The Prescott Rally 2011

The Prescott Rally in Arizona is a fantastic event. The roads, the volunteers, the organizers, and the stages are awesome. This year the organizers gave us the opportunity to test out our new rally car on the stages by running zero car.

How did it go? Great! The chassis feels solid and the steering modifications are amazing at speed. Tossing the car through the end of Witty Tom South (a stage with lots of 4’s and 3’s) had me turning the wheel no more then 90 degrees. A big plus for the quickener experiment. The rallycross suspension setup was decent, but not ready for cattle-guards at 70+ mph. We embarrassingly nosed in a couple of times, and after the third time hopping the rear end through a ditch, I slowed for the remainder of them. This 2.0l n/a motor feels stronger then the one in the Production car and it will be fun to rally on for a couple more events before swapping a turbo SRT4 power-plant in.

As I feared, the stock engine mounts are completely unable to cope with this kind of abuse. The motor mount rubber on the passenger frame side ripped about halfway through stage 2. This added to the noise in the cabin and kept me from really putting down the throttle. It was a mistake not to address this before Prescott. Solid “dog bone” mounts are on order and I’m going to poly fill or weld (haven’t decided) the engine and trans mounts before the Glen Helen rallycross on October 16th.

We have a laundry list of things to fix and change, but overall it was a very successful test!

The rally car experiments

When you build your own rally car – at some level – you have no idea what you’re doing. Whether or not you meticulously plan it all out, at some point you’re going to have to just try it and see if it works. This is the only way you’ll ever get onto the stages.

One thing I suggest is not running too many “rally car experiments” at one time. Using a scientific method you should only change 1 major component at a time. Get some feedback, get some data – mark it off as successful or try again. This is one of the reasons we didn’t jump right into a turbo motor for this car. Lots of stuff to test and tune before changing the motor over to an SRT package. Here are the current experiments on the new rally car:

LED Lighting
I figured that a car that was built in the 21st century would be able to snap in LED lights. But that’s just not how it is. I’m looking at LEDs for their longevity, durability, and power savings. Using resistor blocks that trick the relay is unacceptable. Turns out, weird stuff happens when you switch over to all LEDs and modify the relay. The car has circuits that rely on that power load, and a diode to ground confuses them. At this point, I am unaware of a setup without “load resistors” that will give the 2GN all LEDs. Right now I have a modified aftermarket relay and stock front turn bulbs. The rear lights are all LED. The experiment continues.

Power Steering Pump
As you have probably seen my work with a steering quickener, this experiment involves getting more fluid through the stock pump. A condition autocrossers are aware of is when you steer so much left to right that the fluid boils and then no-longer fills up the steering assist. You get a condition known as “pump catch” – this is where you’re working faster then the fluid can pump into the rack. So far, all that was done is a change to open the flow valve diameter a tiny .01″. Doing just this gets a lot more fluid through the pump. I haven’t changed any springs or shimmed any valves. Steering pump pressure is extremely high (1200psi) so be careful here. This experiment took a lot of research and appears positive on the street, but I’m not going to call it successful until a full rallycross workout.

Rallycross Springs
The first thing you notice when looking for suspension mods is that practically no-one RAISES their car. Searches always yield lowering springs, and “how much drop from stock” numbers. If you want to rally or rallycross your car you’re going to have to lift or raise it. Taking a page from the Subaru guys, I decided to test something out. You see the Forester (that fat little SUV) is built on the same platform as the Impreza. It uses the same strut design, yet has more ground clearance. Turns out Forester springs are a great start on an Impreza rallycrosser. The springs are “heavier” (spring rate in lbs.) to accommodate the heavier SUV and that means you get a harder spring with more ground clearance. The Forester version of this equation is the PT-Cruiser. PT’s take the same strut design (in the front at least). They are heavier and have more ground clearance. This weekend I changed the front struts over to OEM PT-Cruiser front springs. I gained at least 2″ of ground clearance and didn’t notice any adverse handling issues (not bad for $68). As for the rear, the clearance remains high here as the Neon is always sort of “nose down” from the factory. I’m entertaining ideas as this experiment unfolds. A full on rally suspension this is not, but I needed something while the budget recovers from 2GN rally prep so far.

All the major components are in place and tested for our trip to Prescott Arizona this weekend. Some additional wiring and safety items need to be installed, but I’ll have time this week to button it all up. See you there!

First test drive – 2nd Gen Neon Rally Car

The other day I was pretty excited to pop the axles in and go for a spin. Unfortunately I still had to re-attach the front bumper, lights, and hood. There was also adding fluid to the transmission and the modified power steering pump.

Monday, I wrapped up all these tasks and set the car back down on the wheels. The steering made no argument turning rally tires on concrete. No noise from the pump and the steering felt light. I idled slowly out of the driveway, listening for any weird noises from a car that I’ve taken completely apart and put back together.

Ferrari F355 ChallengeMy first reaction to the quickener is that it drives like a video game. That tight – instant steering you get from your Logitech Gaming Wheel. It feels natural and I didn’t even think about adapting to it. You just drive it like you would Sega’s Ferrari F355 Challenge. The car drives straight and I didn’t tax the steering pump puttering around the neighborhood swerving around trash barrels. The real test will be at speed – and at a rallycross in 3 weeks.

The plan has been finalized to be ‘Zero Car’ at Prescott. This is a lot less stressful then competing and will be a great shakedown of the systems and setup so far. For those of you unfamiliar with the term: 1 or 2 course opening cars are sent down the rally stage to make sure it’s clear and the time controls and signs are in place (000 and 00), then the 0 car (usually a rally car) is run at a fast pace before the competitors. The zero car reports any change in conditions to the drivers, any potential safety issues, and declares the stage “hot” and ready to run. The Prescott Rally is September 30th – October 1st, and we have one last weekend of prep to get the new Dodge Neon rally car ready to run. See you on the stages!

Seam welding, mock up, and fabrication

Seam or stitch welds.
Seam welding, or stitch welding, is where you take and join the layers of metal at the seams on a chassis. Modern uni-body cars are made up of dozens of pieces of steel that they spot weld together. Spot welding is fine for a street car, but spot welds start to pop in a car that is bounced, jumped, bumped, twisted, and raced. As we want to build in some serious longevity into this car, we’re taking the time to weld all the metal panels together.

My friend Erik came over with his welder (Thanks Erik! :D) and we started with the interior. I had prepped a bunch of areas by grinding the paint away and we were able to get through it quickly. We still have the rear strut towers, trunk, and undercarriage to do.

Dashboard mock up
I’ve had parts of the dashboard in and out of the car a dozen times. I want to see what is going to work and what won’t, and the best way to do this is to mock it up using a couple of bolts just to hold it in place. All of the extraneous plastic and metal is out of the dashboard and the HVAC system and piping has been reduced to a minimum. I actually think I’ll duct the floor heat, making it better then it ever was. 🙂

steering modification
The heavy fabrication was done yesterday with a new steering wheel, extension, steering quickener, and floor mounted gas pedal. I had just about given up on the “tilt wheel” with the Howe 1.5:1 quickener, but I was able to make it work after an hour of critically examining the steering. I modified the cast piece that hinges the column up and down, and was able to slide the housing of the quickener into it. Now I just need a bracket from the upper part of the column to support the quickener. While I was at it I solved an issue where the aftermarket steering adapters don’t reset the blinker. Adding two small threaded posts with a plastic covering on them I was able to restore functionality. Check out the quick video of the steering blinker reset in action.

Taking my time during fabrication means I’ll have no-compromise steering, A gas pedal in a Neon that I can actually heel-toe with, and a car that is ready for whatever rally can throw at it.