Mechanical Stig and I were discussing Subaru's on Saturday morning and he mentioned the WRX club were doing a skid pan event the following day. I checked my calendar and after confirming i had no important jobs that required a practical wagon, I signed up.
Like most motorsport, it started early - so i dragged myself out of bed and headed down to Sydney Motorsport Park. It's spring in the southern hemisphere so it's sunny but the air is cold, and after half an hour or so, the concrete surface is wet and ready to go.
Drivers briefing involves handing out a few paper maps.. that showed where to start, where to finish and where the witches hats or cones are that you have to avoid and drive a certain direction around.
It's a combination of navigation and driving skill, the courses are tight, mostly done in 1st and second and gear, and mostly done sideways! It's one of the few forms of motorsport where going sideways can actually be quicker.
I hadn't driven Supergramps in anger since our speedway adventure vs mod max, and that was a completely alien surface. On this surface, the water allows you to keep speeds low, it's easier on drivelines and tyres and means you can take advantage of all wheel drive.
I watched a few of the other club members who had plenty of experience on the course. Also like other motorsport, smooth is generally fast. People were linking 90, 180 and 360degree turns with ease, turbo's whistling and engines rumbling.
Then it was my turn, the advice I had was to drive the course slow the first turn, get the combination right, and then go hard. I soon realised my handbrake wasn't up to the task and needed some adjustment. After some tweaking, the shoes seemed to grip much better and i could start to turn the car using momentum and the accelerator - not just the steering wheel!
Soon I had an offer to navigate from Josh. He drives an 06 STI WRX and is a skid pan veteran having driven WRX's since he was just 12! As well as pointing me in the right direction around the cones, he also had some other suggestions like pulling the handbrake as soon as the front of the car starts to dip into a sharp turn, and to hold onto it and let the back of the car come around before getting on the power again.
On a few of the courses I went the wrong way around a cone or clipped a witches hat. At one point it looked like the car had eaten them for lunch when I mowed over two of them in a row which then needed to be extracted from under my gearbox!
The courses got longer, faster and in some cases more complicated!
A good trick is to tape down your hand brake button so the handbrake will drop properly once you've pulled it. You just have to remember to park your car in gear at the end of a run.
I'd installed the Haltech/Racepak Dash into the centre console so i could keep a close eye on exhaust gas, water temp and oil pressure. While it's seen plenty of dyno and drag strip time, it's never done anything like this! Supergramps was running well, and I was starting to get more comfortable with driving it.
The elapsed time for each run is recorded and tallied over the day and into a longer term competition where the winner is announced at the end of the year.
However at the end of the day, it was time for Shootouts. Two identical courses were set out side by side and cars lined up. We were able to choose an opponent so Meels from the MCM forums brought his custom turbocharged Suzuki Swift up to the start line and away we went.
The straight section of this course took up most of the skid pan so I could short shift well into 3rd gear and let the torque of the EZ36 pull the car away. This isn't an engine that needs to be revved hard to make power. The adjustable cam control means you can get the engine breathing perfectly for good torque at low engine speed.
I got around the course and back to the finish line a second before Meels, who's car was lighter, more nimble and able to neatly complete the course with minimal fuss.
I lined up around 4 more cars, beating each one by a small margin, or because they went off the course or had some kind of mechanical failure. As i drove back around the start line, I looked across.... and there was Josh in his STI with a big grin on his face, and his built 2.5L rumbling away.
The same guy who a few hours earlier was calmly talking me through the course while sideways in second gear with all 4 wheels spinning, setting some of the quickest times of the day - now I had to race him.
Nerves and adrenalin kicked in hard because I knew this would be close. His car was more manoeuvrable, had mechanical diffs, adjustable torque split, shorter wheel base.. probably the only thing I had him on was power.
The starter raised his hands, dropped them - and we were off. I launched it gently then quickly snapped 2nd, and briefly 3rd before dabbing the brakes to shift the weight forward - then back to first gear, handbrake pulled on hard, ride it out, clutch back out and power around and back down the wet concrete pad.
I saw a white flash and sure enough, Josh was on the exact same part of the skid pan, where I'd gained on the straight, he'd done a much tidier turn than me, and his STI was coming on boost and the nose lifting. Next turn was a 180 degree around 1 cone, and back the way i'd come. I wouldn't have time to grab 2nd this time, so revved out 1st until the shift lights flashed and pulled the handbrake hard once more, the car sailed around 2 cones this time. I lost a lot of speed and was almost stopped, Josh was pulling the exact same turn. Clutch out, Supergramps took off, squirrelling around trying to find grip through the 003's. Now i had a slalom section to complete, I picked 2nd, and did a quick left right left right through them.. I revved it hard towards the finish line and hit the brakes hard to stop inside the marked area. I looked across and Josh's was also across the line, but his wheels were still turning. I'd won. By less than half a second, but I got there.
Josh gave me the thumbs up - then we did celebratory 360's and skids, water spraying sky high off the outside front tyres. There may have been some fist waving out the window.
It was an awesome experience to get on a skid pan, with a bunch of friendly Subaru owners - learn some car control, take on as many tips as I could and then put it to use in some friendly battles.
If you've never done one - find a car club or racetrack and give it a try!
Big thanks to the NSW WRX Club for putting on the day and use of photos.