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Friday 9th March 2012

PH goes rallying: training, part one

Rally pundit turned competitor Dan Prosser prepares for his debut alongside our own Chris Harris



Those of you that read our introduction will know that PistonHeads' very own Chris Harris and I will be embarking upon something of a rallying adventure over the course of the year. We'll each take a turn behind the wheel of our battle-scarred BMW E30 325i whilst the other reads the pace notes.

Training will hopefully prevent this happening
Training will hopefully prevent this happening
An intriguing idea, but given that neither of us has ever called a pace note and that our collective hands-on experience of the sport amounts to a couple of stage rallies back in 2005, the learning curve does appear to be a treacherous one for us both. I, in particular, have never competed in motorsport beyond a few club kart races as a youngster. Time for some professional intervention.

The priority for me was to get some experience manhandling a rear-wheel drive car on a low-grip surface, and also to learn some of those driving techniques that define this discipline. That I could achieve these objectives without risk of hurting myself or any metalwork - in a standard road-going version of our rally car, no less - made a frozen lake the obvious choice.

Tips from the top
Multiple rally and rallycross champion Pat 'Flying' Flynn runs such a school in Sweden, using a fleet of six-cylinder BMWs, Ford Pumas and much more besides. His lake, close to the Norwegian border, features various courses; a steering pad, an oval with a couple of slaloms and a pair of particularly challenging circuits, one half a mile in length, the other a full mile.

Training used cars much like new rally hack
Training used cars much like new rally hack
Aside from the obvious benefits, such as the dearth of solid objects to crash into and the relatively modest speeds, a frozen lake is the best training ground for drivers of all experience levels because it requires and promotes a purified technique.

Newcomers to the discipline, myself included, are able to repeat corners endlessly and there's no overstating the importance of this. Imagine trying to learn the fundamentals of rally driving on a stage in which no one corner is repeated. You'd simply fluff every single bend and not make any progress. The lake, however, allows you to practice each corner until you've begun to develop the necessary skills. It doesn't matter that you'll never find an exact replica with the same profile and grip levels in competition - you'll soon have the powers of reading the surface and car control in your armoury.

Dancing on ice
More experienced drivers, meanwhile, are able to refine their skills to an even greater degree. The low-friction nature of the ice means that driving errors and ill-judged inputs are magnified vastly. There's no relying on Pirelli's finest to dig you out of trouble. If you turn into a corner too quickly you'll slide hopelessly into a snow bank. If you get on the power too early you'll miss the apex and shed time. If you're too slow with corrective lock, you'll spin and be laughed at.

The ice allows a driver to really feel

Nuances of weight shift and grip magnified
Nuances of weight shift and grip magnified
what effect every single minute input has on the car's dynamic behaviour to such as degree that gravel or tarmac could never replicate. Only a pure, refined driving technique will see you lap the outer circuit quickly and efficiently.

Pat preaches a very simple formula for negotiating a bend: brake, turn, power. It seems laughably obvious, but those three stages form the very foundations of proper driving technique. Braking, which includes lifting off the throttle, sheds the speed, puts the car's weight on its front wheels and enables the driver to turn into a corner with as little steering input as necessary. Turning in smoothly whilst releasing the brakes, perhaps with a blip of power to send the back end around and keep the front tucked in, comes before patience. It's agonising to sit with your foot hovering over the gas, desperate to stamp on it as if it'll make you faster, but once you've felt the front end wash wide as a result of a premature throttle input a handful of times, you soon realise the virtue of patience. As Jackie Stewart says, you must never get on the power until you're certain you won't have to come off it again.

RWD + snow = predictable results
RWD + snow = predictable results
Back to basics
So it's slow in, fast out. These truisms remain the same regardless of surface, albeit to differing extents. There's no better to place to get your head around this simplest of techniques.

The very best competition drivers go one step beyond their rivals in producing their own grip, rather than relying on the rubber of their tyres. They'll either find it in the surface (perhaps a deep patch of gravel in a braking zone) or they'll shift the weight between the axles to ensure it's where they want it. Such a driver is proactive behind the wheel, dictating the car's behaviour, rather than reacting to whatever it happens to do. He or she will also exert less effort and go faster.

