Heavy Metal Affliction - 1995 Subaru Impreza
“Last year, I decided that if I ever wanted to make headway on a goal of stage rally racing, I needed to make it happen. My wife and family were super supportive, other than eye rolling at the influx of parts and the loss of yet another garage spot,” Turn 10 Software Engineer Phil Bergman said.
Since he was young, Bergman has been enthralled by cars, racing, and in particular, stage rally. It was racing video games that initially drove his career choice, computer science -- with a focus on desktop and services applications -- that landed him here at Turn 10. He has been developing Forza games since Forza Motorsport 2.“
After buying a well-used Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS, which I saw him e-brake sliding around the parking lot one day at lunch, he scheduled work with a roll-cage builder and set about planning his rally car build. Then, when the fabrication shop bumped out his date a couple times, he realized if he was going to do this he need to kick start his program.
That meant buying a car that was ready to rally. Even then there would still be many hours of work to do, not to mention learning how to drive the car, and prepping for his first event. After doing some searching, he found this well-prepped 1995 Impreza that had four rallies under its belt. Finishing a rally is proof that the car was well-built. Often a used rally car means, there are a few parts that can be salvaged after a roll or worse. After checking out pictures and talking to the previous owner, RallyWorx, a fabrication shop in St.Cloud MN, Bergman decided to go all in.
The shop was selling the car to make space for a new build. How much did it cost? Bergman puts it this way: “It’s cheaper than you’d expect for the thrill, and horrendously expensive for a thing that might be worth nothing if I blow a turn.” In the long run it bought him time and a car with a proven track record.
In the Open Light class, outside of the safety equipment, a vehicle needs to be less than 2.6 liter and naturally-aspirated. The Subaru Impreza being AWD, makes up much of the class. “This ends up being good, as a lot of the things that can break on stage are well understood,” Bergman said. Plus, other competitors may be willing to share parts and expertise. With his initial car purchase on duty as a recce (reconnaissance) car, Bergman already had a full set of replacement parts should something happen.
After the car was delivered, there was still some 40-60 hours of work to be done. There was a new suspension to be installed and dialed in, and numerous fine tunings such as adjusting the seating position and making sure every nut and bolt was tight. Bergman collected wheels and tires too, he now has 26 gravel tires, street tires and different wheel packages piled up in his garage. Don’t worry he’s not hoarding them, they will all get used.
His first rally would be the recently held 2017 Oregon Trail Rally. He already had some previous experience with instructor led track days, but not much on gravel. So he attended a couple days of rally instruction at nearby DirtFish Rally School. Then, he applied his training and got dirty at a rallycross and later at a rallysprint event held by the Northwest Rally Association.
As you may know, stage rally is not an individual sport. For his co-driver, Bergman recruited his brother from across the country. “My brother was a rock star during this experience,” Bergman said of his older brother. While the younger brother and driver was collecting spare parts to try and mitigate any number of parts failures that can ruin a rally, the elder Bergman was reading Mark Williams’ book A Guide to Rally Co-Driving in North America. He took it upon himself to pour through in car videos from previous years. For this specific rally, Jemba notes were provided the day before Recce. These notes describe the severity of the turns and distance between them but must be improved upon through recce.
When it came time to hit the road, Bergman used the family SUV to pull the fully-loaded rally car on its race trailer. Once brother Bergman arrived, he drove the other Impreza down to the event. Rules allow any vehicle but the race car to be used. The Impreza was perfect and as mentioned before, would make a perfect donor vehicle if the need arose.
For competitors, the Oregon Trail Rally begins on Wednesday with a co-driver meeting. Then on Thursday, “Armed with the directions and stage notes, we set off for recce.” Bergman said. Teams are given just enough time to pre-drive the stages at less than 30 mph. There are speed check stations throughout the course. The very first stage was a rain-saturated mud pit that had Bergman wondering what he had got himself into. When he came out the other side with mud everywhere, he was thrilled and ready to rally.
The rally itself is three days long. The initial stages are held at Portland International Raceway. Subaru factory drivers Travis Pastrana and David Higgins are the fastest among a wide array of cars from the many Subarus, to Volvos, VW Golfs, and even a Honda Civic with a turbo. The latter crashed out in the first stage. The jumps in the first stages jostled the transmission a bit and made shifting difficult. The brothers stayed up late fixing the problem.
On Saturday, on tarmac and gravel the Bergman brothers kept a good pace. Phil rates his pace at about 7/10ths the entire way. Saturday they made good time and found out just how waterproof the Impreza rally car was, not very, and how reliable it was. Among the many hillclimbs and descents in the beauty of nature, there are also less exciting transit stages where the rally car gets passed by minivans due to strict speed limits on public roads.
Sunday the route saw many more twisting and turning roads on tarmac and the team got to use their street tires. While aggressively descending ridge decorated by windmills the brakes began to pulse as if some pad material was stuck. It went away though. During the final service when the gravel tires were put back on Bergman checked his brakes and had no brake pressure. It was quickly diagnosed as a leaking caliper. The repair was done with a spare, brakes were bled and without holding up the rally they were off again with their own fans clapping.
As the Bergman brothers completed their first rally, they celebrated with the other finishers. When Bergman got home, his kids had Lego trophies made for their dad who was exhausted after driving 8-12 hours day for the last six days. It took a few days to get caught up on sleep but to see the look in Bergman’s eyes when he talks about the experience you can tell it was worth it.
Photo credit to Just Shoot Media for jump photo, Greggar Helgeland Productions for rally stage photos, and Johniwanna for car detail shots.