by Zach Maskell
You know you really want to do it. Close off your favorite stretch of public road, and see just how fast you can go from point A to B. Road rally drivers do it – and just about everywhere on earth! Admittedly a little kooky himself, our Zach Maskell wanted to see if he could keep himself from going Over The Edge, learning how these lunatics manage maximum speeds, sometimes millimeters from disaster.
ZACH MASKELL: With over 70 vehicles at their disposal, and the White Mountains as a back drop, this site is sublime. Nestled in Dalton, New Hampshire… we’ve got more than enough room to “send it!”
CHRIS RENNIE: “Good morning everybody, and welcome to Team O’Neal.”
ZACH MASKELL: We’re doing day one, of a five-day course… where rookies and pros can learn the right way, how to be a rally driver.
ZACH MASKELL: “Europe, the Middle East, and everywhere else. Whether it’s rain, snow, day or night time. Rallying is the ultimate race against the clock.. and let me tell you what these guys are absolutely nuts.”
CHRIS RENNIE: “Yeah, that’s the way to do it. I crashed a lot of cars before I figured it out.”
ZACH MASKELL: A rally puts street legal cars, on public roads, with one driver, and one passenger as navigator reading out descriptions of what’s just ahead.
KARL STONE: “By day five, you can be working with a navigator, using the intercom systems, just like you’re running in a true rally stage.”
ZACH MASKELL: Owner, Tim O’neal, is a five-time North American rally champion. Born and raised here, he saw a need for a loose surface driver training facility. Travis Pastrana, Ken Block, and pro drivers from overseas even visit – to hone in their skills.
KARL STONE: “We’re located on almost 600 acres of terrain. Nearly 6 miles of roads, we have two separate training facilities that have their own skid pads, slalom courses.
ZACH MASKELL: “For our first day we’re using low horsepower Ford Fiestas which are front wheel drive. They do however have a third pedal, yes that thing called a clutch. So what we’re learning today is weight transfer. We’re going to learn how to left foot brake and get the weight to the front when we lose traction.”
CHRIS RENNIE: “Turn the wheel to the right, then gently drag the brakes. And that should get the car turning, sliding around – and hold that brake pressure until you are happy and the car’s pointed where you want. As soon as you get to that point, unwind that wheel quickly. Then you release the brake. And the car should drive out.”
ZACH MASKELL: That whole time, you’re keeping your right foot on the gas. They do 4x4’s, drifting, James Bond type training, and more. These instructors can take someone who can’t even drive a manual transmission, and have them driving a full track within days.
PETER MCDONALD: “He just got his learners permit. But he’s been a car nut all his life. Driving up here yesterday, he had his first experience driving on… we went from dry pavement to snow and to ice and he looks at me and says “Dad this is so much fun, but scary as ****.”
CHRIS RENNIE: “Stay in the gas, stay in the gas. Optimism right there.”
ZACH MASKELL: “I was trying not to hit the cone.”
CHRIS RENNIE: “Don’t look at it, you won’t hit it, right?”
ALLEN WELCH: “Here we teach Tim’s techniques and then we also teach the assessment of what the conditions are like. We talk about grip. We talk about “maybe.” You come into the corner, well can I take this corner fast every time? Maybe”
ZACH MASKELL: Conditions and grip always change. Professional drivers are able to make split-second reactions, to prepare for the turn ahead.
Driving on loose terrain means there’s new muscle memory to learn. It helped having numerous instructors who teach the same thing… but in a different way. Eventually… I started to get it.
CHRIS RENNIE: “Center fast. That’s the other piece, you’re getting pretty good slides now with the brake and gas on.”
ZACH MASKELL: “I’m starting to feel good.”
CHRIS KOMAR: “If they come to school, they’re less likely to wreck on their first rally. There’s a lot of initiative driving things that we teach them that they wouldn’t figure out on their own and they’d end up struggling or breaking a car or wrecking a car.”
ZACH MASKELL: I left understanding different ways to apex a corner, avoid an accident, and how to turn the car using the brakes. I may never go rallying – but what I learned here today is still invaluable, and will make me a safer driver every day.