Ice driving is such an enlightening experience that you soon wonder if it isn't the very foundation of a great driver's make up. It's certainly one of them; as discussed, it's the best place in which to refine technique and a driver can cover the equivalent mileage of a full domestic rally season in a single weekend.

When it goes right it looks and feels good
When it goes right it looks and feels good
Early learning centre
Pat has some rather more radical ideas about the development of a great driver though. "If a child's parent is a smooth driver, that rhythm will be passed on naturally," he reckons. "Equally, if your mum or dad is interested in performance driving, you'll become accustomed to the sensation of a car at its limit from a very early age. Imagine never having felt a car at the limit; how are you ever going to know where that limit is?

"Stick your kid on a trials bike. They won't hurt themselves with all the gear they've got on, and they'll get a feel for traction. The other thing is people in the agricultural trade; a farmer who ploughs a field in the middle of the night doesn't want to get stuck. It's a long walk home. He'll learn how to measure traction perfectly."

I've never ploughed a field. My parents were as interested in driving as I am in bush topiary and I didn't have a motorbike as a kid. Two days on a frozen lake, though, did more to advance my rally driving technique than did eight years on the open road.

Dan Prosser
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Author Discussion

CliveM

Original Poster:

409 posts

72 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
Hmmmm.... immediately goes to website and tries to work out who could come with me to split the cost....

That looks like a LOT of fun.

timmeh2k

76 posts

39 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
CliveM said:
Hmmmm.... immediately goes to website and tries to work out who could come with me to split the cost....

That looks like a LOT of fun.
just did exactly the same haha

RichCh

74 posts

39 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
Me too..

I like that the prices are on a "sliding scale" getmecoat

dave stew

1,502 posts

54 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
Really interesting article. I especially liked the theory of getting kids involved. It's the whole nature vs nurture thing - are great drivers trained or born?

I think its a bit like being into football. I'm not interested in it (in fact I really can't stand it) and I think that's as a result of growing up in a house where football was never on the TV and no-one was remotely interested in 'what's the score'. As a result neither of my sons show any interest in it either.

However - it's always difficult to try and push kids into things. A mate bought his son a small kiddy motorbike but his lad wasn't interested. Plays guitar in a rock band now...!


DaveL485

2,638 posts

84 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
I'd like to take my own car there.....
Advertisement

DoubleG

71 posts

56 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
I have been going to Ice Drive Sweden with Pat for the last 6 years - it NEVER fails to be the highlight of the year.

If you like driving/ car control/ going sideways, there really is nothing like it.

Here is our vid from last year:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbs87i4sXls

From 6 min onwards you can see the balance of the BMW's - just being held there with the throttle and steering. The best feeling in the world!

cc_Sledge

115 posts

98 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
I was there at the beggining of February! Really enjoyed my time with Pat and his son Conor. If you are into your driving, go here and see how you really are.............

Had a brilliant few days!

PILCH 23

170 posts

87 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
I want to go too!

0a

13,477 posts

81 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
What a hard job PH journalists have smile

trialsta

39 posts

76 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
Definitely true about getting kids on a trials bike when young, you learn to feel for traction both with the throttle and the brakes or you end up face first in the muck!

Fastdruid

2,456 posts

39 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
My 22month son keeps asking for "more power" and giggling when you boot it and the boost kicks in! smile

Martrally

9 posts

35 months

[news] 
Friday 9th March 2012 quote quote all
I have been 4 times, its an awesome trip and you learn so so much, even if you dont compete or even intend to compete. My girlfriend came once and she learn loads too.

It made me a far quicker and safer rally driver and as the article says much more aware of how to look for grip etc, as for car control you soon have the car on a piece of string!!!

We did take our own car one year and that was an awesome road trip!!! some of my fondest memories ever!!

chris bayliss

8 posts

130 months

[news] 
Saturday 10th March 2012 quote quote all
I've been on Flynny's trip four times. It's an amazing road trip followed by the most fun you'll ever have with your clothes on! I can't recommend it highly enough, if there is any petrol in your veins, do it.

