One of the biggest keys to finding speed in SCCA RallyCross is adapting to changing course conditions. The nature of the sport lends itself to constant course changes, surface degradation and other factors that make each run a unique experience. Moreover, because every run counts, one poor time can have a massive impact on your overall score. Many folks can lay down a flyer of a lap, but to be truly fast in the sport of RallyCross, you need to be able to string together consistent runs on a course that may be a moving target.
If you’ve been around racing for a while, you’ve heard the phrase “look ahead” a million times – and there’s a good reason for it. Major course changes are common in RallyCross, and verbal instructions as well as additional parade laps are often given so drivers can see those changes. However, this is not always the case. You should expect that the course will have subtle changes throughout the session. Sometimes, these are in favor of the driver, but sometimes they are not. It’s your job to capitalize on the changes that may catch your competitors by surprise.
Reacting to surface changes is often what separates the truly fast drivers from the merely quick. Even if weather isn’t a factor, courses can gain and lose traction in spots from run to run. Grassy sites can dig up tacky soil or loose dirt, hard surfaces can get dusty or cleaned off, and gravel courses can form ruts that may help or hurt you, just to name a few examples. As you run more events, you’ll learn to “read” the surface and estimate the available levels of traction. Ultimately, you could have back-to-back runs that log as the same time on paper, but speed was made and lost in different sections of the course.
When rain starts falling, you truly get to see the masters of finding traction at work. For example, the natural response in muddy conditions is to get out of the throttle when the car starts sliding. While you do have to modulate your speeds as the ground gets slick, if the surface is muddy, your tires are going to become packed with dirt. Therefore, the best way to clean them off while at an event is a liberal application of skinny pedal, especially if you’re in an all-wheel or front-wheel-drive car with a limited slip differential. This is true in rear-wheel-drive cars as well, but throttle modulation is necessary for obvious reasons. Also, in washout conditions, the line most cars have been running may not be fast anymore. If you see someone taking strange lines through a wet course, they’re probably hunting for grass patches or spots that aren’t complete soup.
Those who live in the north and are lucky enough to run in the snow and ice get a liberal education in finding the traction. Depending on course conditions and tire selection, you may have to look for snow patches or dirt ruts to find grip. If it’s warm enough for the ground to begin thawing, you will probably also deal with mud later in the day.
Your ability to adapt to changing surface conditions is one of the most important skills RallyCross teaches. Your mastery of this skill will greatly impact your speed and is an invaluable tool for racing in any format.
This featured appeared in the September 2019 issue of SportsCar magazine