“The fastest way through a curve is sideways.”

By George Hill


 “You steer with the whole car, not just the front wheels,” he would say with a wistful look in his eye as if he was remembering his first kiss.  “You have to dance around the curve.”  He was born and raised German, but from France, so he would often use German words and phrases, but with a thick French accent.  His type is common in the world of Rally.  He was a winner, with championships under his belt, so I listened intently.  It’s a little difficult to listen to sage advice from a master who is meditating peacefully while strapped into the passenger seat, bouncing up and down hard enough to match the ride from any bull in a rodeo, while I myself am doing my damnedest to commit every word to memory while bouncing and franticly spinning the wheel and doing a tap dance on all three peddles that would make Gregory Heinz proud and watch the roadway and all the vehicle gauges.  Too many things all happening at the same time, and if you pay too much attention to one and not the rest, you can end up wrapped around a tree. 

         Rally racing was a unique sport here in the United States.  Few people did it then, and even fewer did it well.   Now days, the sport is more popular, but it’s still the under dog in the world of racing.  Ask anyone what they think if when they think of the word “Racing” and it will usually involve Drag Racing or NASCAR.  Both are more about the car than the driving, and nether require you to do much in terms of steering.   Rally is different… and let me explain why. 

The motto for this motor sport is “Real Cars, Real Roads, Real Fast”.    Rally is perhaps my favorite sport on the planet.   There are really only three kinds of auto racing.  You have Circuit Racing, where the cars go around and around a circular, oval, or oddly shaped track.  Drag racing is just a straight line sprint down a perfectly straight quarter mile.  Then there is Rally.  The first automobile race ever was a rally held back in 1894.  Rally races are point A to point B races with great amounts of insanity in between.   Oh how I love it!  Rally is done on ice, snow, sand, mud, gravel, dirt, and sometimes even on a regular road.  If nothing else is available, enthusiasts will find a big parking lot and set out cones to race around.

Okay, so the car I’m driving isn’t your normal street car, but it is perfectly street legal.  It has license plates and inspection stickers and everything.  It is a six hundred horsepower, twin turbo charged, Audi Quattro, with most of the insides ripped out leaving bare painted metal.  A heavy steel roll cage is welded inside with some padding duct taped to the bars.   Two fire extinguishers are clamped to the heavy bars.  Other than the Reccaro seats and all the controls, that’s it on the insides.  Outside there is not a spot of paint on the metal.  Not even primer. 

The bouncing and jarring inside the car as I hurtle down a narrow dirt path that can only called a road out of sarcasm, can only be appreciated by the lunatic or the sadist.  Worse yet is the scream of the engine as I row through the gears.  There is little in the way of sound dampening so I can hear every spark of the spark plugs and every little tick and ping of the overpowered engine.  While listening to that racket, I am constantly shifting up and down with my right arm as my left foot is pounding the clutch or caressing it depending on what is coming up on the road.  My left arm is turning the steering wheel while my right foot is dancing on the gas and brake peddle in a technique called “Heel-Toe” driving.  This involves the ritualistic stomping of both peddles at the same time, but at different pressures.  If a driver does everything right his body is effectively spazzing out like he just got hit with a tazer or something.  Were he not flying through the air like a “Dukes of Hazard” rerun, someone would probably be calling paramedics. 

         “No matter what you’re doing or what your car is doing, you must keep the engine RPM’s up.”  I looked over at my Guru and he is looking peaceful and calm while being jostled around the inside of a steel cage at eighty seven point five miles per hour.  The trees outside his window are flashing past in a blur while he looks like he is in some form of peaceful meditation with his hands held together between his legs.

         That glance was for just a split second, but in that time, the turn ahead came suddenly and startlingly closer.   It was a right hand turn as tight as a hairpin.  I guess that is why they call it a hairpin turn.   I let the car drift left, to the outside of the curve and downshift to third gear.  I let the engine race into it’s redline as the car slows to sixty miles per hour.  I’m just about in the curve when I turn the wheel to the left, and then back hard to the right.  The car responds by shifting its weight to the left side and breaking the back tires loose from the road. 

         The rear end of the car starts to rotate and my hands are a blur turning the wheel all the way to the left until it stops while at the same I’m pressing the gas peddle to the floor after grabbing second gear to dance the car’s slide in the direction I want it to go.  The back end of the car is now pointing in the direction I was heading only seconds before and the engine is shrieking a high pitched war cry.  Engine gauges are all pegged in red zones and there are flashing lights all over the dash, but I can’t look at them just yet.  I can just barely hear a chorus of warning beeps and tones.  The front of the car is bird dogging the apex of the curve and I have to concentrate hard on ignoring the giant pine tree that is fast approaching my driver’s side window. 

         I am, making a tight right hand turn, with the steering wheel all the way to the left as the car slides around the turn with all four tires spinning furiously kicking up huge rooster tails of dirt and rocks.   I let go of the wheel just enough to let it snap back to center and clamp back down to anchor it there.  The engine’s scream is only altered slightly when I shift back up to third gear.  I can feel the turbo charger’s boost give a kick pulling the car forward as I smell the sharp, pungent odors of lost engine coolant and burnt clutch pad.  

         I guide my Audi out of the turn faster than I entered it with my equilibrium still sliding and trying to catch.  But there is no chance of that.  My turbo chargers find maximum boost and my tires find more traction.  In just seconds I’m doing over one hundred and fifteen miles per hour down a straight and my heart is racing faster than my engine. 

         Risking another glance over to the old champion, we lock eyes.  “That was good,” he said, “but you apexed early.  Now let’s do it again… faster.  You had a lot more room to use.”


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