DGL

3 posts

90 months

[news] 
Saturday 10th March 2012 quote quote all
Totally agree with little Chris B, really is great fun. I cannot recommend this enough, 1st time there this year and already the plan is in place for next year!

rutthenut

195 posts

150 months

[news] 
Saturday 10th March 2012 quote quote all
Nice write-up, and all the best for this year in the Beemers. It should be a great time, with lots to learn but some great rallies and a really friendly and helpful bunch to do it with.

Having been in the RWD Challenge - as a co-driver - for the previous two years, I've known about Pat and this Ice Driving experience.

Work/time/finances have so far not allowed me to go and do it, but I REALLY want to get out there and try it for myself.

Maybe next year...

TomJackUK

213 posts

59 months

[news] 
Saturday 10th March 2012 quote quote all
Looks great fun!

Looking at the website for Ice Drive its a little unclear about costs, so could someone give me a little bit of an idea how much a 3 day trip with a friend would be?

Kawasicki

2,683 posts

122 months

[news] 
Monday 12th March 2012 quote quote all
Watch out for lethal levels of lift off oversteer in those old bmws! Wouldn't you guys be better off in a nice fwd hatchback, much better in the snow than an old bmw? I always leave my rwd car at home when it rains, not to mind snows.

Only joking of course.

Great idea, glad it is a success.

Andrew Hebron

1 posts

32 months

[news] 
Wednesday 14th March 2012 quote quote all
TomJackUK said:
Looks great fun!

Looking at the website for Ice Drive its a little unclear about costs, so could someone give me a little bit of an idea how much a 3 day trip with a friend would be?
I did it a couple of years ago with a mate; EasyJet / car hire (Budget)* / fuel / lake fees / accommodation / food added up to about £500 each and we got 2.5 days on the ice (that's hundreds of laps each!). If you use a FWD hire car you need to disable the traction control / ABS / LFB sensor (normally the brake light) for the lake.

  • take all the CDW insurance you can!!

flyingflynn

14 posts

47 months

[news] 
Wednesday 21st March 2012 quote quote all
Hi Just to help with costs

Ryanair fly to Torp and Rygge, most people paid £80 per pair this year sharing a large bag

Hire car is roughly £50 a day for a focus or golf, fabia style, its about 4 hours drive to the lake

You can get hotels for £120ish per twin room, or I can rent you chalets at £25-30 per head per night, then its simple cereal breakfast and out for a pizza at night etc

Lake fee over say 3 days is £600 [£200 a day for the car and crew]

I can do you a BMW or Puma or other cars for £150-175 a day plus fuel

You will use fuel, its not like a normal experience where you line up and take turns, you drive instaed for as long as you wish, As Andy Hebron says hundreds of laps is the norm!!!!

We alternate tracks and directions daily to give fresh challenges, we are there when you want tips and coaching, we have 5 expert rally/race/rallycross drivers on hand to help each day!!!

The number is on the site, you are welcome to call and chat, we seem very popular with track day guys too, who want to learn limits!!
Thanks Pat

Kawasicki

2,683 posts

122 months

[news] 
Thursday 22nd March 2012 quote quote all
flyingflynn said:
Hi Just to help with costs

Ryanair fly to Torp and Rygge, most people paid £80 per pair this year sharing a large bag

Hire car is roughly £50 a day for a focus or golf, fabia style, its about 4 hours drive to the lake

You can get hotels for £120ish per twin room, or I can rent you chalets at £25-30 per head per night, then its simple cereal breakfast and out for a pizza at night etc

Lake fee over say 3 days is £600 [£200 a day for the car and crew]

I can do you a BMW or Puma or other cars for £150-175 a day plus fuel

You will use fuel, its not like a normal experience where you line up and take turns, you drive instaed for as long as you wish, As Andy Hebron says hundreds of laps is the norm!!!!

We alternate tracks and directions daily to give fresh challenges, we are there when you want tips and coaching, we have 5 expert rally/race/rallycross drivers on hand to help each day!!!

The number is on the site, you are welcome to call and chat, we seem very popular with track day guys too, who want to learn limits!!
Thanks Pat
Pat, I'm very impressed by what you're offering. Well done. I've spent a lot of time testing cars on snow/ice and you're selling this very, very well. I'll see if I can get my boss to cover some additional driver training!
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