If you want to have a few days of sheer fun and learn how to spin a car into a turn like a Hollywood stuntman, drive up north to Littleton, NH, and spend a few days with the folks at Team O’Neil Rally School. This is what my friend Ilan Segev (middle, maroon shirt) and I did last summer, as I was looking for ways to prepare myself for the Dakar.
Tim O’Neil, an accomplished rally racer, opened this school in the wooded hills of NH to teach high speed driving on loose surfaces to policemen, fire fighters, but also to rally enthusiasts who want to develop their driving skills and acquire some of the professional really techniques. A 2 days course is probably the minimum, but if you have a bit more time a 3 or 4 days’ course will get you much more in terms of confidence and improvement.
The basic technique they teach is Left Foot Braking. As “civilians” drivers, we either step on the gas, or on the brake, but not both (and so we use the same right foot for both). In rally driving, you want to be able to keep the right foot on the accelerator, while applying pressure to the brakes with your left foot; by doing that, you will transfer weight from the rear to the front wheels, and give the front wheels slightly more traction than the rear wheels. And so, in rally, when you get to a tight corner at a high speed, you do not lift your foot off the gas; rather, you steer the wheels ever so slightly “into” the turn, and gently apply pressure to the brakes; the front wheels will dig into the loose surface you’re on, and the car’s rear will spin, or throw itself outside of the turn; this gives you a much tighter turn, and you do not lose much speed during the maneuver:
Sounds easy enough? The first few runs will give you a good scare, your instincts will tell you to lift your foot off the gas, or to slam the brakes as you head into a 90 degrees turn at 60 miles/hour… but the instructors at Team O’Neil are very calm about the whole thing, have tremendous amount of patience, and before you know it you will be spinning on the muddy ground, more or less in control, and I guarantee you will be loving every minute of it!
Here is a video of a beautifully executed rally turn that my friend Ofer Shoshan sent me:
Once you master this basic technique, you start combining different elements into more complicated maneuvers; a lot of judgment has to be applied to the right level of braking, steering, speed, etc., given the conditions. This, for example, is a typical rally maneuver you may have to use on a winding track with increasingly tight turns:
Check out some more neat videos on Team O’Neil web site.
This is definitely in the category of “kids, don’t try this at home”. The techniques are powerful and fun to try once you mastered it all, but you cannot do any of that with your “civilian” car if it has ABS, and in reality you need to learn from a professional in a controlled environment. I highly recommend spending a few days with Tim, Chuck, Wyatt, and the rest of the folks at Team O’Neil. They can be reached at 603-444-4488, or on their web site.
Next time: How not to get stuck in the sand