An Education on Ice
Ryan Douthit vs. John Haugland in head-to-head Impreza action.
By Ryan Douthit, Driving Sports TV
Watch the video at drivingsports.com
There’s been some debate on the "YouTubes" regarding my ability to handle a car on ice. Recently, Subaru gave me an opportunity to put these critics to rest by reviewing my techniques with a bona-fide expert in the field.
My mentor would be none other than John Haugland, an instructor at the Norwegian Winter Rally School in Norway, where he has had such star pupils as Petter Solberg and Richard Burns, among others. Our classroom would be a custom-built ice-racing circuit, along with a set of various Subaru Impreza models.
Now, keep in mind, the techniques we’re covering today are specifically for competitive driving only. You really shouldn’t be yanking the handbrake as you enter the local school driveway. Not cool.
Let's get right to it. According to Haugland, the number one problem for drivers is braking. Too early, to late, too soft, too hard, these are all bad. Entering each corner with the correct speed is critical unlocking each corner’s ideal exit speed.
On cars like the Subaru STI, all cornering should be performed under power, where the front-wheels pull the car in-and-around the turn. This is done by dialing the DCCD to a manual, front-bias and disabling the VDC. Dial it back with too much rear-bias and the tail is going to come around too aggressively and send the car into a snow bank.
Of course, just entering a corner too hot can also result in a similar predicament as most cars will simply keep sliding forward: a situation I find myself in quite often while testing on snow and ice. For this, John suggested tapping the handbrake to assist in rotating the vehicle-- this has always been my personal favorite. (Note: unless you’re driving an STI, you will need to depress the clutch when pulling the handbrake, or you could damage your center differential.) Getting the car repositioned, I could then move back to power.
A more advanced technique is left-foot braking.
Though tricky in practice, it’s pretty simple to explain how it works: simply keep the throttle engaged and gently apply the left foot to the brake. This shifts weight to the front of the car, which gives the tires more bite while steering. As Haugland points out, most drivers don’t have enough sensitivity in their left feet to put this to good use without a lot of practice.
With the instruction portion out of the way, it was time to test what I had learned, to see if I was ready to graduate. For my final exam Subaru provided a pair of Impreza 2.5i’s. Me in the blue hatch, and Haugland in the white.
Off the line I ceded the first chicane, there was no way both our cars could fit side-by-side going through it. And, considering the man’s experience, I figured he’d be quicker off the line. He was, but he didn’t get too far ahead.
Through the first lap I was running a couple car-lengths behind when Haugland either made an error—which I consider unlikely—or he just let me pass on a wide corner to keep the race more entertaining.
I took this advantage and ran with it, I maintained my lead for the rest of lap two and the first half of the final lap, refusing to give him a passing opportunity. Then, in the penultimate corner, I entered too hot and pushed the corner wide. Haugland took advantage of my error—only we didn’t have quite enough space for both cars to fit. But what does that matter to an ex-WRC driver?
He made the car fit. And, coincidentally, took out my side-mirror and crumpled a few panels in the process. Maybe it was his way to remind me that I should have applied the brakes sooner in that corner?
We both charged to the finish, swapping paint as we entered the final turn.
I was victorious, but just barely. I’m pretty sure Haugland was being nice and giving me an advantage. But, I’ll take this win, thank-you-very-much.
With both of us laughing uncontrollably and surveying the damage to the Impreza, I asked Haugland he was just waiting for me to make a big mistake to make the pass? He replied, “I was pushing with everything I could. I saw the gap on the inside and just went for it.”
So does this mean I have potential to drive in the WRC? To this Haugland laughed and replied, “Oh, absolutely!”
Regarding the Imprezas damaged in the making of this film: they were water damaged cars that had a date with a crusher shortly after our adventure.