I feel like a rally driver
Alasdair Lindsay went from a rookie to feeling ready to rally after taking DirtFish Rally School's three-day course
Photography by DirtFish
Words by Alasdair Lindsay
Alasdair Lindsay took DirtFish Rally School’s three-day program this week. Here’s what he made of the whole experience:
Can you go from zero to rally driver in three days?
Yes and no. It’s complicated.
I knew DirtFish Rally School was good – there’s a reason the pros come here to sharpen their skills in the off-season. It’s unlikely I’d be particularly competitive if I were to rock up to the start control of a gravel rally tomorrow. But, thanks to approximately nine hours spent at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza WRX STI, I reckon I’d be competent.
I’ve sat the BARS test – what you need to pass to get a basic rally license in the United Kingdom – and it only takes a couple of hours. Broadly speaking, show good knowledge of theory, safety, and avoid hitting anything once in the car, and you’re good.
But what the past three days at DirtFish have shown me is that I couldn’t really drive properly – at least not on gravel, the ‘real’ rally surface if you subscribe to the purist’s view.
I initially fell victim to the same thing whole swathes of new DirtFish students do: being stuck in an asphalt mentality. I’d driven a front-wheel-drive Fiesta rally car before, mostly in the rain – so I’d become accustomed to (somewhat clumsily) collecting up oversteer by just countersteering and planting the throttle to get pointed the right way again.
In case you didn’t know this already: don’t do this in an all-wheel-drive car on gravel. You will probably end up off the road.
In the classroom, the driving techniques on gravel are broken down into a few simple concepts. Lift-Turn-Wait and Lift-Turn-Brake and the 100% traction rule – the car can only take so many inputs with so much force simultaneously – are drilled in from day one.
DirtFish really is a School in the proper sense – there’s a classroom and teachers. Thankfully it was nothing like the schools I was in growing up: I actually learned something this time. The big plus – across three days I had six instructors sat alongside, all offering different perspectives, picking up on different specifics of my driving style that needed working on and all with different ways to deliver feedback.
Sean Edwards has boundless enthusiasm and energy. Michelle Miller is encouraging and detailed. Mitch Williams is a quiet observer when you’re out on course but precise and analytical once you’ve crossed the finish line. Kip Tischer is direct and won’t let you get away with slacking – all the better when you keep making the same mistakes. Geoff Clark – the longest-tenured instructor at the ‘Fish – has seen it all and doesn’t miss a single detail. And Eric Schofhauser knows his stuff but also keeps the driving a fun experience.
I have to thank all six of them – and Adam Newell, who was in the classroom teaching and out on course but whom I didn’t get to share a car with. Seven heads are better than one when it comes to problem solving and, with the benefit of seven different people having eyes on my driving, no minor detail was overlooked.
It makes all the difference. It’s a long and sometimes difficult process – but by the final afternoon on the Mill Run, my word was it rewarding.
A mix of vision, patience, technique and being relaxed all coalesced to deliver the most important result: feeling. It took a while but by the time I was sat at the wheel doing the longest course of the program, I certainly felt like a rally driver, even if I can’t call myself one yet.
When your brain, hands, feet and butt all understand what’s going on and how to react instinctively in unison, threading a WRX STI through the Mill Run was the most fun I’ve ever had. This is why me, you, and anyone else that doesn’t get to call rally driving their profession does this.
I am not going to be a rallying superstar, ever. I’m not particularly fast yet either – that’s what the Advanced and Elite courses are for, to take you from competent to competitive. But if you plonked me in your average garage-built rally car and told me to drive to the finish of a gravel stage with pacenotes, I’m sure I could get it there, at a decent pace, in one piece.
I couldn’t have said that three days ago.
And that’s the difference between passing your license and going straight to the stages compared to going there via DirtFish. You’re probably going to finish the rally if you go to DirtFish first. That’s far less likely if you skip that bit. And it’s probably going to cost you a lot more in the long run – junked cars aren’t cheap to fix.
With that money saved, it’s time to find a rally car and a stage. Any suggestions? It’s time to become a rally driver.
Tags: DirtFish, Rally School
Publish Date August 25, 2023 DirtFish https://www-dirtfish.imgix.net/2023/08/6E6A5954.jpg?fit=scale&fm=pjpg&h=520&ixlib=php-3.3.1&q=70&w=780&wpsize=entry-main August 25, 2023