told at the last event, which is that all season tires were probably slowing me down by 3-4 seconds. My best of the day at last event after I had got the hang of it was over 6 seconds slower than it needed to be, but here it dropped to being under 3 seconds slower, and on a longer course.

My last session of the day, I decided to try starting off in 2nd gear because my front wheels were spinning endlessly on ice during every launch. That can work on the street when you are having trouble taking off in low traction conditions. In competition? The car bogged down, with a session time of 78.09, nearly a second slower. Another lesson learned, don't start in 2nd gear.

Race Car Driver Excuses

I did a repeat performance of my first event; dead last in class. But, if you exclude my first two runs (and everyone else's) where I was learning the course and rallycross on ice, I would have finished exactly middle of the class. Everyone was also learning the course, but at a far less steep learning curve due to my relative lack of experience. Middle of class wouldn't have been great, but it wouldn't have been bad for my second time out. Now I just need to not screw up so badly the first half of the day.

Nearly worn Federal Himalaya WS2 Winter Tires

I also tried to put some blame on my used Federal winter tires. When I went out with Yoda to help me, I noticed his car (also FWD) had far better traction. I told myself I must just be making excuses. However, we were hit with a decent snow fall a few days after the event and I was driving the rallycross car on the road. Having a much better frame of reference on the road, I noticed that the grip from my tires were in fact much worse compared to every other winter tire I've used on the road.

Time for new, better winter tires perhaps? I'm certainly tempted. I think I will put the crappy winter tires on the back and put fresh winters on the front. Stick around to find out how the next event goes, which is this coming weekend!

And this is why you want an AWD car for rallying... 

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