RallyCross Nationals 2016

On November 1, 2016 by WMac

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The SCCA is racing for the pure joy of racing. There’s no fanfare, there’s very little coverage or recognition, and a sizeable chunk of it isn’t even wheel-to-wheel.  It’s grass-roots, rain or blazing sun, spend your own money and break your own stuff, follow the voluminous rules, better show up because you need the wheel time or someone else will get better… in fact, it seems a lot like work in some ways.  But as a thickly muscled man once roughly opined, “for those few seconds, I’m free,” and that alone is reason enough for the SCCA to exist and for its membership to endure the hardships, muster up, and get out there to compete.

Central Iowa certainly doesn’t have much in the way of racetracks, but what it does have is a wide selection of fields. Someone up in the SCCA hierarchy must have stumbled upon this fact, because they came to the correct conclusion when trying to decide on the best place to hold Rallycross Nationals around the end of September every year: Indianola, Iowa.

My membership in the SCCA had lapsed, so I paid my back dues and got current again. I took the weekend off from work and made the short drive down to the Balloon Festival fields in Indianola over the first Saturday and Sunday in October to witness the scene.

If you hadn’t heard of Rallycross before, just think of autocross—driving around cones in a parking lot—but replace the parking lot with a grassy field.  Yeah.  Just blew your mind there, huh? The surface changes on every run. There are significant elevation changes in play. There’s morning dew, evening showers, and hot dusty middays in between. Event organizers are constantly tweaking the course layout for both safety and entertainment purposes.  And of course, the venue itself is much tougher on the cars than any mere parking lot would be.

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The first thing I gaze upon as I arrive is a Nissan Skyline R32, just parked on the side of the same dirt road as everyone else, no big deal. Then I noticed the legion of Subarus, from late-90’s Impreza RS 2.5s to the latest WRX STIs and everything in between, including a unicorn in the shape of a three-pedal Forester XT.  Mazda had a strong showing, with the SCCA-standard-bearing Miata a common sight. Are you concerned that Ford might not be selling enough of its brilliant Fiesta ST? Worry not, the SCCA people are buying it in bulk. One driver flew in, rented a Jeep Grand Cherokee at the airport, and entered competition.  And lastly, my quirky favorite was a yappy little Fiat 500 Abarth with a “Ferrari of Indianola” sticker on its rear bumper.

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They ran the Saturday morning session in one field, the Saturday afternoon session in another, and on Sunday linked both courses together for longer laps.  The cars were classed into Stock (no mods, DOT-approved street tires), Prepared (slight mods, non-DOT tires), and Modified (just has to look like the car it used to be), and further divided into front-, rear-, or all-wheel drive groups.  I watched a Scion FR-S light its rears up at launch, spraying gobs of dirt all over the decklid of the poor Miata lined up patiently behind it.   The starter just laughed, waited the prescribed interval, then green-flagged the Miata with the words, “Go get ‘im.”  The Scion won its class for the weekend, so his must be a winning strategy.  Noted.

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I found myself welcomed by a couple of fellow spectators, one of whom was kind enough to share the five-hundred-plus pictures he took over the course of the weekend.  The Rallycross folks were a tight-knit group.  The effort to put on these events is shared by the participants, so everyone is in it together.  This probably contributes to the lack of drama that pervades the vast majority of SCCA events.

Rallycross is intriguing.  Like Autocross, it’s accessible to anyone who can afford a slightly expensive hobby.  Also like Autocross, it has the depth and breadth to consume a participant long past their first time out.  Unlike Autocross, it actually does have a professional analogue in Red Bull Global RallyCross where teams named ‘Andretti’ and ‘Ganassi’ pay drivers to race at venues around the world (well, okay, mostly around the US).  On one hand, the challenge, the relative accessibility, and the pure spectacle of Rallycross are attractive lures (look at these pictures!).  On the other, the certainty of bending metal is a bit of a barrier (eeeesh, look at that picture there).

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The undeniable reality, though, is that this is a no-kidding national-level motorsport competition, held annually, right in our own back yard.  There were already a couple of Porsches in attendance, but I don’t think anyone would mind if suddenly there were a few more.

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