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Rally car jump

Building a rally car is something that is very rewarding, time consuming and expensive. My formula is: Take the cost of ANY car and add about $8000 and you will have a good budget for your first rally car. Did eight grand scare you a little? Good, because used rallycars can be found for $5000. That cost doesn’t include the $2000 each of safety gear you’ll be wearing. ($ in USD)

You’re going to want to prioritize your to-do list and start by gutting the car. Any mechanical issues that the model has will need to be solved. (AWS on VR4, Neon head gasket, Rear beam brake bias on VW’s, etc.) This stuff involves lurking on car forums and doing research on what works and what doesn’t in racing. Talk to people who have actually rallied. Don’t spend 1000 hours re-engineering something from the factory. The manufacturer spent a LOT of money to ensure the gas tank was in a safe place. Why are you spending hours setting up a fuel cell in the spare wheel well? You’d be surprised to see how much factory stuff is just fine working under rally conditions. Don’t run too many rally experiments your first time out.

Find a reputable roll cage fabricator. You could do it yourself, but I don’t recommend it. These guys have rally experience, they know what works and what doesn’t. At least consult with one before you start cutting tubes. A basic cage that will protect you in a crash is going to be around $2300 – $2800.

friendsGet some friends to help. Your mechanic buddy might groan when you ask him for help on a Friday night, but secretly he loves it. He loves knowing everything about your rally car, he talks about it at work, and he’ll love when you finish your first rally and bring it into the winners circle with his help. Compensate these guys by paying for their rally weekend. Cover the hotel and food.

Once the cage is in and seats are installed. Upgrade the suspension, and come up with a clever way to attach some HDPE plastic and 6061 3/16″ aluminum skid plates to the underside. I used angle iron on the side sills and some metal skis off the K-member. Then take it out for testing at a rallycross, dry lake-bed, or closed dirt road. You should have already had a conversation with a sanctioning body rally car inspector. Getting a logbook for your first rally car is a major milestone!

Going to start with a brand new co-driver? Go to a rally school that teaches co-driving skills. Rally volunteers have some patience for noobs, but getting 10 minutes of road points because you don’t understand how a time card works is embarrassing.

Read rules, rulebooks, and car classes. You’ve read them once? Read then again. Now all the little details need to get in place. Your orange triangles, your first aid kit, tow hooks, extinguishers, etc. Only after this is all figured out should you sign up for your first event. Do you have everything you need to pass tech at your first rally? I highly recommend hanging out in tech a few rallies before your first one. I learned a lot just watching the scrutineering process.

Your goal is to finish your first rally. You will learn an amazing amount of stuff about your car and yourself in one event. Now you can go forward and refine your driving, your car, and your rally skills.

Want an idea of what it’s like to build and race a rally car? Check out some of the highlights of the rallynotes.com archive. Goals Achieved at GormanThe Olympus StoryThe Black Canyon VideoThe 2008 USRC Production 2WD ChampionsRally car project number 2
Thanks for joining us!
– Kris

The hard work of putting it all back together.

2GN roll cage paintThe first thing on the agenda was to paint the cage. This is like building a paint booth – – inside your car. After mistakenly buying (and spraying) silver metallic, I went back to the store to pick up a flat ‘granite’ grey. As I’d be painting the roof, floor, and side pillars, I wanted to go with something darker then primer. I think the color is perfect for the interior of a dirty rally car. With a respirator on, I did two coats of grey and then I sprayed a clear coat on the floor and the door bars that would see the most abuse. Allow 3 days to dry, then begin.

The HVAC system was a bit of a fuss to get back in, but eventually I coaxed the blower motor under the bar going out to the front strut tower. The flap that controls air from the cabin and air from the outside was compromised, and we’ll have to see about sealing that up better. The 1stGen only took air from the outside, so being able to control that even partially is better then nothing. The dashboard followed quickly afterwards and heavy modification to the vents were needed to make them operable. I used pop rivets to secure the tubes that push air to the cabin. With 70% of the original dash gone, you have to be resourceful if you want the remaining bits to stay in place.

The wiring is underway with the stock dash harness back in. I found an old phone charger cable that I scrapped to make a coil cord for the horn. I pop riveted the original interior light back in – a little further back, and replaced the bulb with an LED replacement. Red and white LED strips are in place above the driver and co-driver. Their location will be finalized when Christine’s seat goes in.

Dry cell Optima Red Top in Rally CarI mounted an 1/8″ plate with four bolts into the frame rails behind the co-driver’s seat. This fixed, flat location was used to mount an Optima Red-Top battery inside a plastic box. The plastic box will keep spares or tools from damaging the battery, and adds very little weight. I had enough wire to put the battery all the way in the trunk, but I prefer to keep the weight between the front and back wheels. There is a handy rear seat belt bolt near there that I re-purposed to be the main ground for the chassis.

The next big step will be to get the body wiring harness back in, battery connected, and tested. This will allow the stock motor to return and we’ll really start pushing for Prescott.

The 2GN gets dropped off for its roll cage

Streetwise MotorsportsThere was some excitement this morning in the rallynotes.com garage. The 2GN was loaded up onto the tow dolly and brought down to Streetwise Motorsports for roll cage fabrication. We’re looking to get her back in July, but in the mean time we have some electrical issues to sort out on Ze’Neon (our first rally car) and some serious garage reorganization.

Quick note on choosing a builder: I’ve been talking with Doug at Streetwise about the 2GN rollcage details over the last month (and known him for about 4 years) and I think it’s important that you have a good working relationship with your cage builder – as their work is what really makes a strong and safe rally car. Sure, you and your buddies can weld up a cage, but consider that someone who has built a number of cars, and been around rally for years, is going to have a lot more experience with what works and what doesn’t.

Race seats will be on order shortly. Pictures of the build, fitment, and process to follow!

2GN Progress Report

The interior and extra weight is out. I need to get a couple extra grinding discs and wire wheels to get the drivers side door metal out and the extra thick seam sealer in the hard to reach spots. The air-box for the heat and AC is dependent on the heater core and I’ll need to drain the coolant before pulling that out and re-engineering it.

Draining the coolant means that it’s just about a good time as any to pull the motor. The motor has to go if we’re going to seam weld, plate, and strengthen the front end. To keep it easy I’m going to cut the radiator support out and we’ll be changing that up anyway. I don’t know if I’m ready to put “tubular K frame” on the to-do list, but it’s being considered.

This weekend some friends and past crew members will be giving me a hand. Soon the 2GN will become more of a shell then a car. Rally prep at the rallynotes.com garage is well under way!

Wiring Effort

Wiring Effort Scale
Somewhere between a rats nest of wires doomed to start an electrical fire and military grade wiring found in attack helicopters, you will find what I’m doing with the wiring on the 2GN. Primarily for organization and keeping things neat, I took the “wiring trough” that sits on the dash out and went through the harness. I wrapped everything remaining up with zip-ties and removed a lot of the sticky tape. You certainly don’t want bundles of exposed wires, but if you need to fix an electrical problem, you don’t want to spend an hour on the side of the road identifying and unwrapping wires. Unlike a turbo swap in a GC8 Subaru, I really don’t need to change anything with the harness for the SRT-4 motor. The 2003 SXT plugs right in, and is a major reason why we sought out that particular year and model.

Automotive resettable fusesI’ve had my eye on 12v resettable fuses for a while now and it’s something that I think will really come in handy on a modern rally car. The E-T-A 1620 series are automotive grade circuit breakers that fit in a “mini fuse” space. Around $5 each they beat a zip-lock baggy of replacements in the ash tray. Along with these I ordered a number of switches for the cockpit panel and some some separate 12v circuit breakers for things like lights, rally computer, and transceiver. I also ordered some spare Molex type connectors to better interconnect the harness in the rear of the car. I will be able to change out the melted and cracked connector that goes to the lights and blinker switch. 😮

Rally cars and zip-ties

Flush Cutters CHP-170Zip-ties, duct tape, and bailing wire are the most common MacGyver items in a rally car. When a rally is in town, we usually have more spare zip-ties then the local Super Walmart. Zip-ties are a rally essential, but you need to pickup an essential tool for installing them: A pair of flush cutters. Plastic knives can be pretty sharp and poorly trimmed zip-ties can be sharper! I’ve seen and had some pretty bad lacerations from the remaining 1/4″ of zip tie that was bevel cut into a sharp spike by standard wire cutters. I now avoid using them on the roll cage and tuck the zip-tie head as far away as possible. Don’t have a flush cutter handy? In a pinch you can use a lighter to soften and melt the end.

The 2GN goes on a rally car diet.

2626 pounds is actually a good start for a compact sedan in the 21st century. Gone are the days of 1800lb Civics. Now cars are fat – 3100lb hatchback fat. Sat-nav, iPod, climate control, 50 airbags, ABS, side beams, crash bumpers, etc. Don’t get me wrong – these safety items will allow you to take an SUV in the door, but if we all drove 600 pound carbon fiber cars, we’d save a gajillion tons of fuel and accidents between cars would ‘usually always‘ be survivable.

Making up for the 200 pounds of roll cage, steel plates, and rally safety equipment going in should be easy enough with all of the interior trim and dashboard out. Getting a rally car lighter then the day it sat in the showroom takes an angle grinder. 😀

Lightened rear doorsI took the rear doors down to what I call a ‘safe minimum’. I’ll leave the glass in for now, but there is enough metal to support the window and keep thieves out. The inner metal only accounted for a pound, but it gave me better access with the grinder / sawzall. The door beam weighed in at 4 pounds. The window roller mechanism was a pound. I’m estimating 7-8 pounds off of one door with the plastic trim, all the bolts, and the metal cut out. 28-32 pounds saved on the car from all 4 doors.

Dry ice removal of sound deadening material.Next I had some fun with science. My local grocery store had dry ice available, so I picked up about 8 pounds of it. The clerk handled it much like a radioactive isotope and I was asked by a little old man in line “What do you need all that for?!” I responded quickly and with authority – “It’s a science experiment.” Then I grabbed the top of the bag with bare hands and made it out the door. “Be careful!” they shouted after me. :p Guys, it’s minus 80 cold, not minus 300 cold… Wear gloves, but it won’t instantly kill you if you touch it with bare hands. “You could get frostbite! OhNOES teh frostbite…” Broken up into chunks, the cold hardens and contracts the 1/4″ thick tar sound deadening. After a couple of sharp blows with a hammer and some scraper work, about 15 pounds of sound material hit the trash.

(Weight savings = faster car) Let’s look at the numbers: For this 2626 pound car making a completely stock 132HP we could (on paper) see an 1/4 mile time of 15.78. Now take a reasonable 200 pounds off and you have a 1/4 mile time of 15.37. Okay, only .41 faster, but consider that the stock motor would have to make 10 more HP to do the 1/4 mile in that time. How about 400 pounds lighter? Now you have a 14.94 second Dodge Neon that would be making the equivalent of 156 HP in stock weight to clock that time. Is 400lbs. realistic? *ehhh… Certainly possible, but you’re looking at fiberglass / carbon fiber hood, trunk, and fenders. Plexiglas windows, and you’re pulling unused copper wiring out of the harness. I don’t know if I’m THAT dedicated… My goal is to have the 2GN in rally-trim with a tank of gas sitting at 2600lbs.